Dogs can’t tell us when they feel stressed or frustrated. This is why canine stress often manifests in other ways, such as destructive behaviour or excessive barking.
Here are five tips for reducing stress and making sure your dog is happy, healthy and calm.
1. Know the Signs of Stress
Dogs show stress in a variety of ways. Some of these signals are obvious, but others are often mis-understood or missed.
Examples of stress signals include:
- Tail tucked between the legs
- Lip licking (especially when there’s no food around)
- Pinned back ears
- Excessive panting
- Barking or whining
- Increased shedding
- Crouched body position
- Turning away or other avoidance behaviours
When you notice signs of stress, look for triggers in the environment. Is the dog feeling crowded or overwhelmed by a boisterous game? Is there a noise that’s making him upset? Or is he frustrated by a lack of exercise? Try to identify the trigger and then remove it from your dog’s environment.
2. Provide Plenty of Mental and Physical Stimulation
One of the fastest ways to reduce stress is by providing enough exercise for your dog. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which trigger positive feelings. A physically tired dog is also likely to sleep better, which is essential for stress reduction.
Mental stimulation is just as important. Puzzle toys, trick training and other games are brilliant for preventing boredom without leaving the house. Mentally challenging games can be just as tiring as outdoor exercise!
3. Mask Stressful Noises with Calming Sounds and Music
There is evidence that suggests certain types of music have a calming effect on dogs. A study by the SPCA, in particular, found that music could reduce a dog’s heart rate and stress hormones.
Certain genres are more relaxing than others. Classical, reggae and soft rock seem to be particularly popular amongst dogs. It’s important to keep mixing up the playlist though, as listening to the same songs for more than a few days reduces the effect.
Playing background music can also cover up potentially stressful noises in the environment. So, if your dog gets worried by cars driving past or other dogs barking, music could be an easy solution.
4. Create a Quiet Space for Your Dog
It’s vital for a dog to have a quiet and safe space where he can relax. An open create with a cover is often perfect for creating a “den,” but a bed under the table can have a similar effect. Alternatively, TheDogClinic.com has a list of the best cave beds if you want an all-in-one solution for a small breed.
Ideally, the bed or crate should be placed in a room that’s quiet and doesn’t have much foot traffic. This isn’t always possible, especially if you live in a small apartment, but try to find a corner where your dog will feel secure.
Make sure everyone in the household understands not to disturb the dog when he’s in his safe space. It should be somewhere he can have a complete break from noise, games, and attention, so that his stress levels can drop.
5. Stay Calm
Dogs are highly perceptive when it comes to their owner’s emotions. If you feel stressed, your dog probably does too.
Of course, we all get stressed at times. But resist the temptation to shout or scold your dog, as this will only make his stress worse. Instead, ignore unwanted behaviour and reward your dog when he does the right thing.
Stress is a natural reaction that prepares a dog for potential dangers, so it’s not always a bad thing. Chronic stress, however, can lead to illness, unhappiness and destructive behaviours.
The first step is to identify what’s causing stress and removing the trigger. Regular exercise, mental stimulation, and providing a safe space are also effective ways to reduce canine stress.