Dogs can get holiday stress for the same reasons humans get stressed. Here are some things to help.
By Laura Pakis, Certified Professional Dog Trainer, and Cynologist
The holidays are a busy time of year for all of us. Holiday parties, school activities, and shopping all take us away from our homes.
Dogs can get stressed for the same reasons humans get stressed. They get stressed in situations of threat, of pain or discomfort, and even stressed by excitement. Dogs get stressed in situations where they feel unable to cope. Maybe not as we get ready for the holidays, but they can get stressed when we are angry with them or punish them.
When stressed, they get more hormones running around, and the adrenaline starts pumping. The stress levels, together with the activated defense mechanisms, are necessary for your dog to survive. It helps them react fast enough and be strong enough to survive danger. Dogs can show stress in many ways. When stressed, they usually start using “calming signals” to ease the tension.
- Direct threats by other dogs or us
- Rough handling, pulling him along, jerking at the lead, pushing him down
- Unknown places, noises, odors
- Violence, aggression in his environment
- Pain and illness
- Inadequate diet
- Being alone
- Too little exercise or too much-overexcited playing with balls or other dogs
- Hunger, thirst
- Sudden changes
- Freezing or being too hot
- Genetic predisposition
- Never being able to relax, always being disturbed
- Too high demands in training and daily life
- Licking or biting himself excessively
- Scratching excessively
- Barking, howling, whining
- Shaking as if shaking off water
- Unhealthy looking fur that seems to be hard, breakable, standing on end
- Tense muscles
- Sudden “attack” of dandruff, for instance
- Looking nervous, hiding behind the handler
- Running after his tail
- Losing his appetite
- Using calming signals
- Unable to calm down, restless
- Smells terrible, both mouth and body
- Having to eliminate more often than normal
- Allergies, many are stress scratching
- Behaving aggressively
- Losing concentration – can’t concentrate for more than a short time
- Refusing to interact with family; previously playful dog not wanting to play
- Not turning the head but having the eyes only to the side looking away to avert the direct stare is a signal similar to head-turning
- Lowering the eyelids and not staring in a threatening way
- Turning of the head: this can be a swift movement to the side and back, or they may hold the head to the side for some time. It may be the whole head or just a tiny movement to the side.
- Turning to the side or turning your back to someone is very calming
- Freeze, stand, sit or lie still without moving a muscle
- Play position; going down with front legs in a bowing position. You can do this by resting on your knees and then stretching your arms straight out in front of you on the floor.
- Walking slowly and using slow movements
- Turning his back to you and then sitting down or just sitting down when approached can be a signal.
- Lying down with belly on the ground can be a calming signal
- Sniffing the ground in a swift movement and up again. Or just holding the nose to the ground. This signal is really not something we can do
- Going physically between dogs or people is a signal
- Wagging tails; if a dog is crawling towards you, whining and peeing, the wagging tail is a “white flag,” trying to calm you down. Another one we can’t use.
- Smacking their lips
- Licking faces
- Blinking their eyes
- Lifting their paws
- Making themselves small
Change the environment and routines.
- Have the dog do downtime in a safe and quiet place
- Teach your dog the “self-control” commands: Sit, Heel, and Place Mat
- Find your dog’s balance of exercise he needs
- Avoid putting him in a situation of hunger, thirst, heat, cold
- Make sure he has access to relieve himself when he needs to
- Letting the dog be a part of the pack as much as possible, so he is with you or someone in the family more
- Learning to identify and use calming signals
- Stop using all force, punishment, aggression, and anger
- Consider taking your dog to a daycare or boarding them if they dislike the extra activity around the holidays.