The Zen Dog
It's a cold and stormy Saturday morning, the kind where cold toes are eager to stay wrapped around comforters and eyes want nothing more than to be enveloped by the darkness that shut eyelids bring. Rain softly prattles hypnotically upon your window, as if to reassure you that sleeping in a little longer is not only an option - it's implied.
Your dog, however, did not get the memo - as the wound up weirmerarner takes the opportunity to pace about the bed, giving you an hour-long woofing rant on why he believes the neighbors suspicious door knocks are signs of the impending apawcolypse.
Not everyone has a zen dog, but if you follow our tips on the mental side of animal wellness, you too can sleep a little longer, and your pacing prowler may cuddle a little more - and worry a little less.
Stress is an emotion we have all felt, and dogs are no different. Canines are incredibly intelligent, able to pick up on environmental cues from sight, sound, and smell.
When talking about a canine's senses, it is important to remember that while they do not have hawk-like vision, their ability to smell and hear the world around them dwarfs the average person's capabilities. They're able to distinguish sounds four times the magnitude of what the average person can hear and frequencies twice as high.
As far as the snout goes, the average dog's nose possesses 300 million olfactory receptors, compared to human's six million receptors. Beyond that, a dog's brain is hyper-specialized for smell, allowing the average pupper to smell on a level 40 times greater than us.
You may wake up and your dog is yapping his snout off for no apparent reason, he may hear a coyote howl from a mile away or smell a nearby raccoon.
Whatever the case is, they're reacting for a reason, it's your job to do your best to figure out the root of their reaction, but it's not always easy.
While your dog uses his senses to understand what is happening in the present, instinct and past experiences are an inevitable part of informing them how to react to any given situation.
Adopting a puppy that is a little older can muddle your understanding of your dog's past experiences, you simply weren't there and have no idea what trauma he or she went through. You may find yourself in a situation baffled by your dog's terror any time he goes near your jar of pennies, or growling the moment a bearded man with khakis walks into the room.
You will never erase a traumatic memory from your dog's mind, or completely rid them of either a genetic or environment-borne anxiety disorder, but you can certainly add fresh and positive memories.
Symptoms of a Stressed Dog
A stressed dog keeps no secrets - and is certainly not a zen dog. When your pup is feeling freaked, he will do his best to freak out proportionally. Being in-tune with your dog's body language is key to understand what's going on in his brain.
Symptoms of an anxious dog can include the pinning of the ears to the back of the head, their lips stretched back in almost a smile fashion, the tail shunted under the legs toward the belly, and excessive panting. Every dog is different and may display unique characteristics, such a certain whine pitch or a dogged pacing.
Canines dealing with anxiety or stress will do their best to alleviate those feelings. The way they often release their stress is through barking, whining, and chewing on a bone or toy. Unfortunately, untrained pups will take out their feelings on the mahogany furniture, your favorite book, or the bean bag chair.
A big cause of stress in young dogs is separation anxiety. Dogs are historically pack animals. As their human, you are likely the alpha and the leader of the pack in their eyes. In nature, packs of canines do not often separate. Canines aside, all mammals use separation stresses as a survival mechanism - to let the pack or group know where they are and that they should be a little closer. Keeping this in mind, it makes perfect sense why your pup would panic being left in a cage while you leave for a few hours.
Crate-borne separation anxiety can be completely remedied, you can learn more by checking out our article on adopting a puppy.
Getting Your Dog Closer to Zen
A zen dog is happy dog. Getting him from the depths of fear to cloud 9 is not always easy, but your life and his will be undoubtedly better if you follow these tips.
Establishing A Safe Place
Creating a safe space for your dog should be the first thing to do when creating a baseline of safety for Fido. Your dog likely has already choses a spot under the bed or in the closet to whimper the scary nights away, but he can do better than that. Often times your dog will use the crate as his safe space - if you've trained him to view the crate as a positive and safe place, it only makes sense and you should not deviate from that. Other positive locations can include the basement, a spare room, or a nook under the sink.
Whichever place you choose, introduce your dog to it under ideal conditions, have the lighting low with soft music in the background. Bring treats and a favorite toy and just love on your fur-friend. Give him constant vocal reassurance as well as plenty of treats. Do this periodically to signal to your dog that his safe space is a happy space.
Eventually, he may make a bee-line to the basement at even the thought of trouble.
Zen Dog Dream Snack
- 2 sachets Relaxin' Rover - Salmon Sushi flavored powder
- 1 cup greek yogurt
- 1 cup cup oatmeal - cooked
- 1 tsp cooked ginger or ginger powder (Can dogs have ginger?)
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and whisk until thoroughly mixed. Dole out into muffin pan. Refrigerate and serve!
Never Rewarding or Punishing Fear
A scared dog will often do one of two things: pine for attention, covering you with licks and looking for a general reassurance, or they will bark like crazy, letting the stimulus know that the stimulation needs to stop.
This can be a tricky situation for you, as you love your dog and want the best for him. In these moments, do your best to ignore your dog's behavior until they are able to calm down. Responding in a positive or negative way to them acting out of fear may only compound the issue. Once their behavior has returned back to normal, reward their calmness with vocal praise and treats.
Getting Proper Chew Toys
Loading your dogs safe space with the right kind of chew toys will do wonders for his ability to weather whatever storm has him out of sorts. You do, however, want to be careful with the kinds of bones you buy for him, as some can cause serious damage.
Fidobiotics recommends buying your dog a ram horn or bison horn of some sort. Unlike cooked bones, water buffalo horns are long lasting, digestible, and largely safe. Be sure to purchase a bone that is bigger than your dog can swallow and do your best to monitor the horn chewing behavior.
Do not buy nylon bones, they are not intended for consumption and can cause damage to your dog's system if ingested.Another great thing to have in his 'calm corner' is an old shirt and one of his favorite stuffed animals. The combination of your smell seemingly stitched into the old shirt and his favorite little stuffed duck, Mr Quackers, will help him feel safe and happy.
Using a Dog Calming Aid
There are times when you will use every calming trick in the book and your dog will remain just as fearful and unsettled as before you began. Luckily for you, there are dog calming aids out there to help calm even the most uneasy pup.
It is best to seek out an all-natural product, doggy-xanax, such as alprazolam, can be rife with side-effects, trading one kind of suffering for another. There are plenty of compounds found within nature that are purported to work, such as chamomile, valerian root, ginger root, and L-tryptophan for dogs.