Dog Trainers insight into canine stress

As dog trainers one of the biggest contributing factors to negative behaviours in dogs we see is that they are simply experiencing stress. It is our responsibility as guardians to set our dogs up to succeed in life and to do as much as possible to prevent stress in our dog’s life. This includes exposing them from an early age to multiple positive experiences so that the puppy develops into a resilient dog. Ensure that you are mindfully aware that they are getting the care and attention they need. It’s about reducing stressors from their environment and, if possible, turning them into a positive experience. It’s about getting to know and listening to your dog’s body language and communication attempts. If your dog is stressed then take them away from what is stressing them.

What causes stress in dogs?

Stress is defined as a response created by something physical, social, emotional or other. Not all stress is a bad thing. Stress is necessary to push boundaries and promote growth and development. What creates a negative stress reaction in a dog comes down to that individual dog and what their life experience is. Dogs who have not been well socialised at a young age to many noises, smells, animals, dogs, people and environments are more likely to experience distress more often. Common stressors in dogs are the presence of other dogs, people and loud noises like storms and fireworks. Distress can also be experienced by the absence of the people and dogs who the dog is bonded to. Certain environments like the vets can also cause distress. Speaking more broadly, stress is caused when the dogs needs are not being met.

Stress creates a complex physiological reaction. This reaction is the body’s way of protecting the dog and creating survival mode. This is the work of the sympathetic nervous system, which is the system that is responsible for the fight or flight syndrome. The next response is initiated by the hypothalamus which releases adrenaline and cortisol that creates a negative feedback loop. The level of stressor the dog has experienced determines how long it takes for the adrenaline and cortisol to clear. This can be between 48 hours and 6 days. The physical signs of stress can include excessive shedding of fur, lip licking, panting, yawning and pacing or trembling.

What does stress do to a dog’s behaviour?

Behavioural changes in a dog are the dog’s attempt to communicate that they are stressed and avoid the stressor.  The early signs of stress usually are displacement behaviours. This can include looking away or moving away from what is stressing them. Another displacement behaviour is sniffing the ground when there does not appear to be something to sniff. They may also use the physical signs as a calming or appeasement behaviour. If that has not been successful, their behaviour and attempts to communicate will then usually escalate to behaviours that are attempting to make the stressor go away which can include vocalisations like growling, snarling, barking and snapping and lunging.

Fur Get Me Not are qualified dog trainers and we can individualise a coaching plan to help address any stress in your dog by using a variety of positive reinforcement based techniques to build the dog’s resilience and train them to respond rather than react. To read more about our dog trainers click here.