After reading this article by High 5 Canine Coaching titled ‘Calming Signals – do you know what they are?’ I was inspired to write this post.
The article names some of the signals that you might notice in your dog when they are worried or stressed and how hard it is for us humans to pick up on them. Our dogs must feel like they are talking to a wall sometimes. They are so much better at picking up on our subtle body language than we are at picking up theirs.
Listen, pay attention to your dog’s environment, slow down and reassure your dog. – Diana of High 5 Canine Coaching
I recently had a board and train dog who was much more obvious about the way it felt when left alone in the kennel. It defecated around the kennel and howled mournfully upon returning from walks. The dog managed to disengage the floor-to-ceiling chain link kennel fence from its bottom security bar and squeeze through into the eight-foot-high fenced emergency area. The emergency area is there to prevent dogs escaping when I come and go and to prevent other dogs and people from coming close to the kennel. I am so thankful it was there on this occasion. This is the only dog in our fourteen years of board and train that has gained access to this area without me in tow. Luckily, I was close by, teaching a private lesson and was able to return the dog to its kennel and also reconnect and fortify the fence to the bottom metal bar. Fifteen minutes later, at the completion of my private lesson, I canceled my next client and went to take the dog for another walk to help to reduce its anxiety. The dog had been unable to pull the fence loose again but had managed to chew a six-inch hole through the chain link fence about six inches up from the bottom. I do not doubt that it would have soon made its way back into the emergency area and may have injured itself trying.
The dog was panting heavily and pacing when I entered the kennel, despite the cool, air-conditioned environment. Panting is often a sign of stress when it cannot be attributed to heat. There were also paw prints on the floor of the kennel, indicating that it was sweating from its pads, another thing I would attribute to anxiety in this situation.
The dog and I took a nice long sniff walk together to help it to get to know me and its surroundings a little better; it had been with us for less than twenty-four hours.
Upon returning to the kennel, I sat with my new pal and contacted the owners to let them know that I was uncertain about my ability to keep the dog from injuring itself or escaping given its level of anxiety.
The dog was still pacing on our return to the kennel, I was not seeing any yawning, shake offs or loose, relaxed movement. Stress levels may have been lowered a little but were obviously still high.
I kept the dog in the inside portion of its kennel where a metal door containing a doggy door separates the interior and exterior areas. The poor thing was now in solitary confinement, not exactly the most relaxing nor conducive to a learning environment. I decided to ask that the dog be collected as soon as possible to eliminate any further stress for it.
This dog is only the second in over fourteen years of business that has needed to leave DogLogic prematurely. I was listening to this dog’s less than subtle signs of anxiety and was thankful that the owners were willing and able to make arrangements to collect it. It was devastating to me that this dog felt the need to yell so hard with its escape attempts and anxious body language. If only we could all speak dog more fluently.
My decision to ask that the dog be taken home early was made out of compassion. I hope you will all understand when considering to board and train here at DogLogic that your pets mental and physical health as well as their safety while with us are always our priority.
Not all signs of stress are as obvious as the ones that this dog showed. Watch your dogs carefully and take the circumstances under which you notice them giving signals out of context under consideration. I encourage you to also answer this question: ‘Are you Trigger Stacking your Dog?’
Watch for subtle signals; turning head away, tongue flicking, yawning, scratching, sniffing the ground, tail tucking or flagging, even tail wagging, paw lift, lip smacking, smiling, short freezes in motion. These are all very common canine behaviors and may not signify any stress whatsoever, perhaps your dog really is hot, tired, wet or interested in the scents nearby. If however, you feel that your dog is consistently offering these behaviors in a situation which it has not voluntarily subjected itself to, let them be a message that your dog is not completely comfortable at this time in this situation. Take steps to help it to calm or remove it from the situation and plan to do some training to help it cope in the future. Just because you think your dog has no reason to be anxious, don’t disregard what you are seeing. If you have an irrational fear, snakes, mice, spiders, heights, does it help you if someone just tells you that you are behaving irrationally? How would you like a friend to help you when you are faced with your fears?
When you notice your dog is stressed, be its advocate, you can ask that person not to pet your dog right now, or not to stare at it. When you are observant enough to pick up on your dog’s subtle signals you can take steps to prevent the necessity for your dog to escalate its behavior in an attempt to gain some control over things it perceives as threats. It may just be best to remove your dog from the situation and put it in a safe place with a stuffed Kong or other duration chew of its choice.
Just take that little extra time to learn what your dog is trying to tell you and most of all, listen.
p.s. If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy reading How to Help a Dog with Separation Anxiety by Your Dog Advisor.