Author: Focused Fido

Recognizing Stress and What to Do About it

Stress is part of everyone’s day to day life, even dogs. When we start to stack stresses on our dogs, especially fearful or anxious dogs, is when we will start to get into trouble. Most dogs will get stressed from one thing or another.  Stress isn’t always a bad thing, but it is helpful to know what stress looks like from your dog, and what to do to help them through discomfort.  Below are a couple of visual representations that show the expressions they may show as well as physical signs you can watch for.

Some of these expressions can be seen in other situations as well, so taking the situation into account as well as looking at your dog’s expression is vital.  If your dog has just been playing with their best friend, they will likely end up with a happy “clown mouth”.  Pay attention to multiple expressions or physiological signs to be able to determine if your dog is truly stressed or just over-aroused.

If your dog is panting in a cool environment where they shouldn’t be overheating, then they are likely stressed.  Not taking offered cookies is a huge one we watch for when training dogs to be comfortable around their triggers.  If a dog stops taking cookies, we have pushed them too far and need to back up to where they were last comfortable.

As stated above, stress isn’t always a bad thing.  If your dog is unsure or scared about a situation, you can slowly ease them into it and expose them to minor stress to help them acclimate to it.  We want to be careful that we never force our dog to be in a situation that they are terrified of.  If we force our dog to face something they aren’t ready for, we can set back any training we have done with them.  Taking careful precautions to not “flood” your dog with too many triggers is important to keep them moving forward and overcoming their stress levels instead of getting overwhelmed by them and possibly feeling like they must escalate to a bite.

If you are in a situation that is stressing your dog out and are unable to remove them, try to get them focused on something else. Move as far away from whatever it is that is stressing them out and try to get them to focus on you, a toy, a cookie, something that they love! Walking away from an overly stressful situation is always the best and we should be aware of what is likely to put unhealthy amounts of stress on our pups. We always want to set them up to succeed in any and every situation we expose them to. If we aren’t paying attention to their levels of stress, we can accidentally set them up to fail. Listen to your dog and go at their pace when exposing them to scary things.

Preventing Dog Bites

Dog bites are becoming an epidemic in society. As we get further and further from dogs living and working alongside us, we start to lose the ability to be able to read their body language and know what they are feeling. Below, I will outline a few different things to look for to help prevent a dog from biting. Learning how to read a dog’s body language is key to knowing if we are pushing them past thier comfort zone.

Defining a Bite

Bite: has punctured skin and drawn blood.

Nip: has contacted but not broken the skin.  May have left a bruise.

Mouthing: mostly shown by young puppies or untrained adult dogs.  There is generally very little if any, pressure involved.  Puppies may end up breaking skin because they don’t know any better yet.

It is important to know what to call different levels of a dog putting their mouth on you.  Ideally, every dog would understand that putting their mouth on people isn’t acceptable, but sometimes they aren’t taught or feel they must defend themselves for some reason.  Teaching puppies bite inhibition from a young age will help them understand that teeth on skin hurts and that it is not an acceptable behavior.

Aggression Progression

One of the most important things to remember is that any dog can bite.  A lot of times we don’t see the smaller dogs as being as big of a threat (most likely because they aren’t horribly large), but they have teeth just the same as larger dogs.  We want to prevent bites from all sizes of dogs.  The ladder below, from Farm and Pet Place, depicts how we can visually see a dog is getting close to their biting threshold.


We never want to corner a dog.  A lot of times, the calming signals depicted in the above graphic, will present if an animal is uncomfortable with the situation.  Usually, this means that they feel trapped in one way or another.  Always pay attention to if you are cornering a dog.  Never approach a dog that is displaying any of the above calming signals.  If we approach when they are displaying these signals, they will escalate to the next level until, in their mind, they have no choice but to bite to keep you away.

Calming Signals Visualized

Highlights

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