Watch Tip: Reducing Stress in Rescued Dogs

Posted on April 1st, 2012 by Trish Roman-Aquilino

Watch Tip LogoRescuing a dog from the street or adopting one from a shelter or rescue organization is a very rewarding experience. Often, rescued dogs may initially be stressed from their prior situation – kennel stress from the pound, anxiety from having lost the only family and routine they know, or sometimes they have been neglected and/or abused in their former lives. This means that more than likely one of the first things you will want to do when they arrive in your home, or need to do in some cases, is reduce their stress and anxiety levels, so that they can successfully and happily acclimate to their new environment and life. There are many different methods that can be utilized to attain this.

Signs of Stress.

First, understand the signs of canine stress.  Physiologically, the stress hormones released can cause an elevated heart-rate, dilated pupils, rapid breathing. A dog that is under stress or anxiety may have difficulty learning new behaviors (the stress hormones initiate a “fight or flight” reaction that overtakes them and does not allow for new behaviors to be learned) and may also exhibit behavioral issues because of that stress – lapses in housetraining, reactivity on leash, overly-aggressive barking, snapping, growling, shyness, escaping, destructiveness, to name just a few. This can result in a newly-adopted or rescued dog failing in his or her new home and ending up at a pound, shelter, or on the street again. To avoid this scenario in your home, be proactive about relieving your newly rescued dog’s stress. First, have your new dog examined by a vet to ensure that they are in good health, with no illnesses or injuries.  If they are found to be in good health, but exhibiting “stressed out” behaviors, or even if they are not, you will want to engage in “de-stressing” your rescued dog. While there are numerous methods that can be utilized to de-stress your dog, some of the more currently popular methods are listed here, with more detailed information in the links at the end.

Stress Relieving Practices and Remedies.

1. Exercise. Even small dogs, and sometimes especially the smaller breeds (an energetic Jack Russell, for example) need daily exercise in the form of a walk, jog or energetic play that lasts for at least 30 minutes. Not only is a “tired dog a good dog,” dogs need the mental stimulus gained from getting outside for a walk. Exercise needs to be included in every dog’s regimen, but especially for a dog that has stress.
2. Routine. Dogs crave routine, and getting them on a solid routine as soon as possible will give them a sense of security and confidence. Bathroom breaks, meals, bedtimes, walks should all be on a regular schedule that they can count on.
3. Good Diet. As with people, dogs flourish with a healthy diet. Read labels and try to avoid fillers like corn, soy, and wheat gluten. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t afford top of the line dog food products, but research and read about the ones in your budget and select the best that you can afford.
4. Dog Appeasing Pheromones. Some have had good results with DAP collars, or “Dog Appeasing Pheromones.” Some people report little luck. If your new dog is exhibiting destructive behaviors due to separation anxiety, it might be worth a try, and the pheromone can be purchased and applied via dog collar, room diffuser, or room spray.
5. Flower Essences/Holistic and Alternative Approaches. Rescue Remedy, and other similar flower essences have been marketed for some time as a “calming” treatment for humans, and have been found to work for animals too. There are also many holistic and “alternative” approaches to relieving stress in dogs, including Telling TTouch therapy, reiki, massage, acupressure and acupuncture that are gaining in popularity and acceptance.
6. Anti-anxiety Medications. Sometimes a dog’s anxiety levels does not respond to more traditional methods of relief, and at that point you should consider speaking to your vet about the possibilities of anti-anxiety medication, especially if your dog’s anxiety is causing aggressive, destructive, or self-harming behaviors. Many dog guardians are reporting good results with traditional medications such as Prozac (generic – fluoxetine) or Clomicalm (clomipramine). These medications must be administered with a prescription from your vet and under their care – do not attempt to administer these medications yourself, without consulting a vet.

Most importantly, patience is key.  Just because you have lovingly opened your home to a rescued dog does not mean he or she will immediately understand that they are safe, that they have security, that they will be taken care of.  There will be a certain amount of stress they will have just from being in a new home, and employing some or all of the above methods to keep them calm during the transition can help them get over that hurdle.

For more detailed information, please check out these resources:

Signs That Your Dog Has Stress – The Whole Dog Journal

How to Reduce Stress in Dogs – Adrienne Farricelli, certified dog trainer (CPDT-KA)

Trying to Ease Your Dog’s Stress – The Whole Dog Journal

Dog Stress Symptoms –

Dog Food Ingredients to Avoid –

“Dog-Appeasing Pheromone” to Calm an Anxious Dog – The Whole Dog Journal

Flower Essence Therapy for Dogs – The Whole Dog Journal

Managing Your Dog’s Stress – A Holistic Approach

Tellington TTouch Training

Behavioral Medications for Dogs – ASPCA

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