STRESS IN DOGS AND PROPOSED SOLUTIONS Introduction It is not always easy to explain the relationship we have, or we would like to have, with our dog. Living with a dog is living with a different species to our own. It is therefore necessary and so very IMPORTANT to get to know and understand each other. Dogs have this AMAZING capacity to ADAPT and have therefore been able to adapt to these extraordinary lives that we have chosen for them. The dog has become part of our society and plays an important social role. Because of this adaptability we expect our dogs "to understand” and fit PERFECTLY into our environment. This environment does not meet their basic needs and is so far removed from their natural way of living that problems occur. And when they are provoked into unusual reactions or "aggressive" responses they are reprimanded, punished, or killed. For many of us it is an attachment that we feel is irreplaceable, always there for us and never judging. Put another way, the dog is "man's best friend”, but are we his best friend?
Stress and our dogs Just as people can experience stress from having to cope with all sorts of situations and pressures in their daily lives, so can dogs. Some stress is not a bad thing, in fact it motivates us to get things done i.e. knowing that we have to answer to someone at work motivates us to get things done on time. However, as we all know, when there is too much pressure, we start to suffer emotionally and physically. The same is true for dogs.
Stress is neither good nor bad. It is ALL stress. The body cannot tell the difference. Stress can be physical, emotional, psychological, environmental and/or infectious or any combination of these. It is also important to remember that all stresses are cumulative whether we recognise them as such or not. In nature it is vital for survival that the organism responds optimally, this will ensure a successful hunt or escaping a predator. Remaining in that state, however, is not good and negative consequences will occur. The effects of chronic stress penetrate to the core of our being. It changes us in the process; it alters our body and our brain and will take some 9 months to repair from the time the stress is taken away.
When stressed, the body reacts by immediately releasing various stress hormones and these will peak some 10 to 15 minutes later. It will take the body and brain 3 to 5 days to return to the level they were before the stress occurred. So what happens? The first response is the release of adrenalin: we have all felt this sudden tingling/rush of blood/heart pumping when we have a sudden scare. If the stress remains then cortisol (the adrenal stress hormone which can lead to adrenal fatigue) is released into the system. At the same time, various other changes occur including amongst others, the release of sexual hormones, making us irritable and angry and what people call in dogs ‘aggression”. The gastric juices can be affected inducing diarrhoea and/or vomiting; the body’s water balance maintained by the Antiduretic Hormone (ADH) goes out of kilter: we sweat/get hot/need to pee. The blood sugar levels, normally stored in the liver to “feed” the brain a little at all times, are disrupted as all redirected to the muscles and none is left in storage, so the brain is starved. Australian Research has, now discovered that Neuropeptide Y, a neuro-‐ hormone, which is a major regulator of stress, damages the immune system. When it comes to our dogs the impact of stress has long been unknown and, therefore, ignored with little research done on the matter. But we do now know, that stress has the same effect on dogs as it does on humans. And chronic stress creates too high a level of adrenalin. This not only makes our dogs’ senses much more acute and sensitive than usual, it also affects their ability to concentrate. This in turn will cause them to be far more reactive to what is going on around them and make them more judgmental than they need to be. If there is occasional stress the body will recover. However, if this happens everyday, overtime it will not. If stressful things happen too often the body will become chronically stressed and the immune system will be impacted. The dog will get sick. Research is now showing that almost every kind of illness can be traced back to stress, so if our dog is stressed we need to find the underlying cause and resolve it ASAP.
