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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Stress Reduction for Behavioral Issues

When our dogs are faced with behavioral difficulties, it often helps to look at the big picture rather than just concentrate on the “problem” at hand.

A personal example: My Matt-Matt had learned to lunge at moving cars.  We got the behavior under control with vigilance and management.

One night, we had a bad thunderstorm. The next morning right before I was about to take him for a walk, his sister Lupe snapped at him for some reason.  Once we were outside, Matt-Matt lunged at the first moving car he saw. This was after going several months without ever lunging at a car.  The combined stress of the storm and his sibling snapping at him probably had a lot do with him “acting out” once he was outside.

This doesn’t mean that I should stop helping Matt-Matt feel better about moving cars. But, at the same time that I would work on the specific issue, I should work on reducing other stressors in his life. I can’t control thunderstorms but I can try and help him get through them. And I can control his sister by keeping her away from Matt-Matt when he is excited.

So whether or not your dog is having behavioral issues (barking at strangers, lunging at dogs, etc..), start looking at some ways that you can reduce stress. Look at the big picture:

1.  All training should be fun and completely hands off.  No physical manipulation

2. Eliminate the use of all equipment  and/or techniques that startle, scare, shock, hurt or intimidate our dogs

3. Do not punish for undesirable behaviors. (no scolding, yelling, yanking, throwing cans, etc..).  Instead manage and/or teach an alternate behavior

4. Speak softly to the dog, to other pets, to other humans etc…

5. Reduce scary, strange, or annoying sounds as much as possible – TVs, radios, etc..

6. Don't let the pet feel like he/she is on guard all the time. This means that the pet should be inside when pet parents are away so he/she doesn’t feel the need to bark at passersby. Also keep the pet away from windows if he/she feels the need to bark at people, dogs, squirrels, etc..

7. Don’t let strangers approach, touch, bend over, nor talk to your dog.

8. Don’t take your dog on errands unless it’s absolutely necessary or if the dog actually enjoys the outing

9. Teach loose leash walking because being on a tight leash can be stressful

10. Remove all pressure from the neck. Use a harness but use a martingale as a backup for safety

11. Avoid scary things as much as possible. i.e. do not walk your dog where kids are if he/she is afraid of kids. Do not let your dog meet other dogs if he/she does not like dogs. More on avoidance here.

12. Reduce visitors to the house.  Meet friends at their house or at another location.  If you have to have visitors, have them call so you can prepare by putting the dog away or let getting him/her far from the door.

13. Don’t walk in busy, populated areas. You might need to drive to a quiet park or go for walks during the wee hours of the morning or late at night. But be aware that loose dogs might be out at that time. See avoidance at # 11.

14. Ask your vet about non psychotropic calming aids. More details here

15. Research the food you are feeding. Resources: Dog Food Analysis Dog Food Advisor Dr Karen Becker Michael W. Fox

Tell us how you help your pets with stress reduction
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