As humans we know that stress can wreak havoc on our lives. Stress can make us sick, tired, grouchy, distracted and so much more.
Often times our stress touches other people our lives, our children, friends, coworkers, bosses, etc. With our fast paced lifestyle, we are experiencing more stress all the time. We typically get stressed because we have too much on our plate, we have a troubled relationship (child, spouse, friend, coworker, parent, boss) or we are facing a problem or project that is overwhelming.
If stress can affect the other humans around us, can stress also affect our dogs?
As a dog trainer I know this is undoubtedly true. Although many of the anxious dogs I see have a genetic component to their anxiety, often they are experiencing something the dog’s owner is doing that is further triggering that anxiety and causing problems.
Often these owners are pushing their dogs too hard or using harsh training techniques. Other times, it is a change in lifestyle such as moving to a new home that is causing the stress. Along these lines, I have seen my own dogs experience stress because of my business.
I have boarded dogs at my house as part of my business. Dogs would come and go every day. At first, my pets seemed to like the variety of “friends” that came over to play. Gradually, however, I began to notice that my dogs were following me more and playing less. I also observed that my dogs were less patient and almost looked sad when dogs came over.
To deal with this problem, I started letting my dogs take breaks from the others by letting them stay in a room that was off limits to boarders. Just this small change brightened my dogs’ spirits almost immediately and they wanted to play again.
I have seen dogs experience stress in many situations. For example, dogs can be stressed if there is tension between pets in the home, if the owner’s work schedule changes drastically, or if the dog is forced to change homes on a consistent basis. Therefore it is important to pay attention to our pets’ behavior to determine if something is starting to stress them out. This is especially important if there is a big change in the daily routine.
Another way dogs can experience stress is with our training techniques or goals. Force and punishment can cause serious stress in dogs. This is one of the major reasons that those who study behavior almost unanimously discourage punishment training techniques. The animal may still perform the behavior you want but they may not be enjoying it. In addition, I have seen people force their dog to do a dog sport like agility, flyball or nosework when it is clear the dog is not enjoying it.
Humans have the ability to recognize stress in their lives and make the changes needed to decrease it (if they choose to) but dogs do not have that ability so we need to help them. If your dog’s personality or behavior seems to change or they show signs of anxiety, take a moment to consider if you lifestyle could be causing your dog to be stressed. If it is, then it is time to make some changes. You owe it to your dog.
Shannon has been a pet lover all her life and a dog trainer for over 20 years. She has spent her life observing, caring for and training animals of all kinds. She has worked in the Bird Department at Marine World Africa USA, and worked as an handler and trainer for an African Serval Cat at Safari West, a private zoo in Santa Rosa, California. She has participated in behavior studies including observations of bald eagles and addax antelope through the San Francisco Zoo and Safari West.
Her education includes a Biology Degree, specializing in Zoology from Sonoma State. She is a Registered Veterinary Technician, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (Knowledge Assessed), a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.
Shannon is currently serving as President for the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians.
Shannon’s dog training philosophy revolves around force free, positive reinforcement, however, her ultimate goal is for healthy happy relationship between pets and their people. Diet, exercise, environment and training all play a significant role in achieving this goal.
Shannon is currently the owner of Ventura Pet Wellness and Dog Training Center in Ventura, CA where she works with anxious and fearful dogs privately as well as teaching agility classes (Venturapetwellness.com). Shannon has also started a training website called Truly Force Free Animal Training (trulyforcefree.com).