“If he licks his lips, he’s stressed.”
“If he yawns, he’s stressed.”
“If he shakes his head, he’s stressed.”
“If he pants, he’s stressed.”
“If he’s stressed… the world comes to an end!!”
I’ve heard it all when it comes to dogs experiencing stress – especially after becoming a licensed dog behavioural consultant and trainer earlier this year. The signs of a stressed dog are important to recognize, but… sometimes your dog is just tired and he yawns. Or he simply happens to lick his lips or shake. Maybe it is hot out and he pants.
So I do find it problematic to tell people that all of these behaviours are signs that your dog is stressed. Some people hear this before taking their dog on a bus ride and if their dog licks his lips, they get off at the next stop, claiming that is was simply too stressful for their dog.
Now let me clarify: it is horrible for a dog to be in constant or regular stress and that should be addressed and changed for the better as soon as possible. But, if we are being real, every living being on this planet experiences stress. It’s not the “bad guy”.
We experience mild to sever stress when learning something or being in a new situation and when we have to figure something out.
We don’t think: I am stressed right now. Every animal and human has stress daily and that is part of it. Stress can be very mild, but without it, nothing would be learned, improved or even get done. We would be laying without moving all day.
In the dog scene, at least at the moment, every one is fretting and freaking out about dogs being stressed and how that should be avoided at all costs.
It is all about how we deal with the stress – same case as with humans. We talked about it being fine if your dog experiences stress – he won’t die and your relationship is not going to be washed down the drain. What will cause your relationship to falter is if you react incorrectly. If your dog is stressed and you yell at him or rush him through the situation – the stress will worsen the next time he is faced with this situation and he will lose trust with you.
When you see your dog is obviously stressed (body is tensed, constantly licking lips, panting strongly when it is not hot out, etc), try to find the cause. Is it something that you can make positive by using treats? Maybe just hang out for a while until your dog is relaxed and then continue with what you were doing. There are many options – all very specific to the situation, but freaking out and ending everything is not usually the right way to go.
In what situations does your dog get stressed?