Friday, February 18, 2011

Stress and Calming Signals

When a dog yawns, I often hear a nearby person comment: "Oh, you're sleepy, poor little thing."  But, a difference between humans and dogs is that dogs do not yawn when they are sleepy.  When you see a dog yawning (especially, when s/he does a slight yawn with a shake of the head), it means the dog is under stress.  S/he is trying to relieve the stress by sending a calming signal.  Dogs sometimes send calming signals to relax themselves.  Other times, they will send such signals to other dogs or people to help them relax.

I tried this technique with a person who was causing me a lot of stress.  I looked away and kept yawning, hoping the person would read the ‘calming signals’ I was trying to get across.  It didn’t work… too bad!  She didn’t understand my intention at all and continued to make me stressed!  So, I gave up…

But, you can try to send this calming signal to a dog when you see that it is under stress.  I am sure it will work much better than the time I tried it on a human!

Like humans, dogs get stressed for many reasons.  When they get stressed out, it can have negative impacts on their health.  When their stress reaches at the maximum level or other parties don’t understand their signs, dogs sometimes express their stress by defending themselves and attacking others as a last resort.  But dogs always send signals before they take an action.  Unfortunately, so many times they take ‘the last resort’ action because humans don’t read or understand their signals.  And, that can lead to an unpleasant situation like a bite.  If we understand the signs of stress that dogs are sending, we can prevent such incidents.

Signs of Stress

Even though dogs are fairly adaptable to their environment, they still get stressed out by a sudden sense of dread, for example, or sudden changes in their environment.  Dogs are very sensitive to violence, anger, or aggression when they feel those things taking place in their surroundings.  In addition, dogs get stressed out if the environment is too noisy or people pay too much attention to them and don’t leave them alone.  But, at the same time, since they are a pack animal, they also get stressed when they are isolated too long.  Excessive exercise and play lead to stress, too.  Direct violence or anger from people or an attack from other dogs will very likely cause them stressed as well.

The following is a list of common stress signs:

Acting restlessly
Overreaction (to a doorbell, running into a dog on the street, etc.)
Scratching body, biting, chasing tail
Tense muscles
Shaking or trembling
Suddenly producing a lot of dandruff
Panting without exercising
Behaving aggressively
Barking, howling, whining
Fixation on certain things like light, shadow, noise, etc.
Loss of appetite
Urinating or defecating more frequently than usual

When you see a dog shaking his/her body as if s/he is "shaking off water," the dog is trying to shake off whatever caused him/her to stress.  It’s like a reset of the computer system.

A Relaxing Environment for Your Dog

As a dog owner, the most important thing for you is to read and understand the stress signals which your dog is sending.  Good communication and mutual understanding are the keys to a “stressless life” for you and your dog.  One of the things you can do for your dog is to pick a quiet spot in the house (i.e. a corner of the living room) and put a blanket down so that your dog can go there when s/he needs a downtime.  It is also a great idea to set up a crate at a quiet spot of the house.  Dogs are descendants of wolves.  They love their "cave" and use it like a den to retreat.  Once they recognize it as their personal space, they will start bringing their treasures like favorite toys, treats, etc.

Music can work as a great stress reliever, too.  Incidentally, classical music is played throughout the day here at my home since I started living with Juliette.  One of her favorite activities is to take a nap while listening to nice and relaxing music.  She sleeps very peacefully.  According to a study done by an animal rescue organization, the music of Mozart has the most calming effect on dogs.  And, dogs seem to feel most relaxed by the sound of the piano.  Nowadays, there is such an activity like DOGA (dog YOGA) where people and dogs can practice together to release their tension.  Why don’t you try to find some ways that both you and your dog can use for a stress reliever?

Well, I would like to talk about “exercise” in the next article.  As you know, exercise is one of the most helpful ways to relieve stress.  I hope to give you some important information on exercising for you and your dog.  Please look forward to it.

Until Next Time, Be Kind to Man’s Best Friends!


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