When you think of dogs, you think of fun catch exercises or a puppy who overcomes all odds to conquer the mighty staircase. However, among the many hardships that come with housing a pet, one is keeping an eye out for the emotional well-being of your dog. Dogs like humans feel things, and are prone to sadness, anxiety, and even depression, in some cases.
How to tell if your dog is emotionally distressed?
? Look out for your dog acting ‘strange’, get used to how they like to express affection and happiness, how do their ears and eyes look when they’re jumpy and want to go out? What sounds do they make when they’ve just been fed?
? Your dog’s eyes are peeled back and show a crescent shape of white as they look side-to-side, which is often called the “half-moon eye.” This usually means that they’re tired and need some rest.
? Focus on the ears. While some dogs proceed to have erect ears when they’re anxious, others have their ears pinned back. Identify how your dog expresses discomfort.
? Have you had an accidental or untoward code brown incident recently? Defecating or peeing in unexpected places, at unexpected times may be a sign of emotional distress. Notice and document these changes and if sustained for a prolonged period of time, you might want to approach a professional to understand if and why your dog anxious or stressed.
? Change in the amount of food intake can be another sign. Since a lot of dogs exhibit gastrointestinal issues like diarrhoea when stressed, if you find your dog eating less or more than they're used to, then get a second opinion from your veterinarian.
? Is your dog a tail-wagger? Look out for shifts in tail wagging patterns as an indicator of emotional health. Stressed dogs often wag their tails differently, sometimes in a specific direction, to indicate tension. While the standard ‘tail-between-the-legs’ is common, other instances such as a still tail or a tail that wags only at the tips. is something to watch out for.
While many dogs show anxiety very evidently with their body language, other signs can be things that seem involuntary. If your dog shows any of these signs, you definitely want to take them to a vet to get them screened for any medical issues first. However, if no apparent problems are revealed, and you still find your furry friend getting the jitters, shivering, shedding excessively, drooling more than usual, having tense muscles, then don't rule out the possibility of emotional distress.
Trust your dog to simply ‘tell’ you if they are disturbed when exposed to certain people, animals, surroundings or situations. Be wary of signs like excessive growling, barking, whimpering, or curling of the lip as they are usually an indicator of a dog being uncomfortable, anxious, displeased and in some cases, aggressive. If this pattern sustains, seek the help of a canine behavioural expert immediately.
Look out for general disinterest in going outside or physical activities, as well. Is your dog sociable? Do they take well to strangers in the house? Notice their sleep patterns. A dog spending most of the day sleeping, or not moving out and about isn’t very emotionally healthy. When making a judgement or a call, it is also important to consider the history of your dog. If you’ve adopted an ex-service or a military dog, you may need to take special care. Similarly, if you have adopted a rescue dog with a history of emotional or physical abuse, chances are your dog could be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
How to help your emotionally distressed fur-buddy?
Once you’ve concluded that your dog has some behavioural issues, stress, anxiety or depression concerns, ensure that (s)he avoids common triggers that are responsible for making things go awry. We understand how much you care about your best friend and knowing that they’re facing mood disorders that they can’t vocalise can be heartbreaking. However, with some patience and behaviour-focussed help, you can bring about a huge change in the life of your furry friend.
You can start by evaluating when the 'changes' started, to get an accurate diagnosis. A lot of dogs go through mood shifts because they can’t cope with a sudden transition. Did you have a new addition or loss in the family recently? Did you suddenly change jobs or your working schedule? Did you move to a new apartment with a construction going on next door? All these changes in the environment and surroundings can be triggering for your dog.
Remember, dogs are creatures of routine and habit. They are calm and comfortable when they know what to expect. Standardise your dog’s walk time, poopy time, and feeding time. Reduce the number of things that are unexpected in your dog’s life. These little things go a long way in reassuring them that they will not be blindsided in your company and that you can be trusted. Punishments or any other aversive behaviour will be counter-productive to improving your dog’s emotional health. Punishing an emotionally distressed dog does nothing to address the root of the problem and the issue of the anxiety. Consequently, it will also be detrimental to your dog’s health in the long run.
You can also try different exercise habits that can help your dog get used to the stimuli that is probably triggering the distress. Expose your dog to a weak version of the stimulus that is triggering the anxiety attack. Get him to focus on you. Maintain eye contact and train them to obey simple commands. If your dog is able to focus, reward them with their favourite treats. For more techniques and exercises, consult a canine behavioural specialist and rely on their counsel.
A calm environment goes a long way in making your dog feel better. Make sure you eliminate sources of unwanted noise, and, get your dog habituated to the environment he resides in. Lack of stimulation can be extremely distressing to the dog. Take out an hour in a day to spend with your dog. Take him out for walks, and let them play with your friends. Dogs are inherently social animals and thrive on social contact. Treat them to massages, frequent petting and cuddles. Dogs, like humans, appreciate displays of affection and will most likely appreciate your attention.
Finally, take care of yourself. Your dog often mirrors your mental state. If you display rage, anger, or signs of distress it affects your dog. It is a relationship after all. Your dog sees you sad and it makes them sad. Isn’t that the most beautiful thing?