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Stress in Dogs and How to Manage It

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Stress in dogs can come from a variety of sources, including trauma, physical restraint, change of routine, boredom and separation, to name a few. Being aware of these things can help you minimize stress in your dog's life.

"It's a dog's life.'' How often have we heard that? But what is it really like to be a pet dog living in a human home? Try to see it from the dog's point of view. You spend a lot of time indoors by yourself when your owners are at work. And while it's true that they provide your meals for you, your food is always just sitting there in a bowl; it would be nice sometimes to chase it or play with it before you eat it. Yes, they take you out, but so often it's just for a walk around the block. Then it's back to the house with nothing much to do. The boredom sometimes just stresses you out.

Not only that, but your owners don't seem to understand that lots of other things can stress you out. It's stressful when you're not feeling well because of a medical problem. If they take you to the vet, that's always stressful. If they leave you in a kennel when they go on vacation, that's stressful. When you are exposed to dogs that are aggressive or threatening, that stresses you out, too.

Causes of stress

At the recent annual convention of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Melissa Bain, DVM, a veterinary behavior specialist associated with the Animal Behavior Resources Institute, delivered a presentation on the subject of Behavioral Enrichment for dogs. According to Bain, stress in dogs can come from a variety of causes. Among the most common are:

  • Trauma, whether as the result of accident or mistreatment
  • Physical restraint
  • Confinement
  • Change of routine
  • Noise
  • Boredom/lack of stimulation
  • Separation
  • Unwanted interactions, such as with overly aggressive people or other dogs

How to tell if your dog is feeling stressed

Signs of stress may include one or more of the following:

  • Whining
  • Yawning
  • Hiding
  • Drooling
  • Lip licking
  • Dilated pupils
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Aggression, such as biting, growling, or snarling
  • Lack of bowel or bladder control
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Other unusual behaviors

Occasional stress is a normal part of a dog's life, just as it is a part of human life, and is usually not the cause of any long-term problem. However, stressful events or circumstances that are constant or repeated can lead to symptoms of chronic stress and take an emotional -- and often physical - toll on a dog, as it does on people.

Once you recognize the existence of the problem, you can take concrete steps to ease your dog's stress. Just like people, dogs need an active life with varied activities and relationships.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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