How to help a stressed dog

Stress in dogs:

 

We often recognize stress related behaviour in members of our own species but do we recognize stress related behavior in dogs? Once we learn to recognize indicators of stress in dogs, we can help a stressed dog.

Dogs can feel stressed by a variety of things.  Stressors can include threatening or aggressive behavior (perceived or real) from other dogs or from people, use of punishing equipment, play periods that are too long and overwhelming, or too much or too little activity day after day.

Stress can also be caused by pain or illness, hunger or thirst, or nutritional deficiencies.

Research reveals three categories of abnormal behaviours in dogs that can be caused by stress: (1) displacement activities such as licking, grooming and pica  (“pica” refers to the eating of substances that have no nutritional value) ), (2) stereotypical activities like excessive licking, flank sucking, circling or whirling, tail chasing, fence-line running, excessive barking, polydipsia (an abnormal increase in thirst) and polyphagia (an abnormal increase in appetite) and (3) behaviours like staring and ‘fly chasing’ referred to as “hallucinatory” behaviors (Casey, et al. 2002).

A stressed dog may have changes in appearance. A recent study indicated that premature greying in dogs under four years of age may be an indicator of anxiety, fear or impulsivity (“impulsivity” was defined as the loss of focus, an inability to calm his or herself, jumping on people, and hyperactivity after exercise). Analysis showed that muzzle greyness was significantly predicted by fears of loud noises, of unfamiliar animals, and of unfamiliar people. (King, et al. 2016).

Physiological indicators of stress can be identified through the measuring of the of heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, body temperature and through evaluations of immune status and disease incidence. Measuring hormone secretion is also used in assessing stress (Bodnariu 2008).

The urinary, gastrointestinal, reproductive, and immune systems have been shown to be susceptible to developing disease as a result of stress (Mills , Karagiannis and Zulch 2014).

For dogs who are experiencing chronic stress from kennelling, research has shown that even one night away from the kennel situation results in a reduction in cortisol in dogs. Cortisol is a diurnal hormone that is a measure of stress.  In a study done at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah, researchers measured cortisol levels in the dogs who lived there and who were participating in the “sleepover program” where visitors can take a dog for the night to their hotel. They found the cortisol levels in the dog dropped significantly when the dog participated in the sleepover program (Seckel 2017) . In another study, half of the dogs adopted from shelters displayed symptoms of various illnesses such as diarrhoea, vomiting, coughing, sneezing and skin problems.  It was suggested that these conditions may be due to the immunosuppression caused by the previous stress of kennelling (Bodnariu 2008).

Being left on their own is stressful for many dogs as they are social animals.  Studies have shown that at 5 weeks of age, dogs experience an elevation in cortisol after separation (Nagasawa, et al. 2014). Dogs who have separation-related problems may show it through destruction of property, excessive vocalization and house-soiling. A study on treatment for separation-related behavior revealed that dogs treated with systematic desensitization had significant reductions in the frequency and intensity of the separation-related behaviors and that, three months after the treatment ended, most of the dogs showed almost complete elimination of the problem behaviour (Butler, Sargisson and Elliffe 2011).

Certain training methods can elicit stress signals in dogs. The results of a study comparing the behavior observed in dogs participating in training classes at two training schools that used two different types of training methods results suggested that training methods based on positive reinforcement are less stressful for dogs. One school used positive reinforcement (where a food reward was given) in training while the other school used negative reinforcement (where an aversive disappeared when the dog complied).  The dogs who attended the classes at the school using negative reinforcement displayed lowered body postures and displayed other signals of stress while the dogs who were trained with the positive reinforcement showed increased attentiveness toward their owners.   (Deldalle and Gaunet 2014).

Recognizing the indicators of stress in dogs helps us make changes to reduce stress and anxiety in dogs.

 

 

 

 

Important Tips for Avoiding Dog Bites

A recent survey indicated that 54.4% of US households own a dog and that there are a total of 77.8 million dogs owned in the USA (Industry Trends, 2016). A 2014 survey of Canadians revealed that 34% of Canadian households contain at least one dog, resulting in an estimated population of 6.4 million dogs in Canada (Canadian Animal Health Institute, n.d.).

While dogs are generally cooperative and social animals who live and work in harmony with people, sometimes dogs bite. Statistics indicate 4.5 million dog bites occur in the USA each year and that, among children, the rate of dog bites is highest for children between the ages of 5 and 9 years old (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015).

Luckily studies indicate that there is a lot people can do to avoid the risk of a dog bite to a child or an adult.

