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