What's Stressing Your Dog?
'But my dog isn't stressed! My dog has an amazing time every day, chasing the ball, chasing the kids, going to the park and chasing ducks and then we all chase him to get him back on the lead. On the way home he has a good shout at the passing cars, he loves that and then when we get home he plays fetch with the children. He's such a busy bouncy happy dog... he's not stressed...!'
Or is he?
Most of the activities listed there will increase arousal, that means stress hormones go UP, even if the dog is having a ton of fun.
It is also possible the dog is not actually having tons of fun at all - for example games of fetch - if your dog genuinely loves chasing the ball, bringing it back, giving you the ball... maybe he's enjoying that.
What if your dog actually really loves holding and carrying the ball and finds you insisting he give it back, and then throwing it away again HIGHLY stressful and quite irritating?
For many dogs bred to hold and carry, that could be the case.
What if your dog actually prefers to watch the ball in case it makes any sudden movements and is keen to keep the ball in one place and control where it is - if your dog is a collie, collie x or other herding type that may actually be what floats her boat, and again when you insist on touching that ball and throwing it away you might not be doing something fun, but doing something damn annoying and stressful.
This is just one example of how we could be doing things with our dogs that build stress, and we think they are enjoying it and we think we are fulfilling their needs and tiring them out and letting them blow off steam..... But actually we are building MORE stress and frustration!
Here's another... watching out of windows, whilst people are home or when they are out.
"Oooh my dog loves to watch out of the window and shout at any cats or dogs or birds or foxes or hedgehogs or gnats or butterflies or patches of light or or or..... its such FUN for him...'
Is it? Or is it intensely frustrating because he can see all this stuff but he cannot control its movement, he can't chase it, he can't kill it or pick it up or whatever it is he wants to do with it... he's stuck behind a pane of glass and all he can do is watch and shout. That might not actually be fun!
And.. even if it really IS fun, is it good for him? After all I could find people who tell you cocaine and base jumping are fun (and even more fun together) but ultimately highly risky for your health!
So what can we do? Should we never throw the ball or let the dog look out of a window?
No, not at all.
Ask your dog, listen to your dog, think about your dogs breed, possibly their history before you got them if thats relevant.
Try things out - if you aren't sure which part of 'watch the ball, chase the ball, pick up the ball, carry the ball, bring the ball back' is actually fun, then experiment with your dog.
Throw the ball, does your dog bring it back? Yes, ok, now throw another identical ball, does your dog go and get that one or does he watch the original one, if he does then he definitely prefers watching to chasing. If he chases then maybe the chase is fun, maybe he'd like to have and watch two balls.
If your dog routinely runs off to chew the toy, drops it away from you, tries to stop you picking the ball up, or parades it about without letting you touch it, its highly likely he doesn't actually enjoy you touching, or throwing the ball. He prefers one (or more) of the other elements.
In that case, devise games that take that into account, play WITH your dog..
If your dog shoves the toy at you, actively giving it to you and starts to run in anticipation of you throwing it, then he probably does love the chase aspect, so devise games that take that into account.
Whichever you choose though, these games are still highly arousing even if they are enjoyable so you need to figure out ways to bring that arousal, that excitement down.
Do your games when you've time to spend on that warm down - sprinkling food into long grass, long quiet walks where your dog sniffs everything, some time playing the back pack walk game, even chilling out and doing some gentle massage whilst watching TV.
Build quiet time into your day, create a space your dog can enjoy without being in the midst of yelling children or shouty sports fans, give him food dispensing toys instead of meals in a bowl so he can gnaw and chew.
Cover windows with particularly exciting views with frosted film, either fully or partially.
Simply considering the balance of mental activity vs physical, stimulating vs relaxing, can help you make changes that will help your dog.
Todays blog is inspired by the amazing ideas and thoughts on play by Kay Laurence https://www.facebook.com/KayLaurence/ who teaches and trains in the Gloucester area and speaks everywhere, go learn, enjoy!
©Emma Judson 2018