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.
Good article Kama!
Amy Shojai, CABC
Magic licks. After all my trips this month, I returned from BlogPaws and found he’d again started an acral lick sore on a rear paw. More time with him (plus meds) heal the problem. I’m home all of June so we’re doing some major one-on-one time!
Excellent post & great suggestions! We have to be very aware of our own stress. Our dogs really pick up on mine & my husbands stress levels so when things get hairy for us we try to relax and exhibit calm behavior so the dogs don’t get upset. Our husky’s key stress sign is excessive licking of her front paw to the point of it getting raw/red. When that happens we focus on calming ourselves & start going for lots of walks & hikes – Lots!
Great post. Shared, thanks!
Rascal and Rocco
Great information to share. I shared on FB. My dog gets stressed with too many people or too much activity and noise, so we try to avoid those situations for him. It so good to know your dog, what to avoid and how to help them cope. I feel like so many don’t take the time to understand and can’t fathom why their dog acted out when they’ve had enough.
We have to recognize stress in ourselves and our dogs. Great info. Kilo gets very anxious with certain triggers and the results are not pleasant. We work on avoidance, distraction, desensitization and plenty of mental and physical activities (we posted today on great ways to get active- we love agility). Have a great weekend Susie
I recognize the stress signs in Charlie and its ultimately why we stopped doing agility. He was being so naughty but it was just so overwhelming. He wasn’t himself in a large class. Its so interesting because I know that he is an anxious pup, but it manifests in ways I wouldnt imagine.
Stress relief is so important. It is amazing how much stress can change the personality of a person or a pet! Learning how to manage stress can reduce the pet’s chances of illness too because stress lower’s the immune system’s ability to respond. Your tips are great!
It is interesting that stress exhibits itself much the same way in humans and pets. When my kitties seem stressed, I try to spend more time playing with them and just being with them.
Great information! I didn’t realize yawning is a sign of stress. It makes sense though!
Kim Kiernan Welcome Home Dog Rescue
Wonderful article Kama! I wish more of the general public would realize that dog’s body language is completely different than our own! Many people do not recognize the symptoms of a stressed dog. I attended Dr. Sophia Yin (veterinary behaviorist and amazing trainer) seminar at the Western Veterinary Conference, before she sadly passed away, and one thing she mentioned that I found very interesting, is that a dog will sometimes get very STILL when they’re stressed. They move in slow motion. I had never heard that before. Great post!
Faith Ellerbe, Live.Wag.BARK!
I’m pretty good at recognizing stress in my dogs. I am still learned what exactly causes the stress and what I can do to help manage it. Thanks for the tips!