Do you love a pup with chronic stress who gets worked up often, or a chill guy who only stresses when it’s truly warranted?
Everyone experiences stress. Stress helped keep our human ancestors and our dogs’ wolf ancestors alive. In fact, stress simply is a part of being alive.
For each of us and for each of our dogs, our stress experiences vary.
Some of us–and some of our dogs–seem to roll with whatever comes our way (think: The Dude), while others launch straight into panic at any provocation (that’s my Coop).
Most likely, your dog sits somewhere on the spectrum between Cooper and The Dude.
Chances are, you do, too. It’s not healthy for our pups to sit in stress constantly. Acute stress, stress felt in the moment of something genuinely stressful, is good. It keeps us safe. Chronic stress, stress felt constantly, is no good.
Well, chronic stress has some pretty serious consequences for our dogs. And for ourselves. Stress negatively affects literally every aspect of your wellbeing, including your sleep, cardiovascular health, immune response, digestive system, and studies show chronic stress even speeds up aging.
If you’re a chronically-stressed human, please don’t let this next bit stress you out even more… but research has shown that “Long-terms stress levels are synchronized in dogs and their owners,” and “Long-term stress in dogs is related to the human–dog relationship and personality traits.“
John and I handle stress very differently, and I think those differences impact how we manage Cooper’s stress. Those studies don’t make me feel more stressed or feel guilty or anything like that; instead, they remind me just how important my bond is with Cooper and that it’s on ME to help HIM manage his stress. That starts with understanding what gives him added stress and what helps him feel better.
Same for you and your dog.
As the person in charge, it’s up to you to identify the signs of a stressed-out pooch and step in before your dog melts down. We all know some of the big ones: diarrhea, for instance, or increased barking or growling, trembling, and so on.
But here are 5 signs of stress in your dog you might not expect:
- Shedding. Sure, most of our dogs shed most of the time, but during times of increased stress you’ll notice tufts coming off your dog in big puffs.
- Yawning. Of course we all yawn when we’re tired, but did you know your dog will yawn–often accompanied by a squeak or whine–when stressed? This is one way your dog is trying to calm himself when he feels himself getting stressed.
- Pacing. A stressed-out dog might walk back and forth. Imagine the old sit-com portrayal of the expectant dad pacing the waiting room. It’s the same thing; your dog is trying to blow off steam and expend that nervous energy.
- Hiding. If your dog ducks behind you, scoots under the bed, or crawls behind the couch, she’s not feeling confident. In these instances, if your dog chooses to hide behind you, provide comfort as much as possible, but if she’s in a closet or under the bed, it’s OK to leave her alone and wait her out.
- Drooling or panting. If you haven’t run a couple miles and your dog is drooling or panting? She’s stressed. It’s just like when you’re in a period of stress and your breathing becomes shallow.
For Coop, it’s definitely the panting. When he’s panting, I know it’s time to swoop in and help my guy. In fact, it’s so exaggerated in Cooper that as soon as I see the corners of his lips pull back, I know he’s about to start panting like crazy, and his stress shows in that grimace.
Watch for these signs, then step in to counteract them before your dog melts down!
Here are 3 ways to help your stressed-out dog:
- Remove the stressor or remove your dog. If something (fireworks, bicycle, crowded sidewalks, hot air balloons) causes your dog acute stress, either remove the thing or remove your dog. We’re not talking permanent avoidance; you’ll want to plan some training to help your pup in the long-term. This is just short-term management to help your dog get through the moment.
- Provide comfort. Recently someone told me she doesn’t want to “coddle” her dog when she’s hiding from fear. Imagine saying something like that about a baby or child. No one would ever dream of saying something like, “Oh, your kid’s terrified of lightning? Well, you should never comfort a frightened child! It’ll just reinforce her fear!” If your dog, your friend, your partner, your child, whoever, feels scared, provide comfort. The end.
- Implement interventions. For daily anxiety management, we give Coop a dose of CBD. We’ve been using Veritas Farms for a while and are still happy with it. (Here’s the original post I wrote, though I think the discount has expired?) For stressors that are unexpected or particularly acute–fireworks, thunderstorms, company visiting, whatever it is for your dog–other options include the Thundershirt and hormone diffusers like ADAPTIL. For stressors you can plan for–vacuuming, company visiting–you can organize a bunch of interventions, like combining a CBD dose with a Thundershirt or removing your dog to a cozy corner with a Kong stuffed full of his favorite things or a snuffle mat to take his mind off his nerves.
None of those are a substitute for training, of course, but for dogs who are wired for stress, training simply can’t mitigate all the stress your pup will ever experience. For instance, Cooper is trained not to attack the vacuum, but it still stresses him out when I run it. So, I use a ton of interventions. And it took us AGES to get there.
Do you know your dog’s signs of stress?
What works to help calm your dog in stressful moments? Do you notice a correlation between your stress levels and your dog’s?
Read more: What I Wish You Knew about My Reactive Dog