The Dog Adoption Handbook: Understanding Stress

For your dog, moving into your home can be a stressful experience. As we mentioned in previous chapters, it takes time (even months) for your new pooch to settle in and become a member of the family.

Put yourself in their shoes and imagine being permanently relocated to an alien environment with complete strangers – turning a dog’s life upside down can be overwhelming. For some dogs this has happened twice in a short period of time – arriving in our care and then moving into yours.

Just like humans, dogs can easily become stressed when placed in new or frightening situations. It’s important to recognize when your dog is stressed so you can help calm him down and create a relaxed environment for your pup.

How do I know if my dog ​​is stressed?

Unfortunately, dogs don’t have a verbal language like us, which would make it easier to understand what they’re saying! But they are excellent at playing charades and will convey their feelings through body language. You’d be amazed at how nuanced a dog’s body language is.

Knowing how to understand your dog’s body language, and then knowing how to react accordingly, is a great way to manage his stress level. Most of us are good at recognizing the most obvious signs of distress and fear (showing teeth or growling).

But there’s so much more to body language than that – and if we can notice the more subtle warning signs first, your dog won’t feel the need to escalate his communication to something more obvious like growling. .

Some signs of stress can be confusing or easily misinterpreted. Did you know that dogs often lick their lips as a sign of calm, pant when very stressed or sniff the ground to de-stress?

Common signs of stress include:

  • Panting when not hot or thirsty
  • Fully close mouth (most relaxed dogs will have a slightly relaxed jaw where their mouth is slightly open)
  • Yawn when not tired
  • Licking their lips
  • Flashing frequently
  • Move in slow motion
  • Trying to move, turn, or step back – curl up or shift your weight away from you
  • A tense body
  • Lowering their head when you try to pet them
  • Showing the whites of their eyes (also known as “whale eye”)
  • Have ears back and/or tail lower than usual

You can find more examples of a dog’s body language in the image above.

If you notice your dog exhibiting behavior that indicates he is stressed or anxious, it is important that you give him the extra space he is asking for.

This means that you remove them from the situation that is scaring them or change the situation (for example, ask someone to stop approaching) so that they feel safer.

It may be helpful to speak with a qualified Force-Free trainer to help you identify the causes of his stress and find practical solutions to help him cope.

What causes my dog’s stress?

Dogs can become stressed for many different reasons. If you’ve recently adopted a dog from a shelter, keep in mind that the stress of that environment can take a while to leave their system – and big changes such as moving to a new home should cause them stress. anxiety.

It’s important to make sure they have a comfortable space in your home so they can decompress and give them time to adjust to their new home. It can often take months for your dog to really settle in, feel comfortable, and start showing signs of his true personality! This means that during this time you might see some surprising new behaviors from your dog that we haven’t seen at the shelter – things like barking, jumping up, pulling on the leash, digging/destructive tendencies or reacting to things in the environment are a few. behaviors that might arise. Of course, these behaviors can also be influenced by stress, and you may find that they also decrease over time. Unfortunately, there is no single answer because behavior and personality are complex and every dog ​​is different. If you find that unwanted behaviors are increasing over time, it’s best to contact a qualified trainer to help you resolve your issues with tailored training and a management plan unique to you.

Some common stressors include:

  1. Rushing too quickly into social interactions

Dogs can become stressed when interacting with other dogs or other people, so it’s helpful to take things slow and avoid putting your dog in situations that could make the problem worse. This doesn’t necessarily mean your dog doesn’t like people or other dogs, just that it’s important to give them plenty of time to settle in and slowly introduce new people and/or dogs – one or two at a time for months. There’s a very big difference between making a new friend or two and being thrown into the depths of a dog park or house party. Some dogs are naturally more introverted than others; they don’t need meet new people or play with new dogs every day and they can live a wonderfully enriched and fulfilled life being able to relax with a few good friends. Of course, some dogs fear interactions with new people or other dogs. If we are aware of this, we will have told you about it during your adoption appointment, but sometimes these things don’t happen in a shelter environment. If you notice your dog showing signs of fear and stress around new people or new dogs, it will be best to get one-on-one coaching from a qualified trainer. These types of behaviors do not tend to resolve with continued exposure without proper training intervention as well.

  1. Separation or isolation distress

Some dogs experience stress when left alone. This may be because they don’t know how to feel safe when isolated or because they have developed deep attachments to family members. Some symptoms of this distress include destruction around the house or an inability to settle down – pacing the backyard and barking at passers-by. Managing and treating this distress is possible, and it’s important to make sure you work with your pup to reduce his fear of being left alone – learn more about how to manage separation/isolation distress. Some isolation/separation distress can be so extreme that it is diagnosed by a veterinarian as separation anxiety. This has similar management strategies as described above, but your vet may also prescribe medication to help the dog cope.

  1. Rushing into unsupervised interactions with other pets in the home

If you have another dog at home, it’s important that you give both dogs time away from each other so they can relax and decompress. It is important to feed them separately to reduce the risk of stress or other negative interactions around food. Walking and training them separately can be a great way to bond with your new dog and maintain your relationship with your existing dog. Even dogs that love other dogs deserve some time away from each other, and it’s quite common that if one dog is a social butterfly, the other may be slightly more introverted and need more quiet time. Of course, being happy to meet new dogs in the parks is very different from living with a new dog at home. To give them the best chance of becoming best friends, make sure to keep them away from each other as well.

If you have other pets in the home, make sure they have their rooms secured (with gates or baby gates) where the new dog can’t go. You may need to spend several weeks with the two animals separated by gates and baby gates, before slowly introducing them on a leash. Just because your cat was okay with your last dog doesn’t mean your cat accepts dogs, and just because your dog was okay with cats in a past life doesn’t mean the way he will try to interact with your cat will be appropriate or enjoyable for your cat. If you are unsure of these presentations, it is best to contact a qualified Force Free trainer to help you through the stages while keeping everyone safe.

Without acknowledging that your pup is stressed, their anxiety may build up and lead to behaviors such as digging and destroying property, as well as other signs of distress, including excessive barking and attempts to escape. .

How do I calm my dog ​​after he’s stressed?

It’s always important to have patience and go at your dog’s pace. Depending on the cause of the stress or fear, there are different techniques to help them feel comfortable. If possible, you should eliminate the stressor of your puppy’s new environment and, if necessary, seek help in managing his stress.

If at any time you are unsure of your next steps, struggling to find ways to help your dog settle in, or seeing an increase in unwanted behavior, it is best to contact a trained Force Free trainer to help you through the process with a tailored training and management plan specific to you and your dog’s needs.

Reducing your dog’s stress is possible. It’s important to use your dog’s body language as an indicator and find the cause of his stress so you can fix it, either on your own or with the help of a trained Force-Free trainer. With enough love and patience, your pup will be calm and confident in no time!

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