Sources of stress When our dog is overreacting to things, there is a fair chance that it is due to too high a level of stress/chronic stress. If this is the case, no matter how much we “work” with him we will not relieve his stress. If anything we will probably make it worse. We need to find out what is stressing him and do something about that. Chronic stress can arise inadvertently (the list below is not exhaustive): From owners who • Throw balls, Frisbees, sticks etc. • Take their puppy to “play groups”; all too often the pup is overwhelmed by the length of the class and of the “play sessions”, the size of the group/pups, the tasks expected of him, the constant stimuli, not given any break/rest periods, is asked or worse, forced, to do things he does not understand, etc. • Cycle, jog or any other kind of repetitive activity with their dog • Allow their dog to play every day with other dogs or owners • Do agility, obedience classes when the dog cannot cope with those activities
• “Tease” or over-‐excite “Where’s the cat? Get the cat? “ “walkies” “get bally” etc.. • Control their dog – give him no possibility of making choices • Touch and let others touch their dog constantly, for too long and “impolitely” or owners who do not have sufficient physical contact with their dog • Only offer the dog a repetitive walk • Have the dog on a collar, too short a lead or one that is always tense or being yanked/tugged… • Over or under stimulate their dog • Force things on their dog • Confuse their dog, have too high expectations • Treat their dog as their “baby” not understanding his canine needs • Do not give their dog clear messages so the dog has no idea what is expected of him • Unbeknown to them are threatening to their dog. Most of the time, we humans have no idea that, at best we are being impolite and at worst, threatening to our dogs. For example, it is threatening to a dog to walk straight at him, reach for him, bend over him, stare into his eyes, move quickly or have fast movements, etc. These will always cause the dog to use a calming signal, which in turn may not be seen, be ignored or worse still, punished. A recent study has shown that a person approaching a dog without curving substantially increases the dog’s pulse rate whereas there is no change in the pulse rate if the person curves. The environment is of particular importance as no canine living in the wild is ever exposed to so many repeated stressful situations as our dogs are today. From the environment or the way the dog is raised including: • A “bad” breeder/a puppy farm etc. • Too little rest and “proper” sleep • Too little water (specially for puppies) • Too little /too much or inappropriate food • Illness or a trauma • The lack of/too much close contact with owners and/or other dogs • Too much time spent alone • Not being given the opportunity to relieve himself when he needs to • Sudden changes (moving home, birth, death etc..) • Too much noise and people running around the house • Too little/too much freedom of movement • No space he can call his own, and/or not enough choices of where he can relax/sleep/rest • Too many dogs kept close together with no opportunity to withdraw and maintain personal space • Too many threatening things such as children, strangers, frequent storms, violence or anger around the dog. Dogs react to the state of mind, emotions and moods of those around them!
Symptoms Stress symptoms create further stress and so begins a vicious circle; the body and brain need sufficient time in between each stressful situation to repair themselves.
This will be anywhere from 3 to 5 days. Of course some of these behaviours can happen when the dog is not stressed so we need to OBSERVE our dog, and look at the context and how often the particular behaviour is occurring. • Nervous, jumpy, generally over-‐reactive • Unsettled, restless and fidgeting such as chewing on the lead, air snapping etc. • Lack of concentration, forgetting things and/or displacement activity • Destructiveness of the home and /or objects • Excessive barking, whining or howling • “Shut down”: the dog becomes very quiet and non-‐responsive. Unfortunately most owners do not realise how much the dog is suffering. • “Aggressive” behaviour • “Too few”/“too many”/or NO calming signals (such as lip licking, avoiding eye-‐ contact, yawning, turning head away) etc • Mounting • Self-‐mutilation: the dog licks or chews himself until sores appear • Change in bitches’ seasons and dogs may not have any/or have too much interest in mating • Increase or loss of appetite • Diarrhoea • Allergies and skin problems, lacklustre coat, excessive dandruff, sudden moulting and/or body odour as well as bad breath, • Panting, other than after exercise or a very hot day and/or sweaty paws • Tight muscles, shaking/trembling • Compulsive behaviours: tail-‐chasing, staring at shadows etc • Excessive peeing and pooing; in the house; on the walk when not needing to, when arriving somewhere • Resting Pulse. It should be somewhere between 40 and 65, if it is over 70 then action must be taken. To take our dog's resting pulse, we place a flat hand on the inside of our dog’s thigh for one minute (stopwatch in hand) and count (it is worth noting that, unlike us humans, our dog’s pulse is not regular).
Solutions THERE IS NO MAGIC REMEDY FOR STRESSED DOGS but by thinking about how we might feel before imposing something on our dog may be the way forward. As this will help us develop a more harmonious and less stressful relationship with our 4 legged friend. Stress cannot be removed by training, doing obedience or exercising; any of these will just make matters worse. The stressful stimuli must be recognised and taken away. We need to identify as many stress factors as possible and systematically reduce the amount of stress the dog is regularly exposed to. It will take as long as it takes to repair the brain and the body. It will take some 9 months to recover from chronic stress from the moment there is no stress. . It is important to find out more about what our dog needs in terms of mental stimulation, exercise, sleep, companionship, diet and lifestyle to ensure that he is happy and healthy both mentally and physically throughout the many stages of his life. And we need to arm ourselves with PATIENCE and breathe deeply.
