Our nurse Clare has care advice for owners of stressed-out dogs
December 14, 2022
The last quarter of 2022 has probably been a busy and loud one with one thing after the other – Halloween, Bonfire Night, Christmas and finally New Year’s Eve – so many fireworks and people and parties and… As you head into 2023, you and your dog can enjoy some calm and a return to routine. But has it all been too much for your dog? How would you know if they are stressed out and need some help?
Our team at Apex Vets have some advice on spotting the signs of stress in dogs and how to avoid or manage them.
Having dogs as pets makes up a huge part of our family units, whether you have one dog or numerous in your household. Whilst most dog owners follow a daily routine with their pets, would you recognise if your dog began exhibiting signs of stress? Annual events such as Bonfire Night and Christmas can take their toll on pets so it’s important to try to minimise stressful situations and know the signs to look for.
Signs of stress in dogs
Stress can manifest in many ways, usually in response to changes within the household, routine, or external factors such as noise including fireworks and other similar triggers.
Signs of stress in dogs may include
- Changes in eating habits, or a reluctance to eat
- Disinterest in walking/exercise
- Unusual behaviour such as hiding in spaces within the home
- Licking of lips
- Ears back
- Changes in body posture (tail tucking)
- Pacing or whining
- Urinating/defecating inside the house
- Trembling or cowering
Preparing your dog for stressful situations
It’s impossible to shield your dog from all situations they might find stressful, especially as every dog’s development and life experiences will be different. The COVID pandemic and lockdown restrictions may have meant that new puppies in Stirlingshire missed out on important socialisation periods with other dogs and attending puppy classes. Basic conditioning is key in developing a dog’s ability to manage stress.
For example, as a puppy or new dog, taking them to the vets to simply pop them on the weighing scales and then leave as opposed to a complete consultation can provide a positive experience. At Apex Vets, we always make sure our reception team have a secret treat stash at the ready too!
In terms of noise related stress such as fireworks, thunderstorms, Christmas/New Year Parties, bonfires, and similar, the best policy is to start noise desensitisation training with your dog as early as possible – into the New Year once ALL fireworks have stopped. You can find further advice on this here: https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/dog-advice/understanding-your-dog/sound-therapy-for-pets, including a “Sounds Scary Guide”.
Reducing stress during stressful events
The next best thing you can do would be to not take your dog with you to stressful events, especially bonfire & firework displays, and even busy Christmas markets. Leaving your dog at home, in their ‘safe place’, is best all round as this serves as a ‘fear free’ space.
If you have crate trained your dog, you may find that on these occasions they are happy to take themselves into their crate, although this is not the ideal time to begin crate training for the first time.
However, it is unadvisable to leave dogs alone/unattended for long periods (or at all if possible) during stressful times. Perhaps a friend or family member, whom your dog is used to, can sit with them if you have an event to attend?
Furthermore, dogs should not be coerced into sitting with you. Being allowed to find where they feel safest and happiest is best. Reassurance is also important to help lessen anxiety or reactivity if the dogs seek this. It is possible to reinforce scared behaviour though by fussing too much, so balance is key.
Calming products for dogs
There are several veterinary related products available to help with stress in your dog and these can be discussed with any of our veterinary surgeons. This may include calming supplements, quiet ears, thunder-shirts, behaviour modification, or medication.
A vet will be able to guide you or suggest an animal behaviourist or veterinary professional who specialises in the field of canine behaviour.