I get asked quite often, "why does my dog seem afraid?" or "why does he hide so much?" and more often, "why is my dog so hyper, I don't understand."
If a dog appears hyper, it may indicate boredom or a need to burn off energy, necessitating walks or playtime. A behaviorist can assist in determining whether overstimulation within the household is the issue. Dogs may retreat to a quiet place to relax, but if they engage in excessive activity, they may require exercise to release energy. A long walk, including time for sniffing and exploring, can be beneficial.
Excessive stimuli within the home can cause health issues, such as gastrointestinal problems. A quiet place, such as a bed or crate with a blanket, can be provided to allow dogs to relax and escape overstimulation. If a dog is anxious, providing chew toys and a peaceful atmosphere can help, especially if the dog has a strong parasympathetic nervous system. Neuroscience has taught us that the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for increasing the dog's arousal in response to stress and the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for counteracting the arousal and calming the dog. But sometimes we have to teach them this. No yeling at the dog, or punishing him or sticking him outside is going to teach hm anything. He will only be confused as he was trying to communicate to you what he needed.
To teach dogs how to relax, a quiet retreat space can be set up with a soft bed, chew toys, and treats. Blocking off the room with a baby gate allows the dog to explore and learn that the space is for them alone. Avoiding loud noises elsewhere in the house, such as loud music or movies, helps the dog recognize that the retreat space is always available to them. Meditation or spa sounds can help dogs relax, and with time, they will learn to use their retreat space when needed.
There is so much more to teach on this subject, just call me if you have any questions. There are more methods to teach a dog to calm down and feel safe. Dogs all learn in different ways.
BUT HOW CAN YOU TELL?
The signs of fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS) can vary from pet to pet and are directly correlated with the intensity of these emotions. While some stress is normal, chronic stress can negatively impact your pet's health. It's essential to recognize your pet's FAS signs and take steps to soothe their fears to prevent further escalation.
Pets may display subtle cues through their behavior and body language. Cats tend to withdraw and become quiet when stressed, while dogs may exhibit more obvious FAS signs such as whining, pacing, or avoiding eye contact. Chronic stress can lead to changes in behavior patterns, routines, and even health issues like inappropriate elimination or overgrooming.
FAS triggers for pets can stem from environmental or social interactions, such as encountering new situations or meeting unfamiliar people or animals. Improper housing situations, inter-cat aggression, and loud noises like fireworks and thunderstorms can also cause stress in pets. Pets who lack proper socialization or whose mothers were anxious or nervous during pregnancy may be more prone to FAS.
Recognizing your pet's FAS signals and understanding their triggers can help you prevent and soothe their fears in the future, ultimately improving their overall well-being. Seek a behaviorist should you need help in translating the information and communication that your dog is giving you.