dead pigWhen dogs expe­ri­ence major changes in their life, they often expe­ri­ence stress and show it in a num­ber dif­fer­ent ways.  Today, Ace killed his six-year-old (toy) pig. His beloved pig that he begged every­one to throw for him, or just cud­dled up with on any giv­en patio chair to gen­tly squeak. We’ve built him a whole group of pigs over the years, not one of them even slight­ly dam­aged. He had loved them all and would often build a ‘pig pile’ at the base of his chair, or hoard them under the patio stairs. But today, he total­ly evis­cer­at­ed his old­est one.

We are mov­ing homes. Today, we emp­tied out the base­ment and made count­less trips to the char­i­ty drops, piles in the garage and piles of trash. The dogs fol­lowed our every move, stay­ing as close as pos­si­ble to us. I knew this move would be very tough on them, but antic­i­pat­ed more stress reac­tions from my res­cue than from Ace. Ty the res­cue is lick­ing more, glued to me and fran­tic when I leave. Ace has expressed his emo­tions main­ly by block­ing the door when I want to go and barg­ing through – despite the man­ners that he’s had over all his 7 years. But today, I saw just how stressed he was when I saw him destroy a toy for the first time in his whole life. As I relaxed in the hot tub after a long and stress­ful day (yup, drink and a soak is my idea of relax­ing!), he lay on the grass and killed his pig.

Peo­ple often share pic­tures of their ‘bad dogs’ that have destroyed some­thing, the dog look­ing appro­pri­ate­ly shamed. What the dog is actu­al­ly show­ing is a reac­tion to the owner’s dis­plea­sure, not an under­stand­ing of what they did was wrong. Stress and anx­i­ety show them­selves in dif­fer­ent ways in dif­fer­ent dogs. One may self-harm with exces­sive lick­ing, anoth­er may get destruc­tive of things, while anoth­er may try des­per­ate­ly to fol­low their own­er and dam­age doors and win­dows to do so.

Stress can cause indoor acci­dents as well, and I’m ful­ly antic­i­pat­ing these. Adren­a­line and cor­ti­sol have an effect on the inter­nal organs, which can cause both uncon­trolled uri­na­tion and bow­el move­ments. For this rea­son, my dogs are now being con­tained when I go out, so that they aren’t fran­ti­cal­ly run­ning about, mak­ing acci­dents of kinds more likely.

An excel­lent means of help­ing dogs han­dle new and stress­ful sit­u­a­tions is an increase in exer­cise. The brain expe­ri­ences a rush of stress hor­mones, called glu­co­cor­ti­coids when we exer­cise. Why is that good for stress lev­els? In the long run, exer­cise trains the brain to bet­ter deal with stress. In stud­ies, ani­mals who exer­cise more are less anx­ious in stress­ful sit­u­a­tions, are more like­ly to find a solu­tion to a prob­lem, such as a maze, and are less like­ly to lose track of the goal.  We’re now head­ing out for a big run, to help them cope bet­ter when I leave.

Antic­i­pate what your dog is feel­ing, don’t just react after the fact. Hol­i­days and their com­mo­tions, depar­ture for vaca­tions, back to school are all dis­rup­tions that can bring about new and unwant­ed behav­iours if not man­aged well.