Most people experience stress and anxiety to varying degrees in the course of their lives, be it due to problems at work or with their social lives. Whilst most can find ways to manage their stress levels, others can find that the pressure they come under is hugely damaging to both their mental and physical health. The same is true of dogs, who due to their lack of ability to rationalize away problems, can quickly start to exhibit signs of ill health due to emotional distress. There are a variety of reasons that a dog can start to feel anxious – mostly to do with their social lives and daily routine. Whilst these causes may seem minor to an outside observer, stress and anxiety can drive the animal to undergo behavioral changes (such as increased lethargy or even aggression) and can even be a factor behind the development of severe health problems (such as insomnia, stomach ulcers, hair loss, weight loss and a compromised immune system). A such, it is wise to neutralize the causes of anxiety in a dog’s life before they become a serious issue.
Causes Of Anxiety In Dogs
Travel – Most dogs enjoy a fairly predictable living environment that they can come to view as part of their ‘territory’, providing a safe harbor that they can return to at will. This is the reason behind their increased levels of wariness towards strangers that may approach their owner’s property (such as delivery drivers) and the animal’s somewhat predictable ‘patrols’ of their house. However, whilst dogs are fine with frequent day trips to new locations that they can explore at will, constant travel to new and seemingly disconnected locales can induce feelings of anxiety due to the lack of familiarity with their surroundings.
As a means of reducing the levels of stress that a dog may feel whilst travelling on a long-term basis, owners can employ certain objects in order to maintain a sense of continuity and balance in the dog’s routine. If the dog is provided with the same bed or cushion to sleep on each night, this can reduce the animal’s stress levels. Similarly, if the animal is travelling due to work, regular affirmation of their skills and value via challenges and rewards can be used to calm them.
Conflict With Other Animals – One of the most common scenarios in which dogs will become anxious, is if they are left in a kennel for a significant period of time. Whilst separation from their owner can also induce stress, one of the main reasons that kennels may prove intimidating is the presence of other, potentially unfriendly dogs. This can also occur at home, where a neighbor’s unfriendly dog can act in a constantly aggressive manner towards another animal that it perceives as a potential threat. Whilst time away from the problem and behavioral training can go a long way towards stopping the dog from becoming stressed, a more effective solution is to end the conflict itself.
This can be done via methods such as supervised interaction with the other animal with both owners present or by simply removing one of them from the situation (by using a fence to obscure sightlines or simply by taking a different route on a morning walk). That said, cutting contact between the two feuding animals is by far the easiest and safer solution in the long term when it is possible, as dogs do not reconcile their differences particularly easily.
Socialization – The vast majority of dogs love to explore new environments and meet new people as well as other canines. However, too much of this activity can rapidly start to wear thin and test the dog’s patience, causing irritability and loss of energy. Furthermore, constantly having new people and animals enter their home can cause the dog to feel uncomfortable, especially if this is a sudden change in their lifestyle. To prevent this from happening, owners can make sure to accustom their pet to meeting new people and guests from a young age, making an effort to regularly take them into public spaces and to have friends interact with the animal whilst they are visiting. This will desensitize the dog to frequent contact with people and animals which it views as outsiders and can help prevent other behavioral problems such as aggression and overexcitement. This can extremely effective in the long-term, as habits learned and reinforced from an early age will typically stay with the dog for its entire life.
Dog training classes can also prove stressful, as the animal will be expected to perform new tasks in an environment where it is surrounded by strange people and animals. Whilst clear rewards and praise can help alleviate this, some dogs may benefit more from individual attention from the trainer or from training at home instead. It should also be borne in mind that conversely, social isolation can also prove a source of anxiety for any animal with a natural group instinct.
Poor Nutrition – Most humans will at some stage have had to tolerate the effects of a poor diet, where their food intake was of such a poor quality that they began to suffer ill effects, from a simple lack of energy to noticeable digestive discomfort. The same is true of dogs, who will typically need to be much more physically active during the course of an average day than their human masters. Furthermore, canines are much more sensitive to nutritional deficits in their diet, exhibiting symptoms much faster than humans if they do not receive a proper amount of vitamins and minerals. Whilst this will have obvious physical effects on the dog’s health, it can also take a mental toll. This is because the dog will find it harder and harder to perform the tasks required of it and to keep up with other animals during periods of play.
In order to stop this from occurring, most people will be able to simply feed the dog a properly balanced diet, containing a high level of protein and fats along with the essential minerals and oils the animal needs to maintain its body. These qualities can be most easily found in red meat, fish, bones and poultry. However, budgetary restraints may at times make this unfeasible, in which case, dietary supplements in the form of pills may be needed in order to round out an otherwise low-grade diet.
In a similar vein, giving the dog a few opportunities each day to exercise and burn off excess energy will help greatly with stopping them from retaining excess fat. Obesity can lead not just to emotional problems such as anxiety and depression, but also to serious physical conditions such as heart disease and joint pain. Additionally, if they are not permitted to exercise, the dog will find other ways to entertain themselves as they become more and more restless, often destroying furniture and other household items.
Effects Of Prevention
By implementing a well-considered program of stress relief and prevention, a dog owner can be fairly certain that their pet will remain mentally healthy. However, whilst the emotional benefits of anxiety prevention are plentiful, there are numerous positives to be found on the physical side as well. Proper diet and exercise will mean that the dog’s body will stay in good shape as well, with many of the typical problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle (e.g. joint problems, heart disease and endocrine disorders) being avoided. This means less time spent worrying about the animal’s well being and less money spent at the veterinary clinic. By that same token, properly training the dog and taking the time to accustom them to potential changes in their lifestyle can save owners major headaches when it comes to dealing with other pets and new people.
It is very straightforward to attend to the physical health of a pet, but their mental health can be just as important and will have a major impact both on the quality of the animal’s life and that of their owner’s. By taking steps to minimize anxiety in their pet’s life, owners will often find that their own lives will by no coincidence become much easier as well. Although the subject can at first seem intimidating, there are plenty of professional resources available both from vets and dog trainers alike, making it easier than ever for pet owners to protect their dog’s health.