Some stress is not a bad thing – it motivates us to get things done. However, as we all know, when there is too much pressure, we start to suffer emotionally and physically. The same is true for dogs. The body cannot tell the difference between ‘good’ stress (eg. excitement) and ‘bad’ stress (eg. fear). Stress can be physical, emotional, psychological, environmental, infectious or any combination of these. 

We now know that stress has the same effect on dogs as it does on humans. 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 more reactive to what’s going on around them. 

Stress cannot be removed through training or lots of exercise. We need to identify as many stress factors as possible, and reduce or remove them. Any training we do will not be effective if a dog is stressed; they will not be able to learn new things. 

We also need to consider what our dog needs in terms of mental stimulation, exercise, sleep, companionship, diet and lifestyle to ensure they are happy and healthy. Let’s look at some stress-busting lifestyle tips.

Safety

  • Routine, stability, calm family group
  • Safe spaces in the home, exit routes
  • Reduce time spent alone
  • Avoid punishment
  • Give them choices
  • Temporarily removing triggers to achieve a feeling of safety

Eating

  • Social eating: dogs don’t like to eat alone. Sit with them while they eat, unless they have guarding issues around food.
  • Chewing every day
  • Licking every day 
  • Foraging activities e.g. Exploration Zone
  • Nutritionally balanced diet
  • Variety, especially variety of protein
  • Variety of tastes and textures

Body care

  • Regular access to toilet area – dogs are the only species that are not allowed to go to toilet whenever they need to.
  • Coat care – dogs must have soft surfaces to roll on e.g. carpet, grass, sand, rugs or bedding. They do this to distribute oils across their skin.
  • Don’t over-bathe or over-groom.

Sleep 

  • Adult dogs need around 14 hours sleep in every 24 hour cycle. 
  • They get the best sleep in the middle of the day and the middle of the night. 
  • They are social sleepers, meaning they get their best sleep with other familiar dogs or people. This is easy at night as we can move our dogs’ bed into our room but what about during the day? Even if our dogs sleep while we are out, the quality of their sleep will not be optimal. 
  • Calm, quiet environment, a dark room 
  • Do not disturb
  • Choice of sleeping places with different heights and surfaces, including elevated surfaces
  • Temperature choice: dogs need to be able to move around to seek the correct temperature. Crated dogs do not have this choice. 
  • Space: dogs must be able to lie flat out to benefit from the REM phase of sleep.

Are there any changes you could make to your dog’s lifestyle?