The 9 Ways You Are Stressing Your Dog Out
Have you ever experienced stress? Of course you have! We have all experienced stress!
The problem is that undue stress (the kind that is unpleasant and can’t be controlled) causes numerous health problems.
- Change is sleep habits (loss of sleep, exhaustion)
- Pain and aches
- Nausea, dizziness
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Depression and anxiety
- Autoimmune disease
- Digestive problems
- Skin problems such as eczema
- Heart disease
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
- Reproductive conditions
- Indulging in alcohol, cigarettes, and/or drugs
- Thinking and memory problems
Just because I know you are mentally focused on it, let’s quick talk about the positive form of stress. This is the stress that we often choose: learning a new skill, playing a new game (yes, even video games cause some stress), or meeting a potential new significant other.
Minor stress, that we can control, is good for our psyche.
Just like minor stress, positively teaching your dog something new is good for your dog.
The problem is that the positive kinds of stress are so miniscule compared to the negative stress that we often can’t control.
These stresses are dangerous because they often slowly creep up on you and at some point even begin to feel normal, despite the damage they are doing to you mentally and physically.
Stress is actually dangerous to your dog, too. It can cause:
- behavior problems,
- heart disease
- skin problems and chewing
The 9 Ways You Are Stressing Your Dog Out
9. Telling him “Get Down”
Ohhhhhh my!!! This one makes my eyes widen and twitch when I am working with a new client who is training their puppy.
You’ve heard it!
And, the problem is not the words themselves; the problem is that 95% of the time the owner uses the same word or words to command the dog to lie down.
I know a lot of people don’t see it right away.
But if “Get Down!” means get off the counter and “DOWN” means lay down on the ground on your belly… it is totally confusing for the dog.
Not only is the dog unlikely to get off of whatever he has jumped on or accosted, but he is even less likely to get off that person/object and lay with his belly on the ground.
In essence, you are ruining TWO commands and cues while almost promoting two bad behaviors (jumping and ignoring obedience commands).
So when I hear people using “GET DOWN”, I have them change the “lay down” command to “Drop” or something that sounds totally different.
And, when I am working with a new dog and person and the dog jumps, I prefer teaching the dog “OFF”. Because “off” doesn’t really sound like anything else.
8. Saying “It’s Okay, It’s Okay”
No other phrase, in the history of dog training has conditioned more dogs to fear and panic.
I mean, you are just trying to comfort him, right?
The problem is that those words mean something to us humans, but typically we use them in highly stressful situations with our dogs.
We take them to the vet and try and reassure him, “it’s okay, it’s okay”.
We take him to the groomer and leave him saying “it’s okay, it’s okay”.
All the while, the dog feels like he is NOT OKAY and he is distressed and panic.
So, essentially after a very short period of time, just this short phrase can bring on panic for your dog; even in normal happy situations.
He has been conditioned that those few words bring moments of stress and discomfort.
You are better off to not acknowledge your dog when he is stressed.
Or, better yet… give him something else to do (dog obedience) so that he can be distracted by something fun, he can be rewarded, and he can let go of his fearfulness.
Giving your dog an obedience command that he can successfully accomplish is a great way to help a stressed or fearful dog!
7. Treating Him Like Royalty
If your dog is reading this, he may well be pushing your computer away right now, ha ha.
He wouldn’t want to admit it, because who doesn’t want to be treated like royalty occasionally. But, the more often you do this, the more it is causing him stress.
I mean, think about it. It is nice to have someone cook your meals, or do your laundry or drive you places… but would you NEVER want to be able to do those things for yourself? I think that would drive me crazy!
Dogs want confident and clear leaders and the rules and obedience that follows.
The average dog is not 100% confident in all situations.
However, if they don’t trust you as a leader (because you are so busy fawning all over him and giving him everything he needs) the feel as if they have to step up and be in charge.
This can also create possession aggression and regular dominance aggression because if you are rarely forced to share your resources and then someone has the gall to expect you to share, it can cause anger.
Your dog wants a leader. A fair leader, but a leader that he can trust and defer to.
Sure, you can treat him like royalty occasionally, but don’t make it a habit.
6. Pulling Him Around On His Leash
I think 95% of people are guilty of this, at least at some point in time.
I mean, the whole point of having a dog on a leash is to be in control.
And, it is critical to use the leash for that purpose.
But so few people actually “teach” their dog to be on leash and train them how to act and react on leash.
So many people clip a leash on their dog and head out into the big bad world with little to no training.
Then they end up pulling or being pulled everywhere.
And, no one wants to be pulled around by their neck, especially toward things that make them uncomfortable.
The worst offenders, in my opinion, are small children and small dogs.
I have seen small dogs locked down on their belly, refusing to move, and small children dragging them around like dust mops. Can you imagine the stress of that for the dog who has absolutely no control.
It isn’t hard to understand how some behaviors cause a dog to become aggressive.