A study published in 2015 analyzed the behavior of the human immediately preceding a dog bite to the face. The researchers found that the top three behaviors preceding a bite to the face were the human bending over a dog, the human putting their face close to the dog’s face, and gazing between victim and dog.  More than two thirds of the victims were children, none of the victims was an adult dog owner and it was only adult dogs that bit the face. More than half of the bites were directed towards the nose and lip areas of the victim’s face. (Rezac, Rezac, & Slama, 2015)

A 2011 study showed that seemingly benign interactions between a child and the family dog most often lead to bites. These interactions were often initiated by the child and included brushing, cuddling, kissing and petting the dog. (Reisner, et al., 2011)

Psychologists discovered that children understand the risks of approaching an “angry”  dog but that they are unaware that they should show the same caution around frightened dogs. Two groups of children aged 4-5 and 6-7 years were studied and results showed that while the children were less likely to approach an angry dog there was no difference in their inclination to approach a happy or frightened dog.  (Staffordshire University, 2016)

Another study published in 2015 investigated whether preschool children can be taught how to interpret dogs’ behaviours, with the purpose of helping avoid dog bites.

Three to five-year-old children were divided into two groups.  One group received training on dog behavior while the other group acted as the control group and did an activity related to wild animals. The group who received training in dog behavior were reported to be significantly better at judging a dog’s emotional state and were able to refer to relevant behaviors to support their judgement after the training.  The results of this study are promising as they indicate that preschool children can be taught how to correctly interpret dogs’ behaviours. (Lakestani & Donaldson, 2015)

Another study showed that parents were present in 84% of cases when a child under 7 years of age was bitten. The conclusion was that close supervision is necessary to help children avoid behaviors that may lead to being bitten by a dog. (Reisner, et al., 2011)

A 2003 study on dog bites to children showed that education could be the preventive measure in reducing the frequency of dog bites to children. The study concluded that, out of 100 accidents, 67 children might not have been bitten had they and their parents been adequately educated on safe conduct towards dogs. (Kahn, Bauche, & Lamoureux, 2003)

Parents and other adults can help children avoid the risk of a dog bite by closely supervising children when the children are around dogs (including familiar dogs), by learning what constitutes hazardous human behavior around dogs, by learning about and educating children on the signs of a fearful or stressed dog, by managing children around dogs by using baby gates when an adult cannot closely supervise the interactions, and by providing dogs with a childfree space of their own.

Agility Workshop July 22 and 23, 2017.

Dogs of Distinction and The K9 Club are pleased to host France Beckner for an Agility clinic here on the coast July 22 and 23, 2017. France began teaching agility classes in 2000 with her husband, Barry Beckner.  Together, France and Barry formed “The Academy of Vancouver Island Dogs (AVID)“.  AVID holds agility classes for all levels, and has hosted many AAC Sanctioned Trials, Judges Clinics, Seminars and Fun Matches.

Frances’s dogs have won Two AAC Nationals Championships and two BC Regional Championships.As teams, Frances’s dogs and the dogs Frances has run for others, have earned over one hundred and forty agility titles.Frances has coached many successful teams to Regional and National Champion levels and represented Canada with her dog, ZipR,  at the 2014 and 2016 IFCS World Agility Championships.

France can  help with any issues the dog or handler may be having and there is space on the registration form for people to send in a description of issues beforehand.

It is $280.00 for the clinic for a dog and handler team and space is limited.  There are audit spots too ($40. 00 for one day and $60.00 f or two days) for people who want to watch but won’t be bringing a dog.  The clinic will be held at the agility field (Oceanview and the Highway).

Deadline to register and pay is July 2, 2017.

To register click on the “Register For Agility” at the bottom right of the site.

Play between Dogs

Lots of interesting research is being done on dog behavior and one fascinating field of study is on play.

Play is thought to serve several functions. For dogs, coyotes, wolves and foxes, play is important for the development of social skills, for the formation and maintenance of social bonds, to provide exercise and to teach hand-eye coordination. Play fighting and other play behaviors can provide practice for the real thing  (Bekoff & Pierce, 2009).

To solicit play, dogs frequently offer a “play bow” (a pose where the animal crouches down on the forepaws and sticks their hindquarters in the air) during play. Play bows are more likely to occur when two dogs are facing one another than when facing away from one another indicating that dogs are sensitive to whether the potential partner is paying attention. Dogs that are being ignored will try to get the attention of another dog by nipping, pawing, barking, nosing and bumping (Bradshaw J. , 2011). The “play-face”, an open mouth gesture, is also a signal to initiate play and to differentiate between play behavior and a serious attack.

