Preventing and understanding dog anxiety
It’s not only humans that experience stress – dogs do too. A stressed dog can´t express himself as we can, so it’s necessary to recognise the signs and help dog lead a more relaxed life.
There’s a difference between a dog who is stressed because he has to visit the vet or doesn´t take to another dog and a dog that experiences more underlying reasons for anxiety.
What are the signs of dog anxiety?
Several signs show a dog is feeling stressed. These can range from constant barking to biting or hiding behind their owner. Other signs include:
- shaking or pacing
- cowering and putting the tail between the legs
- not eating
- upset stomach or no longer being housetrained.
The reasons for a stressed dog are numerous and can be due to a change in routine, moving house, maltreatment in the past or a fear of loud noises. Older dogs can also feel anxious when a new puppy, animal or baby is introduced to the household.
Why do dogs feel threatened by a new puppy?
Dogs are territorial, their home is their castle. When a new family member arrives into the dog’s life, whether it’s a puppy, kitten or new baby, they are likely to feel threatened. Their routine will be upset and suddenly there’s this new creature in their space and it’s there all the time.
Whilst some people believe dogs need company, certain dogs may be quite content just living with their owners. This is clear when an older dog is stressed by a new puppy. It’s important to show the dog we still care, and they are as important as they were before. Just like with children and a new baby, we may find focussing on the older dog will make them feel safe and secure.
How to ease a dog into a new home?
If we’re rehoming a dog, it may take some time for him to settle. There will be new smells, routines and people to get used to, which can be stressful for a dog. Give the situation time and show them lots of love and affection.
We should also set boundaries right from the start, so the dog knows the rules. These are things like not jumping on the furniture, staying downstairs and going to their bed. Clear rules will establish a respectful relationship and show a new dog what’s acceptable.
When we bring the dog home, he has to explore the areas he will be allowed in as there will be a lot of new scents. Keep his bed and feeding area in one place and give him toys, particularly if he has favourites brought from another home. Spend time with the dog and establish a walking routine and a time for going outside to the toilet. Dogs are creatures of habit, and a stressed dog will feel more comfortable if they know what to expect.
How to settle a rescue dog in a new home?
Bringing a rescue dog home is different from having a puppy as the dog may have suffered in ways we’re not aware of. They could have been abandoned, beaten or just not had any love.
Take your time and allow the dog to settle slowly. Be prepared for toilet accidents as this is a sign of a stressed dog. Don´t get angry, just take them to where they should go to the toilet and stay near them. When they do their business praise them, so they learn this is the right place to go.
It’s a good idea to dog-proof our home before we introduce him to his new house. A dog who is anxious in a new home may chew furniture, shoes or plants. It can be dangerous for the dog, particularly if he eats a poisonous plant.
Rescue dog anxiety can also show in whining and barking. Ignore this, much as it’s difficult, and reward them with a treat when they’re quiet.
Why do dogs shed when stressed?
Whether a dog is adjusting to a new home or doesn´t like travelling in the car, a sign of stress is shedding his coat. A stressed dog may lick their legs or paws repeatedly which can cause the hair to fall out and the area to become sore. Or sometimes stress hormones cause hair to shed, just like in humans. If we notice excessive hair loss outside of the dog’s normal malting time it could be a sign of stress.
What are other ways to destress a dog?
There are several ways to calm a dog, whether he´s a puppy, rehomed or rescue dog. Here are some ways to relieve tension:
- regular exercise – there’s nothing like a good run to let off steam
- avoid triggers – if the dog doesn´t like something, for example, loud noises, keep them away from these situations
- give them a calming dog bed – and a blanket that’s their own or an old piece of clothing that smells of you
- try crate training – which gives the dog a safe haven
- provide toys – for mental stimulation
- don´t leave a dog on its own for too long – this is when he may bark, chew and cause destruction.
The trick is to recognise when a dog is feeling stressed and to help them with their anxiety. Sometimes just a cuddle and play to show them we care is enough to calm them. A massage behind the ears and talking in a calm tone also helps. Never shout at or hit a dog.
A stressed dog needs more attention than a calm dog and as his owner, we can make the dog’s life as relaxed as possible. If all else fails we could employ the help of a dog psychologist, however, this can be expensive and it’s much more rewarding to bond with our dog ourself.
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Written in collaboration with Sandrine Tran, Cécile Da Cunha and Julie Auger