The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines stress as a state of mental tension or as feelings of worry or anxiety caused by outside stimulus.
But if stress is truly our mental interpretation of physical stimulus, can’t we choose how we let that “stressful stimulus” affect us? Yes. We can. But first we have to be able to recognize the signs of stress.
Signs of Stress in Your Dog:
- Distraction/Avoidance Behaviors such as running off, sniffing, and so on.
- Reactivity such as growling, hair raising, posturing, and more.
- Repeated incorrect performance or guessing (offering alternative behaviors)
- Tucked tail
- Lack of appetite
- Upset stomach
- Change in behavior
Signs of stress in dogs can be a long and varied list. Not only can dogs display stress through their actions (or lack thereof), but they can also display stress through physical duress. Know your dog. That is truly the best way to determine if your dog is experiencing stress.
Interestingly, we exhibit signs of stress in many of the same forms as our dogs: irritability, fatigue, upset stomach, headaches, and so on.
The psychological strain of stress can literally cause both dogs and people to be physically altered!
So, how do we prevent and/or relieve stress?
Tips to Prevent and/or Relieve Stress:
- Take a break. Walk away from the stress and do something else. For example, if you are having trouble in a training session with your dog, and he is becoming stressed, it’s time to leave the training session and play. Ideally, we never reach the point of causing our dogs stress while training, but we’re not perfect. It is always best to try to recognize the stress before it affects you or your dog adversely.
- Approach the problem in a different way. Stress is mental. So, in true mental management, if there is something causing you undue stress, maybe it’s time to find a different way to look at it. Are you afraid of attending new events, because you’re not comfortable in large crowds? Don’t focus on the large crowds. Instead, focus on the positive opportunities surrounding that event. As for your dog, since you can’t ask them to exercise mental management, you can help them with re-direction: get their mind off the stressful stimuli by doing something else such as playing with a toy.
- Get below threshold. We all have our limits. If you feel your dog’s stress increasing (or your own), it is best to make the exercise easier, increase your distance from the stressful situation, or end the session before the stress moves you or your dog over threshold. Some stress is good. It moves us to improve, but too much stress will move us backward.
Figuring out how to recognize and change an emotional state is difficult. But if you can learn to better manage stress for yourself and your dog, you can achieve things you never thought possible. A professional athlete feels stress. A CEO feels stress. The ability to recognize, harness, and redirect stress is what opens the door to success.
How do you recognize stress? What do you do to relieve stress for you and your dog?
For more articles on this topic, visit Dog Agility Blog Events: Stress.