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One of the most important aspects of working with dogs is being able to recognise signs of stress. Stress in dogs causes the same physiological changes as it does in humans, where energy moves into the muscles in preparation for ‘fight or flight’. This causes the heart rate and blood pressure to elevate and suppresses other functions in the body, such as digestion, immunity and repair.
Stress in dogs can be caused through learned experiences which means that certain triggers can lead to this reaction. If a dog is exposed to this trigger on a regular basis, it can lead to chronic stress which can impair the immune system. It’s therefore essential that we spot signs of stress early, identify the triggers and alleviate them.
So what signs indicate that your dog is stressed?
Your dog will begin by showing low level signals of stress. These will vary by dog and as the owner, you should be aware of these signs. No matter how hard we try to avoid stressful situations, it is inevitable that there will be times when our dogs display signs of stress. I know when my dog Ruby is feeling stressed as she turns away and licks herself.
Other common signals of low level stress include:
- Avoidance behaviour
- Licking of the lips or nose
- Glancing away
These are all tell tale signs that the chemical process related to stress has started in the dog’s body. It’s vital that you move your dog away from the stressor at this point if at all possible.
If the first signs of stress are missed, the signals will begin to intensify. Each dog will respond in their own individual way and will eventually display a type of fight or flight reaction:
- Growling, barking, making themselves big and threatening, try to chase the threat away. This is a natural fight reaction,
- Cowering, whining, trying to get away from the threat. This is a flight reaction.
- Alternatively a dog may stay completely still – a freeze reaction.
Low level stress which goes unnoticed can result in long-term stress. This is common in dogs who suffer with separation anxiety. Signs could include:
- Coat problems
- Skin irritation
- Depression and general unhappiness
- Destructive behaviour
- Digestive issues
- Reluctance to eat
- Constant food grazing
- Chewing the tail
- Over grooming resulting in sore patches.
At Moment to Paws, we are trained in canine care and behaviour and the welfare of our dogs is our number one priority. Most dogs get a huge amount of pleasure from being around people and other dogs during therapy but it’s not for every dog and that’s why every dog we work with is thoroughly assessed before, during and after a workplace session to ensure that they do not display any signs of stress.