here's a bit from my article in Havanese Breed Magazine ...
So how do we help ease our dog's stress? First off, we have to realize that what we may think is not stressful to our dogs, is indeed potentially stressful. It can be the simple innocuous things that we don't think of. It could be something secondary to what happened during a certain event. An example might be when you were out walking one day and a bicycle came by at the same time a car on the street honked it's horn. You might think that your dog was reacting to the car but he/she may in the future be stressed with the appearance of bicyclists.
There are times when we think our dog is having fun but is bordering on stress. This could be during play sessions that are getting out of hand. We need to incorporate brief interruptions into their play before this becomes a problem. Many people who do sport related activities or conformation need to be vigilant to signs that is becoming too much at the time. You can do irreparable damage if this continues unabated. An activity that you both found endearing can become unwelcome and unenjoyably. While exuberant activities may not seem like a problem in itself, combine that with other identified stressors such as boredom, poor diet, excessive noise, moving to a new home, or adding a new pup to the family and you have a recipe for trouble. Constant adrenaline production can lead to a host of immune system problems fatigue or eating problems over time.
To reduce stress ,plenty of relaxation and quiet time should be given. Major events like moving or introducing a new pet to the household should be followed with a balanced sort of activity/stimulation. Time has to be taken in your own stressful situation to listen to your dog's needs as well. Try to keep your dogs lifestyle and schedule as consistent as possible. DOGS LOVE CONSISTENCY AND ROUTINE.
Boredom is perhaps one of the leading causes of stress in dogs. At the earliest time possible ,we need to encourage alone time by leaving our pups with something to do. KONGS and other chew toys make this much easier and enjoyable when they are left alone. Here are two good articles on this, Errorless Chewtoy-Training | Dog Star Daily
and here Separation Anxiety | Dog Star Daily
One of the worst thing owners can do is smother a new pup with attention. The dog becomes used to it ,and when the time comes for the dog to endure some alone time, he hasn't been given the conditioning necessary to deal with it. Please take the time to teach this to your dog. Separation distress/anxiety can be devastating and an example of stress at its worst. Dogs need S P A C E. DOGS need S P A C E. When you see the precursors to stress ,give your dog relief in the form of space or remove from stressor immediately. Further flooding the dog will only make things escalate. General obedience training relieves stress and a dog that has rules and guidance will cope better with our lifestyles than one who is constantly reprimanded and doesn't know its boundaries.
Some interesting research shows that certain groups of dogs tend to have higher general levels of stress than others. Working dogs, tended to have the highest levels of stress ,while guarding dogs the lowest. One reason for this is thought to be the fact that guarding dogs have a lower threshold for stress . Toy/companion type dogs were somewhere in the middle of the ten groups studied by Scholt and von Clarissa. As far as gender, female dogs had the lowest stress levels followed by spayed females, then male dogs and finally neutered males. It also found that the more hours a day that a dog rested , the lower the stress levels it exhibited.
When trying to predict how our dogs may react to new stimuli, keep in mind that slow gradual emersion to the situation is key. Systematic desensitization is key. Desensitization works by gradually exposing the dog to low levels of the fearful stimulus. Lets say our dog is reactive on leash when out walking and meets another dog.We may let our dog see the other dog from a distance long enough so he does not show fear. Gradually, we will let our dog get closer and closer as long as he still shows no fear. Desensitization is usually accompanied by another training called counter conditioning. This is similar to classical conditioning and defined as a process in which an animal learns to associate one event that comes immediately after another event. The animal does not have to do anything in order for this association to take place.Classical conditioning was discovered by the Russian scientist Pavlov. In his lab, Pavlov brought food to dogs. When the food was shown to the dogs, they began salivating. Then, Pavlov preceded the food with a ring of a bell. He rang the bell and immediately brought the food. He repeated it many times. Bell ring, show food, dog salivates, and again and again.Now, here’s the cool part. Pavlov now decided to ring the bell without bringing the food. He rang the bell, DID NOT bring the food, and……guess what – the dogs still salivated. What happened? The dog has learned the association between the bell and the food. Since the bell was rung, the food must be coming – hence, saliva. Here is wonderful article on classical conditioning... Classical Conditioning | Dog Star Daily
By combining counter conditioning and desensitization We will start exposing our dog to other dogs at a very low level – in this case a far enough distance (that’s the desensitization part|) and we will give the dog tasty treats when he sees the other dogs (that’s the counter conditioning part). This teaches our dog that other dogs mean good things happen and hence we remove them hopefully as a stressor. This can be done with anything that stresses our dogs. As a note of caution ,if you are not comfortable when dealing with potentially aggressive behaviour. please consult with a professional as you may do more harm than good.