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K-9 Corner: Ways dogs cope with stress

Dogs spend a lot of their time lying around taking it easy. (Cats are a worse role model since they are inclined to sleep 90 percent of the time, especially if they don’t have to hunt for food.) Because our pets seem to enjoy looking like they are lazy and without a care in the world, we are inclined to envy them their relaxed lifestyle.

However, did it ever occur to you that your pet may be stressed and sleeping helps him cope with the stress? Yawning is another stress reliever for a dog. Go to a dog show and you will see at least one dog in the ring yawning repeatedly. It is not likely that the animal hasn’t had enough rest; it is more likely that the dog is trying to relax and tell the other dogs in the ring that he is no threat to them.

Yawning seems to be part of the dog’s instinctive body language. Some trainers relax their dogs by repeatedly yawning when the dog is looking at them. Actually I haven’t been able to do that, especially if I am in the ring showing my dog and am stressed myself. Besides, I wonder what the spectators would think if they saw me yawning over and over again, maybe “She should have gone to bed earlier?”

Stress can be caused by any change in routine or environment. Storms seem to be the worse stress producers for the most dogs, but taking the dog out in the car can be stressful too. House cleaning day can send a nervous dog under the bed, and a change in diet can produce vomiting and diarrhea in some dogs.

Think about your five senses and realize a high-strung dog can be stressed by a re-arrangement of furniture, the playing of hard rock music, a strange, pungent odor, or even the ordinary activity of walking across a wooden bridge with its owner when it had never had the experience of walking on wooden planks or being elevated above ground. That is the reason we like to teach puppies to run through tunnels. The pups are young enough that they don’t know fear and they find it fun to disappear into the tunnel and appear at the other end to receive praise and a reward.

One stress factor that is usually overlooked is loneliness. Dogs are pack animals and need to live in a group situation. Some people have another animal to keep the dog company. This is not necessarily another dog since dogs are adaptable. Some pet owners find that their dog and cat are best buddies. One of the more unusual partnerships I have heard about involved a German shepherd dog who adopted a tank full of tropical fish as her pack. The human family would leave for school or work and the dog would stretch out on the couch where she could watch the fish until the humans returned.