Stress in Dogs

We need to get back to basics and think about what nature intended for our dogs and then consider how we can reduce their stress levels.

Dogs in the wild were designed to have short periods of stress, when they would hunt, and long periods of rest, when they ate and slept. They defended themselves when they felt threatened. Some breeds, such as sight hounds, have razor-sharp reactions, but every dog was designed to hunt in order to survive. That’s easy to forget, but important to remember.

Stress can be caused by fear, excitement, and anxiety. Stress has several different effects on a dog’s body, including a drop in the immune system, increased pulse rate, increased gastric activity, higher levels of sexual hormones in the body, and increased anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) levels. A dog’s body will release adrenalin, and this hormone will continue to be released for anywhere from two to fifteen minutes after the event. It can take days for these levels to reach a normal balance again; and if the dog is continuously stressed, this situation can lead to behavioral problems and an overactive dog. Very stressed dogs often develop health issues, as the immune system is compromised.

An adult dog needs about 14 hours of sleep a day; puppies and senior dogs need even more. Owners may think their dogs are bored; more likely, they just need to rest. It’s important to allow our pets to rest in a quiet, peaceful area and to give them their own space. A dog that’s highly stressed can exhibit unwanted behavior, such as barking; mounting other dogs, legs, and cushions; urinating in the house; restlessness; and being overly active. A bored dog may start to nibble or chew items in the house to get the owner’s attention.

It’s often been observed that rescue dogs will urinate three to four times more than normal due to increased ADH levels, but this will decrease as the dog settles into the new environment and stress levels drop. A new study has also revealed that a dog’s heart rate may rise dramatically when approached by a person, although the animal shows no outward sign of stress. Plenty of products and methods can help dogs relax, and all of this needs to be taken into consideration when looking after our pets. We need to try to remove or avoid any situation that leads to stress. Dogs love to sniff, so why not let them take you for a walk in the woods instead of rushing them around? The need to sniff is recognized by behaviorists, who teach owners to have “sniff walks,” where the owners simply follow their dogs, allowing them to explore their environment in a casual manner at their own pace. Of course, with our lifestyles, this may not happen every time we take our dogs for a walk, but it’s a good practice to get into at least twice a week to mentally stimulate and relax the dog.

Many owners think dogs need a vast amount of physical exercise, but that is not necessarily true. Throwing a ball repeatedly can add to stress levels by getting the dog overly excited. The owner will end up witnessing unwanted behavior when what their dog really needs is more challenging mental stimulation. Using the ball for a game of hide and seek is more beneficial than having the dog just chasing around at random. Well-chosen products, such as KONG, can help settle your dog, provide that vital mental stimulation, and relieve boredom.