Stress is a normal part of life, but when it becomes overwhelming, it can cause physical and behavioral problems. Stress can be caused by environmental factors like noise or lightning, or by internal factors like injury or illness. But, stress can also be caused by the dog lover, accidentally.
The following are six ways you may be unintentionally stressing your dog, intended to help you, but never to guilt or shame you! Here we go:
#1: Lack of Routine
The most common reason for stress in dogs is a lack of routine. Dogs need to know what to expect during the day in order to relax and unwind. If you have a dog that has never had a routine before or if your dog has been in transition from one home to another, this can cause stress.
#2: Leaving Your Dog Alone
If you have a dog and work, or if you are a single parent who works long hours, then it's important to consider how much time your dog can spend alone. Dogs are pack animals, and they need the companionship of other dogs and people in order to feel secure.
If left alone for long periods of time with no interaction from their owners or other companions, they will begin getting stressed easily.
In most cases, you still need to work and leave the house, so consider doggy daycare or using a dog walker from Rover.com to help get your dog out during the day. You could even talk to a neighbor who might work from home and work out an arrangement.
#3: Insufficient Exercise
Many dog owners are unaware of the importance of exercise for their dogs' health. A lack of physical activity can lead to obesity, which can lead to other health issues such as heart disease and diabetes.
In addition to keeping your pup healthy, exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels in both dogs and humans! If your dog isn't getting enough playtime outside each day, consider adding some kind of daily walk into your routine.
The amount of exercise a dog needs depends on their breed, age and health issues. Dogs with short legs and long bodies have a harder time cooling off than taller dogs with longer legs. Large dogs also need more exercise because they have more muscle mass than small dogs do. Older dogs may not be able to walk as far or run as fast as their younger counterparts, so their daily walks may need to be shorter in length or slower in speed.
Ideally, at least 30 minutes of exercise each day is necessary. You can adjust this amount based on how your dog reacts. If this amount of exercise appears to reduce your dog’s stress and boost their happiness, it can remain at 30 minutes. If they are struggling with this much exercise, lower it. If they are still hyper, add more time.
#4: Your Personal Emotions
Your dog can sense your emotions. You've probably heard that dogs have a sense of smell that is up to 1,000 times more acute than ours. This super-sensitive nose allows them to interpret information about the world around them, and it also means they can smell your emotions.
Dogs are also incredibly sensitive to human social cues, and they're able to pick up on your emotional state, whether you're stressed or anxious. For instance, just by reading your body language and facial expressions, they can sense that you're feeling depressed throughout the day.
Or, if you're stressed out about a meeting at work tomorrow and come home from work looking anxious and tense, this will be picked up by your dog. He'll then react accordingly because he's been conditioned by your moods. He might want reassurance from his owner or maybe even try to help in some way, like offering food or toys.
The reverse is also true: When you feel good about something, such as having a nice chat with your partner over dinner or winning the lottery, these positive emotions are picked up by your dog too. And they will be reflected in the behavior of your dog.
#5: Being Hyper Upon Departure
If you excitedly say goodbye to your dog as you are leaving the house, you could be unintentionally causing significant stress. This is especially true for dogs with separation anxiety. Although you have good intentions and will miss your dog while you’re away, this makes it much harder for your dog to remain home alone and may make them wonder when they will see you next.
If you don’t make leaving the house a big deal and provide toys to prevent boredom, this process will be much easier for your dog. You can also leave blankets that have your scent where your dog lies down through the day and leave the radio on so there isn’t complete silence while you’re away.
#6: Staring Too Long
Staring is a form of dominance behavior that can be very stressful for your dog. Staring affects your dog's nervous system and causes physiological stress. This is because staring activates an innate predatory response in dogs that prepares them for fight or flight when they perceive something dangerous is near.
Staring is a threatening gesture that your dog interprets as such, so it will cause him to become anxious about what is going on around him and prepare for any potential threat that you may present as well as other potential dangers in his immediate area.
Of course, you’re probably not staring to be dominant or cause any sort of issue, but rather to admire the beauty of your pup. You can look at your dog to admire them, but staring too long could cause significant stress and anxiety.
Natural Methods for Calming a Stressed Dog
Cannabidiol (CBD) is the second most abundant cannabinoid in Cannabis sativa, after tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD has been shown to help dogs feel better, especially those who are anxious or stressed. That’s why CBD treats, like Canine Cush, are becoming significantly more popular over time.
The most prominent way CBD reduces stress is by lowering cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone released in response to stress, which can cause feelings of anxiety and even panic attacks. Another way that CBD reduces stress is by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate moods and emotions, so when there's not enough serotonin in your dog’s system, stress and anxiety can spike.
Watch for Warning Signs of Stress in Dogs
Dogs can't talk, so they use other ways to communicate. They may whine, bark, or growl when they want something. Dogs also use body language to show you what they need and how they feel. But if you don't pay attention to these stress signals in dogs, it's possible that they could develop a behavior problem in order to get your attention.