What Stresses Your Dog?

Earlier this week, we wrote about stress in dogs. Let’s discuss some of the most common stressors for dogs.

Photo by Marie Carter

First of all, remember that stress can be either good or bad. Our society tends to view stress as something to be avoided, however some stress is necessary for personal growth. Furthermore, stressors can provoke positive emotional reactions, even while causing strain on the limbic system. Stress in and of itself is not bad. It’s the amount of stress, and how our dogs cope with it, that we need to focus on.

Positive stressors are things that our dogs enjoy that nonetheless cause them to become overly aroused. We’ve written about the problems with overexcitement in exercise (and the myth that “crazy” dogs need more physical exercise) before, and this is one example of a time in which positive stressors can have a serious impact on your dog’s wellbeing.

Excessive, prolonged, chronic excitement (even if it’s happy excitement) is hard on your dog’s body. Winning the lottery, riding a rollercoaster, and attending your favorite rock band’s concert are all stressful events, albeit ones that provoke positive emotions. Just as our bodies aren’t designed to deal with these heightened levels of excitement on a daily basis, neither are our dogs designed to deal with things that get them overly aroused every day.

Negative stressors are things that cause a physical reaction while provoking negative emotions, such as fear, defensiveness, or anxiety. These vary for every dog, but may include thunderstorms, separation from you, vet visits, small children, sirens, the use of punishment in training, or life with a grumpy housemate (of any species).

These events can stack up to create a heightened stress state in some dogs. While your dog may only be mildly worried by fireworks, large crowds, strangers, having his feet touched, and guarding his bone, he may show a severe reaction if a strange person touches his feet during your party while he’s chewing on a bone and fireworks are going off. Our systems can only handle so much.

So, what stresses your dog? How can you tell when your dog is starting to feel stressed, and what do you do to help him or her feel better? Next week we’ll talk about how to help a stressed dog and how to lower your dog’s overall stress level. We look forward to hearing from you!

8 responses to “What Stresses Your Dog?

  1. Laura Haselhorst

    I would love to hear more about recognizing stress in your dog. When Ami is aroused or stressed, he has a most fantastically large ruff that rises all the way down his back. At lower levels he brings his ears either far forward or far backward and pants – although this often happens when he’s hot, also… I would like to be better able to recognize other signs, and have some tips for calming him and teaching him to calm himself.

  2. Stress can have a bigger effect than those you mention. The epigenetic effects of stress can be quite significant, with physical and behavioral impairments. I’m planning to post on this in the near future…

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  4. It’s interesting that you posted about positive and negative stressors. I really enjoyed the article, I never thought of positive stress causing a problem-but you are so right! I was so focused on taking away the negative stress-I didn’t think about the positive stressors. Oreo does the zoomies when my husband gets home and when we visit family she will be uncontrollable when greeting (jumping, nipping fingers, etc).

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