5. Constantly Using “NO” or “BAD DOG”
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again! We are all too focused on pointing out the bad or the wrong that our dogs do and we are so infrequently telling them what they do that we actually like.
People are constantly saying NO, NO, no, no, no.
Everything that even resembles something that “could” be bad or go wrong is quickly followed with NO.
Ironically my dogs don’t even know “NO” for this reason.
It is too often abused.
They also don’t know “bad dog” unless I am following it with anecdote and kissing them on top of the head.
My opinion of dog training is to focus on all of the GOOD things my dog does and teaching him and rewarding him for what I like and only dealing with correcting bad behavior when I am forced to.
Which means, that after a few dog training sessions, my dog is choosing the behaviors that I want and extinguishing the behaviors that I don’t like!
Try it, it is amazing!
4.Yelling at Him
Yelling is a general, across species way of raising stress.
Want to stress your kids out? Yell at them.
Want to stress out your co-workers? Yell at them.
Want to lose your job? Yell at your boss.
You get the idea.
Raising your voice in anger is never the way to prove a point.
And, even if you think the environment is loud, remember that your dog has impeccable hearing. Don’t yell!
Colleagues of mine, who also compete in dog training sports often can be heard miles away shouting commands at their dogs. Heck, my ex was one of them!
I, however, want a dog that is so in tuned with my training that he is listening for a whispered command.
I don’t need to shout. Heck, I don’t want to shout.
And, if my dog and I are out on the field competing and I want to reiterate something that he seemingly didn’t hear or isn’t doing, I can quietly give him a second command!
3. Multiple Commands For A Single Behavior
We humans are notorious for this!
After all, we often have multiple words for the same object or thing.
Learning English, especially, must be incredibly confusing.
All refer to the same kind of sandwich.
As humans we learn that the “ph” in phone makes a “f” sound. We adjust to homographic words like tear and tear. I mean, your eye can have a tear and your pants can have a tear but the word only changes in your mind as you read the sentence.
Dogs just don’t need to know these things.
They also don’t need or don’t want long strung out commands that mean the same to us but confuse the grey muzzle hairs out of them.
For instance say “Fetch” or “Take” don’t say “go get your ball, go grab your toy, bring me that…”
Keep it simple.
Use words that your dog knows and has a positive association with and you will lessen his stress.
2. Punishing Him
The key with punishment is that it comes AFTER the behavior.
Yes, there is positive punishment and even negative reinforcement, but the average person doesn’t have any desire to learn the intricacies of these dog training terms.
Punishment, most often, comes after a behavior… that is what makes it “punishment”.
And, you can make your 5 year old daughter feel bad and punish her for leaving her toys out by making her spend 30 minutes in her room to think about why what she did was wrong.
But, your dog doesn’t function this way.
His intelligence and understanding is not this complex.
We can’t send him to his crate and make him think about the wall that he just ate.
By punishing him after the fact, we are just creating stress and confusion that never even really gets solved.
He just thinks you lose your temper sometimes and he should be weary when you look and behave in a certain way!
1. Hugging and Kissing
Nothing will get you bitten faster.
Like the video above so aptly demonstrates, dogs are not comfortable with human affection that goes against dog behavior.
You may see a naughty dog… I see an idiotic trainer that hasn’t accurately learned to read dog behavior.
You can see that the dog trainer in the video is happy and seemingly proud of the two dogs in the video and he must feel some kind of connection to the dog that he has on the leash.
However, the dog’s body language does not mimic the man’s feelings.
The dog looks a bit excited and tense. After all, he is being restrained by the leash and kept from playing with the other dog and the ball.
Nothing about the dog’s body language or facial expressions say that it is seeking love and affection or restraint.
And, I want you to note that the dog DID warn first. But it happens SO FAST. Not all dogs growl, snap, snarl or make a huge display. The dog showed his teeth, the guy didn’t let go (because of course he didn’t see it or I suppose feel it) and the dog corrected the trainer. It can happen THAT FAST. This is why I say a growl isn’t always a bad thing.
And, whether you like it or not, or realize it or not… hugging and kissing from a human to another species comes across as RESTRAINT and force.
Dogs don’t really restrain one another, unless they are mounting and mating.
So doing this to a dog that you don’t really know and don’t have that kind of relationship with opens you up for a bite like this one…or worse.
Yes! Yes, I know there are some of you who will fight tooth and nail that your dog likes to be hugged and kissed.
Heck, one of my dogs loves being hugged and kissed and she even presses her snout into my face and she curls her head into my shoulders.
The difference is that I have been loving on her like this since she was a wee puppy and I have TAUGHT her that this is how we show affection.
And, (this is a BIG ONE) she is also an affectionate dog.
Not all dogs like being petted. As a matter of fact, I have owned a few. They would tolerate me showing them affection, but they would NEVER like or accept it from anyone else.
Do your dog a favor, keep your affection to things that he/she likes and don’t add stress by forcing a dog that doesn’t want this kind of affection to tolerate it!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.