A couple of weeks ago I touched on the topic of signs of stress in your dog. Let’s take a look this week at some of the ways that humans may inadvertently cause stress for their dogs.
•Dogs, like humans, need their own space. Whereas one human hugging another reflects affection, dogs may find the act of hugging to be too restrictive for them and not enjoy the experience. As with most things, if you know your dog well, you will already know the reaction that hugging will cause but be careful with dogs you don’t know well.
•One aspect of training a dog that is key is consistency. This also applies to how you treat your dog throughout its life. If one day you tell your dog that jumping on the couch is OK but the next that it’s not, you will end up confusing your dog by giving mixed messages. This is not a path you want to follow. By feeling that he/she has to double guess which message you’re sending will confuse and stress out your dog. In the same vein, decide on one word for one particular action. Don’t use multiple words for the same thing. For example, you could use the word “down” to tell your dog to get off the bed and then at a later time use the word “off” to mean the same thing (in your mind). Dogs understand best when one word is linked to one action (or command). In your own mind, as well as a family, decide on the ground rules (and boundaries) and stick with them.
•If you have a good relationship with your dog, staring into his/her eyes is totally fine, in fact it makes your dog feel good. However, if you come across a dog you don’t know well, staring directly into their eyes can be viewed by the dog as a threatening, aggressive gesture leading to potential discomfort and stress.
•As they say, “dogs will be dogs”: opportunists from the day they leave the womb, don’t be surprised if shoes get chewed or pizzas disappear from counter tops! Don’t get mad at the dog and stress them out: invariably you have not managed your living space particularly well and Fido has spotted an opportunity to “have fun” or fill his belly. Think like a dog and try to be one step ahead of your furry friend.
•We all want to calm our dogs when we know they are in stressful situations. A visit to the vet, not dissimilar to us humans going to the dentist, is not normally at the top of a dog’s “favourite things to do” list. However, by using words such as “it’s OK” to our dog may end up backfiring as they will associate “it’s OK” with going to the vet which, to them, is a bad thing.
•Dogs need both physical and mental stimulation. It behoves us as dog owners to provide such exercise otherwise the stress that lack of exercise may generate could result in more issues to deal with as they find their own way of getting rid of nervous energy.
As owners, we can be guilty at times of humanizing (or anthropomorphising) our dogs and getting surprised at the dog’s reaction to our behaviour. Remember, however much we love our dogs, they are still dogs and not furry children!