Dogs may solicit play by pouncing on or ambushing another dog. “Pouncing’ is a fast and forward movement toward the other dog while “ambushing” is where the dog crouches, creeps forward in the crouch position and then pounces on the intended playmate (Kaufer, 2013). Gestures like the play bow signal that the inviting dog’s behavior is just meant in fun. The play bow preceding a quick approach and contact with another dog avoids the interaction leading to aggression and allows the other dog to agree to play with his or her own friendly gesture in response (Hare & Woods, 2013). Play signals also occur during play, for instance, after a pause in play.

Researchers have observed a sense of fairness when dogs play. For example, if a dog becomes too aggressive, assertive or tries to mate, the other dog may cock their head to one side and the play only resumes if the offending dog indicates an intention to play through a play bow or other play gesture (Bekoff, 2007),

Subtle behaviors ensure participants have a good time and that no one gets hurt. Infractions can lead to fights and, in the wild, coyotes who don’t play by the rules are ostracized from their pack.  Dogs will also avoid a dog who is playing too roughly or who bites.

To keep things even, dogs will “self-handicap” and play at the level of their play partner, taking the partner’s abilities and behavior into account. Dogs who do not follow the rules of play, for example, by barging in on others, are shunned by the dogs who are playing politely (Horowitz, 2009).

Play occurs in situations where the participants feel safe. For puppies of wild dogs, this is within the safety of the mother and the group of dogs they are a part of.  Dogs also do what has been refer_HAS5491red to as “laugh” during play. It is a form of panting which only happens when dogs are playing or wanting to play. At animal shelters when recordings of dogs laughing are played, there have been reductions of stress signals like barking and pacing in dogs staying at the shelter (Horowitz, 2009).

Sometimes conflict can arise out of play between dogs. Guardians can reduce the chances of any conflict between dogs by having them play in a neutral area, and avoid interactions between dogs who are mismatched in behavior and who do not adapt to each other.  Owners should intervene if one or more dogs’ level of arousal is too high or when one dog is overwhelmed by another dog or when one dog tries to prevent others from playing.  In addition,  food should not be in the play area (Kaufer, 2013).

Dog Emotions are Similar to Human Emotions

Many people have experienced behavior in their dogs that leads the owner to believe that dogs are capable of feeling emotions similar to those felt by humans.
Not only do dogs appear to experience a wide range of emotions, studies show that dogs recognize emotions in other dogs and in humans.
The results of a study by a team of animal behaviour experts and psychologists from the University of Lincoln, UK, and University of Sao Paulo, Brazil led the researchers to believe that dogs truly recognise emotions in humans and in other dogs and can discriminate between positive and negative emotions in both humans and dogs (Albuquerque, et al., 2015).\
In another study, researchers from the University of Mexico studied how dogs pay close attention to human faces to guide their behavior (for example, by recognizing their owner and his/her emotional state using visual cues). They trained dogs to stay still and awake inside an MRI scanner and showed the dogs pictures of human faces with different expressions along with pictures of inanimate objects.
They found that when the dogs looked at the facial expressions, the same areas of the brain were triggered in dogs as in humans in terms of reading and understanding facial cues (Cuaya, Hernández-Pérez, & Concha, 2016).

An earlier Hungarian study also using MRI also showed similarities in how dogs and humans process emotions. (Andics, Gacsi, Farago, Kis, & Miklosi, 2014)

A 2014 study on jealousy in dogs found that, when owners gave attention and affection to another person or animal, dogs seemed to engage in attention seeking behavior like pushing between the owner and the rival and or vocalizing (Harris & Provoust, 2014).
The idea that dogs are capable of jealousy relates to the newer research on animal social cognition that reveals that dogs have sophisticated social-cognitive abilities (Harris & Provoust, 2014) and have been shown to use social cues better than chimpanzees, who until now have been generally thought to be the animals most like humans in their social abilities.
Dogs have been shown to have symptoms similar to peoplecropped-img_0206-22.jpg suffering from clinical depression, anxiety and neurosis. Service dogs who were retired from the US military when they could no longer carry out missions have been found to suffer from a condition now referred to as Canine Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). After having suffered at least one traumatic event may exhibit distress and a number of behavioral problems similar to their human military counterparts. (Cheney, 2012)

Recognizing that a dog’s emotional state may impact learning and that a dog’s body language reflects their emotions, researchers evaluated the posture of dogs while learning through operant conditioning and concluded that dog’s body language during operant conditioning was related to their success rate during training.

These researchers found that dogs who displayed behaviors such as wide-eyes, closed mouth, erect ears, and forward and high tail carriage, without wagging or with short and quick wagging, related to high achievement results. The findings suggest that certain postures were related to the dog’s learning level during operant conditioning and that being aware of these postures could be helpful in understanding canine emotion during learning. (Hasegawa, Ohtani, & Ohta, 2014)