Stress is a biological response to external stimuli. Stress is the body answering the question – should I fight, flee, freeze, or fawn when in the presence of a real or perceived threat?
Things that stress our dogs can include:
- Separation/being alone.
- Sounds – like thunder, fireworks, or one of my dogs was terrified of the sound fire alarms make when the batter is low.
- Strangers – in the home, approaching the home, or out on walks.
- Other dogs – your dog can be afraid of other dogs idiopathically or because of some incident(s) involving other dogs.
- Anything new or things moved to a different location.
- Cars – this could be idiopathic or because of an incident. This could also be about the sound and/or the movement of the vehicles.
- Unusual surfaces – those of you who live in a city know how often our dogs scurry around sidewalk grates to avoid walking on them. I’ve had clients whose dogs would not walk on tile or linoleum.
- Being kenneled for the family’s vacation or in a shelter environment, or rehoming
- There are many more.
It’s important to remember each dog has their own idiosyncratic stressors. You will want to learn your dog’s stressors so you can help them when afraid or anxious.
A dog’s response to stress can be any or many of the following:
- Heavy panting
- Inability to follow simple directions.
- Sudden dander (usually only visible on dark short-coated dogs)
- Hiding or freezing in place
- Running away or towards (remember flight or fight)
- Growling, barking, baring teeth
- Stress facial signals like tight commissures, whale eye, tension below the eyes, and more
- Flat or overly perked ears
- Tail wrapped low or the opposite, straight up high.
- Stomach upset including diarrhea.
This list is not complete. And you can see from this list that many of these signals can mean a number of things besides stress. How do you know which is which?
You need to know your dog by observing and registering their typical behaviors when happy, worried, or downright scared and note the differences.
What can you do?
- Hire a certified behavior specialist. The AKC has an article outlining the different type of behavior specialists.
- I am a CDBC (Certified Dog Behavior Consultant) IAABC.org
- This behavior specialist will help you begin desensitizing/counterconditioning (Ds/Cc) your dog, implement management strategies to help your dog avoid triggers before they are ready to face them, and work on other training skills that will help your dog overcome their fears.
- Supplements – sometimes our dogs need help to simply be around their triggers. A dog who is riddle with fear cannot learn so sometimes we need to help them internally. There are some helpful supplements that are proven effective and easy to find.
- L-theanine and L-tryptophan are both amino acids that are very safe.
- I advise my clients to use these two links above, so they are giving their dog nothing other than the amino acids indicated. Compounded anti-anxiety products will have a number of other components many of which can cause issues, and with compounded products we won’t know which element is doing what.Here is a great Overview of Behaviour Supplements for Dogs and Cats. Remember to check with your vet before starting any supplements.
- If Ds/Cc is stalling or not working and the supplements are not helping your dog work through their stress and fears, it is time to consult a veterinary behavior specialist.