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Dog Stress Relief: The Do’s and Don’ts

You can probably easily think of a few things that cause you stress. Bills, social obligations, health problems, what to cook for dinner… just to name a few. While your dog doesn’t have the same stressors in his life as you, there are legitimate anxiety-causing things for dogs. Whether your dog is naturally anxious or exhibits stress under particular circumstances, there are some relatively simple ways to help relieve his stress.

What are some signs of stress?

In humans, the stress response manifests in a myriad of ways. There are almost too many stress symptoms to name, but some include:

– Increased blood pressure
– Nail-biting
– Leg cramps or neck pain
– Regression
– Blushing
– Sweating

These signs are pretty easy to see in people, but your furry friend’s anxiety might be a little more difficult to decipher. They can’t tell you in words in they are experiencing anxiety-induced discomfort, and since they’re covered in fur, you can’t see them blush or start to sweat. While each dog is different, several signs are common among dogs who feel anxious, including:

-Running away from the stimuli
– Shaking or hiding behind you
– Becoming distracted
– Excessive licking, drooling, yawning, pacing, urinating, panting, shedding
– Change in body language
o Stiff legs, neck, or tail
o Tail between legs
o Ears pinned against the head
o Wide eyes or dilated pupils
– Growling or whining

If you notice any or several of these signs in your dog when you encounter a new situation, your dog is likely feeling stress or anxiety. A little bit of stress is a good thing, though. It keeps the mind and body ready to act if the need arises, but over the long-term, stress can lead to significant health problems if it’s not managed properly.

What causes stress?

Just like people, different things stress your dog out based on its personality and life experience. Some dogs love the excitement of meeting new people and dogs or being around loud sounds like gunshots or fireworks. However, for other dogs, those experiences can be startling and cause a lot of fear. What stresses your dog will depend on a lot of factors, but here are some general stressors that impact many dogs:

– Separation anxiety
– Old age
– Health problems or pain
– New things (house, people, baby, dogs)
– Loud noises (gunshots, fireworks, machinery, or tools)
– Certain people (vet, groomer, people from a previous life)

What can you do to help?

The situations that cause stress can happen at home and while you’re out and about, so it’s a good idea to be prepared for anything. Here is a list of do’s and don’ts when it comes time to calm your dog.

Do’s

Do exercise. This little trick is a great stress-reliever for people and dogs, so you can both benefit! If your circumstance allows, throw a ball in the yard, run around the block, or just play an energetic game of tug to get the blood pumping. Sometimes dogs get anxious before going to new places, and if that’s the case, it’s helpful to exercise before you leave. That will leave your dog tired and without as many nervous jitters.

Do remove the stimuli. Sometimes it’s not possible to remove the sounds, smells, or people that are distressing your dog, but if you can, do it. Move him to another room, turn off the sound, or take away the stressor until your dog calms down. If you’re at the park, walk to a quiet area until your dog calms and then slowly try to resume the activity.

Do scout out new places. If your dog gets particularly nervous in new spaces or around new people, make a concerted effort to visit them before you need to be at the actual event. A new grooming facility can be a scary experience on the best day. Scouting out new spaces before your appointment lets your dog get used to the new sights, smells, and sounds, but you won’t be missing anything if you have to leave early.

Do use calming techniques at home. There are many ideas out there to try with an overly anxious dog, but a few starters include using aromatherapy, a noise machine, canine massage, comforting clothing, and playing calming music specifically for dogs (yes, it exists!).

Don’ts

Don’t validate the fear too much. You can acknowledge that there was a scary situation, but don’t focus on the stressor; instead, focus on the calming technique.

Don’t give treats for nothing. You might want to give him a lot of treats right away to take his mind off of things, but don’t give handouts. Instead, he’ll calm down much better if you make him work for a reward. It can be simple tricks like stop, sit, stay, or shake – anything that he knows well and can do with little thought. When he does the trick, heap on the praise and give him a treat.

Don’t try new supplements without talking to your vet. Aging can cause a lot of anxiety in older dogs, so if your dog has become more anxious as he gets older, that’s pretty common. Even in younger dogs, underlying health problems can contribute to overly anxious behavior. Before you try anything new, be sure to talk to your veterinarian. He might recommend a change in diet, exercise, training, or even calming supplements.

Dogs can be unpredictable when they get upset or stressed, so the sooner you notice the stressors and address the issue, the better. By keeping calm and staying compassionate, you can help your dog manage his emotions in a positive way that will keep everyone safe and happy.

Just like you, our team at Hugo Coffee Roasters love dogs. If you want to join us in our quest to help more dogs in need, buy our fantastic fair trade, organic coffee that supports animal rescue. To date, we have donated over $30,000 to save dogs and helped nearly 500 rescue dogs find homes.