The first thing to do is to take away the possibility for our dog to react. As an example, if our dog lunges at dogs/people who are too close, we need to make sure we do not put ourselves in a situation where we cannot offer the dog an alternative. So we go to wide open spaces where we can be far enough away and curve (see Calming signals by Turid Rugaas) in ample time to allow the dog to learn. We continue doing this, gradually reducing the distance, until the dog is able to cope. Another example will be at home, every time we get up to go somewhere (out or just to get a cup of tea) we should use the hand signal (a relaxed hand palm facing the dog low down -‐ not a “stop or sit signal”). This tells the dog that there is nothing to worry about so he does not need to move. To stimulate his self-‐confidence, we need to give our dog choices and simple pleasures within set boundaries. By boundaries I mean making sure we do not have a free for all, with no manners. We need to make sure we teach our dogs to be polite, show them what is acceptable and not, whilst making sure that we are consistent so that our dog knows where he stands. A curious dog is a healthy dog. We should not control him all the time; before not allowing the dog to do something we should ask ourselves why he should not do it? For instance before asking him to “sit” we should ask ourselves “what for?” We control so much of their lives already. We decide when, where and for how long to exercise. We even usually control the speed at which they are allowed to walk; when, where and what they eat; where and with whom they live; when and where they pee and poo, Dogs are the ONLY animal on earth who is not allowed to choose when and where he can toilet! We need to spend much more time observing our dogs to become aware of how they feel in different situations without expecting them to “always fit into our world”. We should be a good parent and protect our dog at all times. In all circumstances we need to observe him and watch his calming signals. For example, how does he react when we cuddle him, when we have visitors or when we get ready to take him out for a walk? Does he rush to the door barging all in the way or does he bark, or pant or lick his lips and stop to scratch himself? Observing him will allow us to identify if things are getting too much for him and react accordingly. Equally, we should not be “over protective” towards him, while NEVER forcing him to do anything. He will need to be exposed to different places and situations to learn to cope with life. We need to look at our dog and only do as much as he can cope with, but we need to do it in order to “vaccinate” him to our human life, in other words, enable him to cope. Slowly but surely day-‐by-‐day he will be able to cope more and more, this may, for example, start with as little as sitting with him by the front door and watching “the world go by”.
Many dogs do not get enough good quality sleep. They need more sleep than we do. Puppies need 16 to 20 hours sleep and adult dogs 14 to 18 hours in every 24. Safety is essential, so, we need to make sure that wherever they sleep they feel safe and that nothing can interfere with them. Unless absolutely necessary we should not disturb our sleeping dog. Dogs are, what is known as, ‘polyphasic’ sleepers; dogs will choose somewhere to sleep for a while before getting up and moving somewhere else. This is normal and instinctive behaviour so we need to give our dogs enough choices: sofas; beanbags, fluffy rugs, sheepskins, blankets and different types and sizes of dog beds, baskets, cushions, etc spread around the house. For proper REM sleep they need to be able to lie flat out so enough space is very important. Dogs are social animals. They normally like to sleep with company, day and night. Occasionally however, especially in multi-‐dog households, they need to have the opportunity to sleep alone and in peace, away from others, should they want to. Mental stimulation is NOT the same thing as physical stimulation. Many preach "a tired dog is a good dog” but we know that to be a fallacy. Yes, dogs get fitter but if not given enough mental stimulation; they will suffer from an imbalance. Balance is the key and we therefore need to look at our daily walk/play routine: how much and how often, what type of exercise? And we will probably need to replace some of it by more appropriate mental stimulation. We should allow our dog to see and be with other dogs. The best way to do this is to have social walks if at all possible twice a week. These can be on and off lead and not include any rough playing. Whether our walks are with others or on our own they should be gentle, long lead sniffing walks. These should be in different and new places at a SLOW pace. We walk much too fast and therefore do not allow the dogs to check their pee-‐mails often enough! Assuming it is safe, we should have off lead saunters. We can sit down enjoy the view and allow our dog to do what dogs do: use his natural curiosity. All and any of these are much more beneficial to our dog than a brisk walk or some mad running around, chasing sticks, each other etc. We also have a tendency to walk our dogs for too long; 30 to 40 minutes a day for a grown dog is really more than enough (and probably not every day either). It is worth noting that the breathing pattern for sniffing is different from normal breathing. Normal breathing is suspended while a dog is sniffing. So a panting dog is unable to smell; a dog that is racing around or stressed is not going to be able to engage with his environment or other sniffing activities. Another reason why calm walks, and gentle activities are what our dogs need most.
We should introduce our dog to “enriched environments” (EE) both through different objects in our house and different areas when out walking. We should NOT just have walks in the woods or park, but should visit a car park, a field, a farm, a petrol station, or a beach. Our imagination is the limit. If we are introducing our dog to an EE in the house or an enclosed area, the dog does this on his own. If it is outside, then he will be on a long lead.
