Drawing from DO BORDER COLLIES DREAM OF SHEEP?
Ages ago, when man and dog first teamed up, the dog took the good with the bad. After all, the cuisine was good, there was useful work to do and there was lots of opportunity for a dog to stretch his legs and run. Sure, there was stress back then, too. A dog was likely as not to get kicked away from the best spot near the fire. An occasional kid might have pulled an occasional tail. And there was always the treat that instead of eating woolly mammoth for lunch, the woolly mammoth would eat him. For modern dogs, the sources of stress might not be as clear. True, it may still come from having to give up the most comfortable spot in the “cave.” Some rude child might still yank a tail. And while there are no longer woolly mammoths, there is still danger – from traffic, disease, and saddest of all, the lack of commitment of some human partners. In the old days, a dog could just go outside and run around until he felt like himself again. Even that is more difficult now. Now he’s often dependent upon us for stress reduction. He can no longer do it on his own.
So what’s a dog lover to do when there’s more stress than his dog can handle? First, note the signs that your dog is stressed – poor eye contact, blinking, yawning, backing away, whining, fidgeting, the inability to settle down, hiding, an abnormal breathing pattern, panting, lip licking, shaking, what have you? If you haven’t already made your dog a citizen of the world, it’s not too late to do so now. He should get off your property every day and get used to noise, crowds, changes in venue, people of all ages, races and methods of dress (including uniforms). He should be fine about having his head touched, his feet touched, his flanks touched. He should be able to ride in the car, go up and down in an elevator, pass a construction site. A blase dog is much less likely to get stressed in the first place. But there’s more. (Lots more. This is, after all, Part One.) When life isn’t exactly a bowl of cherries, here’s what you can do: 1. Use Your Dog’s Vocabulary of Joy. What does your dog do when he’s happy? Does he roll over, twirl in circles, walk on his hind legs, sneeze, bring you a toy, snort or bark? Excellent. Put these on cue as his personal stress busters. This will give you a quick, bullet-proof way of cheering your dog up when things are tense. (There was a British movie – so read the quotes with a British accent, please – in which a woman said, “I thought if I danced when I was happy, I would be happy when I danced.” And that’s the thinking here.) 2. Exercise Your Dog’s Mind and Body. Running around until you’re pooped is a great way to lower stress. If you are short on time or short on stamina, exercise your dog’s mind and body together by playing a game of fetch, say, and naming every step of the game and every object to toss. It turns out that thinking is exhausting work for a dog, so body and mind together will make for a relaxed, happy, tired dog much faster than exercising body alone. 3. Be in charge. Some dogs get stressed because they are given more responsibility than they can handle. Who made your dog feel safe, nourished and relaxed? Yes, his mom. Now that’s your role, even if you think of yourself as his dad! Walking through a crowd with your dog on a loose leash is asking him to make a decision every step of the way. Instead, keep him close to your side and you decide the path to take. The lovely thing about training is that the message underneath the commands is that there is always safety in following them. So when your dog is stressed, give him a little tune-up, plan a fun game or two, put him somewhere quiet to take a nap. The decision should be yours. Mother does know best! Come back soon for Part Two of Stress Busting. Because even though we no longer walk around with clubs and throw rocks when we are angry or in love, there’s still plenty of stress to be had and most of what you do to help your dog relax will have the very same effect on you.