K9 Corner, Aug. 8

Published 9:25 am Wednesday, August 9, 2017


Dogs find many things that are stressful; this can alter the animal’s behavior. So if you really want your dog to be on its best behavior, it is up to you to provide a calming situation before the stress begins. (That means you will have to be calm too since the dog takes his cues from you and can sense when you are “up-tight.”) I have noticed this interaction when working with owners trying to prepare themselves, and their dogs, for something stressful like being in a parade, going to a dog show and in some cases even coming to a dog obedience class. 

The most difficult situation to try to overcome is the fear of thunderstorms. It is bad enough when the dog is the only creature that is fearful, but when the owner is also terrified of these storms, I usually recommend that another family member should work with the dog while desensitizing it to the noise; the training requires a very calm person to set an example and calmly read a book while soft classical music plays in the background. Every once in awhile, the trainer can look at the dog and if it is lying quietly in the room, say “Good dog!” and offer him a treat. That way the animal equates something good even though the storm and air pressure rage outdoors.

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There are many things that can stress a dog: a strange dog or person on its territory, a different food (sometimes even a different food bowl), a new event like riding in a car for the first time or traveling to a new area. Some symptoms of stress a dog exhibits are: overly excited, like jumping up and down, jumping on you, whining, barking or mouthing. Or the opposite side there is lethargy like wanting to stay in its dog crate and sleep. Severe cases might show muscle tremors, increased panting or drooling, dilated pupils, sweaty feet that leave tracks on mats or even diarrhea or excessive urination. 

How can you relieve stress? I have found that training the dog in obedience exercises in the vicinity of stress-producing events or things helps. I had a 10-year-old dog that I wanted to get her obedience title, but she hadn’t been socialized well enough to go to a dog show. I worked her in an area close to a school playground where the little ones ran and squealed and fell down.  It took two weeks to convince the dog to ignore the excitement and pay attention to me. We got to the show and she was perfect, even when a toddler raced over and threw her arms around my dog’s neck shrieking “Oooo, doggie!” My dog just looked at me and I calmly said “Good girl!” while the child’s mother raced over apologizing and saying she was glad my dog liked children. For a first encounter, I was proud of the dog and she deserved all the praise and the yummiest treats I had with me.