We should encourage our dog to search for objects. Again this can be done in the house, the garden or when out on a walk but we need to monitor and make sure the stress levels remain low. If our dog is searching in the house or an enclosed area, he will do so on his own. If it is outside, then he will be on a long lead or off lead if recall is good.
We should endeavour to have something for our dog to chew for an hour or two every day. Licking and chewing is a normal and instinctive behaviour, which makes the dog feel good, it is good for his teeth and is very calming. Chewing on food related type things such as raw bones, antlers, pizzles, cow hooves, filled Kongs, carrots, rawhides, beef ears, dried sweet potato etc are all great depending on what suits our individual dog. We should do “treat searches”, “brain games” and organise gentle obstacles courses for him. We can use the natural environment to climb over/under, to balance, to weave etc and when in the house we can use kitchen chairs, tables anything we can think of, that is in the spare room. If the dog the house or an this on his own. If it is on a long lead.
garage, the attic or the is treat searching etc in enclosed area, he does outside, then he will be
We can introduce our dog to “tracking”. To start we lay a track with something for the dog to eat at the end. We start with a straightforward exercise; the dog sees the track being laid. We use an easy terrain and short distance. We allow the dog to smell something belonging to the person, and allow him to track until he finds his food reward as well as either the person or something (large to start with) belonging to the person. As our dog gets better at this, we can increase the difficulty slowly but surely. A food reward should not be used more than 2 or 3 times. Tracking is done with the dog on a harness and long lead. We simply follow the dog at a relaxed pace allowing the dog to use his nose, we do not need to say anything. We need to look at our dog’s diet: is it appropriate? This may change with age or due to illness, whelping etc. We could take our dog to visit a fully qualified osteopath to check for stiffness in the body, even if there is no obvious outward sign of pain or discomfort (I recommend a yearly check up). Dog Appeasing Pheromones (DAP), massage, Tellington Touch (TT), Dr. Bach flower and herbal remedies as well as homeopathic treatments have also been seen to help. Although there are no scientific studies to support their use, some owners have observed positive changes in their dogs. If you believe that there is no fundamental reason for your dog to be stressed, it may be a good idea to have the vet check the thyroid and test for hypothyroidism. Dr Dodds stipulates that “ … Hypothyroid patients have reduced cortisol clearance, and the constantly elevated levels or circulating cortisol mimic the condition of an animal in a constant state of stress, as well as suppressed TSH output and production of thyroid hormones. In humans and seemingly in dogs, mental function is impaired… “
Conclusion We should be CALM and aware of our own breathing. We should take regular deep breaths, as this too, will help our dog remain calm and relaxed. Whatever we do to help our 4-‐legged friend remain stress-‐free will hopefully carry over into our own life, leading to greater health, relaxation and more enjoyment for both. We should always remember that the key to a happy, healthy dog is BALANCE. We should OBSERVE and LEARN to READ our dog, and RESPOND accordingly. Too much or too little of anything is not good so we should not overwhelm our dog, not expect too much whilst creating “win win” situations for both, most of the time just “let him be” and allow him to make CHOICES. This will strengthen our relationship based on mutual respect, love and trust with no place for gadgets, punishment or violence. MGF/April 2013.
Sources and recommended reading International Dog Trainer Education, 2012/13. Turid Rugaas On talking terms with dogs: Calming Signals, 2006. Turid Rugaas Barking, the sound of a language, 2008. Turid Rugaas My dog pulls- What do I do? 2005. Turid Rugaas How to handle living with your dog, 2009 Winkie spears Understanding the silent communication of Dogs, 2011. Rosie Lowry The Canine Kingdom of Scent, 2012. Anne Lill Kvam Playtime for your dog, 2006. Christina Sondermann Stress in Dogs, 2007. Martina Scholz & Clarissa von Reinhardt Dog-games.co.uk Sally Hopkins (http://www.dog-‐games.co.uk) Bones would rain from the sky, 2002 Suzanne Clothier Bonding with your dog, 2009. Victoria Schade Inside of a dog, 2009. Alexandra Horowitz In defence of dogs, 2011. John Bradshaw The emotional lives of animals, 2007, Dr Mark Bekoff, PhD Why zebras don’t get ulcers, 2004. Robert M. Sapolsky Adrenal fatigue, the 21st century Stress Syndrome., 2001. J. L Wilson ND, DC, PhD. The Canine Thyroid Epidemic, 2011. W. Jean Dodds, DVM
MARINA GATES FLEMING Canine Consultant - Country Representative PDTE 00 32 (0)479 50 32 21 or [email protected]