Excerpt: 'Through a Dog's Eyes,' by Jennifer Arnold

3. Distress is harmful stress. If you are starving and there is no way for you to get food, you are in distress. Distress has a negative impact on dogs and people both physically and mentally. he effects of distress are both immediate and long-lasting.

Since eustress is quickly resolved and neutral stress has no impact, it is distress in dogs, as it is in humans, that causes the most significant problems. There are a number of things that can affect dogs to the point of distress, including being left alone, hearing loud noises, fear of not pleasing their owners, and even boredom.

How can you tell if your dog is feeling stress? We must rely on our dogs' behaviors or, more precisely, their displacement behaviors to alert us. Common displacement behaviors in dogs include compulsively chewing on themselves or on objects, eliminating inappropriately in small amounts randomly throughout the house, obsessively digging holes outside, pacing, and chronic barking. Dogs may display these behaviors for a number of reasons, so it is important to analyze circumstances carefully to determine the cause. For example, if your dog pees a puddle by your back door, it isn't necessarily stress. It's possible he just needed to go to the bathroom and couldn't get outside.

If you are concerned that your dog is experiencing distress, it is first important to determine what emotion is causing the stress. Currently, much of dog training is focused on making a dog stop doing something we don't want him to do, without much thought given to why he is doing it in the first place. While this may provide a quick fix, it does not solve the issue for the long run. Imagine a water balloon filled to near capacity. If you keep adding water to the balloon without allowing some of the existing water to be released, the balloon will soon explode under the pressure. Now imagine that, instead of a water balloon, we are talking about a dog filled with negative stress. The displacement behaviors act like tiny pinholes, allowing some of the pressure to be reduced. If we plug the pinholes but allow stress to continue building, the dog is going to blow, somewhere, somehow. The dog may begin to chew holes in his own leg or suddenly bite for no apparent reason, or end up dying earlier than necessary. Stress has the same deleterious physical effect on dogs as it does on humans.

Figure out what is causing your dog to feel stressed and, if possible, eliminate the cause. For example, if boredom is creating stress for your dog because you must leave him alone for long periods, stop feeding him from a bowl and start stuffing his food into a Kong or similar toy, creating a long- lasting, time- occupying distraction. Mixing the food with low- fat cottage cheese and freezing it overnight can make it an even longer- lasting project. At Canine Assistants, we advise our service- dog recipients to feed their dogs in this manner, encouraging the animals to be still and quiet for extended periods of time.

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