By Carolyn Fuhrer
Today there is more and more focus on how stress affects our health. These same concepts also apply to our dogs. We, as humans, can use stress reduction techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and other relaxation techniques. For our pets, there are many products on the market ranging from drugs to aromatherapy, to videos they can watch while we are gone, but there is more that we can do.
In order to help our pets with stress, we need to look at what might be causing stress. Stress has been defined as any event that requires the organism to adapt or change. The more adaptive or resilient the organism is, the better it can handle stress.
Through our training and guidance of our dogs through their daily lives, we are looking to achieve a state of mental, physical, and emotional balance. An animal’s potential for wellness depends upon how well he can respond to stress at any given time. An animal that cannot respond well to stressors loses his emotional, physical and mental balance, and can endanger his wellness.
Animals must have ample time to recover after responding to a stressful challenge. If stress is too prolonged, they lose more energy than they can recoup. This can lead to to cell or tissue damage, a build up of free radicals and other by-products, and the animal will be weaker the next time he has to cope with stress.
Prolonged and persistent chronic stress can be expressed through behavior issues, gastrointestinal disturbances, weight loss, problems with other organs or glands, and inflammatory responses which can further damage health.
So, how can we help our dogs? Insecurity about place in the pack or family is a primal source of anxiety. I believe that clarity and consistency in training and life situations are the foundation to reducing stress in our dogs. Overstimulation is another factor we should try to control. In a natural state, dogs spend a great deal of time sleeping or resting. When they engage in activity, even enjoyable activity such as agility, a run in the woods, play – stress levels increase to meet the needs of the activity and dogs should have time to rest and recover. Consistency – knowing what is required and expected in life – helps them feel more secure and can help lower stress.
Some people confuse stress and drive. Frantic behavior is NOT drive. Drive requires focus that can be channeled. Out-of-control behavior is NOT drive. A dog that is frantic cannot learn.
If their basic life needs are met – water, food, shelter – nothing can stress a dog more than inconsistent demands, lack of structure, and, therefore, lack of a feeling of safety. An owner must realize that a stressed animal cannot learn and must work to reduce stress through clarity in training and expectations to help the dog become available to find a structure in life that will work for the dog.
Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 130 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 4 Champion Tracker titles. Carolyn is the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She is also an AKC Tracking Judge. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 30 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions, and ideas for her column by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.