Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Stress, Anxiety and Your Dog – Enable ‘Good Stress’ Response

Stress, Anxiety and Your Dog – Enable ‘Good Stress’ Response

Stress, anxiety and your dog – enable ‘good stress’ response for the mental and physical well-being of your dog – and you too! First let’s talk about good stress vs. bad stress, and then we will talk about the major building blocks for enabling good stress response…

Good Stress - Is There Such a Thing?
The answer is yes. There is a specific term for this type of stress – it is called ‘eustress’ – the prefix ‘eu’ derived from the Greek word meaning well or good. It is normal for our dogs to experience short-term (acute) stress. Short term (acute) stress response and management has always been a part pf everyday life for dogs, just as it has been for us humans. On a daily basis, a well-adjusted dog may experience good stress multiple times a day. For example, a puppy learning to go up or down stairs, a dog competing in agility or running to catch-up with his/her friend, trying to figure out how to get a treat out of a Kong, learning to be left alone for the first time, etc. Good stress provides the additional energy required to: meet a challenge; to learn a new skill; adjust to changes in routine, and environment; to perform at maximum output (mental and physical), etc. These examples create short term stress, and are typically experienced as part of normal everyday life. Good stress was part of your dog’s ancestor’s daily life too - the daily hunt for food required good stress response. Good stress hones physical and mental response to enable survival in good times and times of danger. Good stress for us humans works the same way.

When Good Stress Goes Bad
Let’s look at a few typical examples. One - you have a puppy that is simply doing that normal puppy thing – nipping your hands; your clothes; refusing to walk on his/her leash; won’t give up a toy or other object; gets into a minor ‘disagreement’ with a pack-mate, etc. Your response to your pup’s behaviour may be one or a combination of the following: you get tense, nervous, frustrated or otherwise upset, and are unable to provide the direction needed to calm your dog, and yourself. Two - you leave your dog alone in the house for the first time, and you do so with a sense of guilt and discomfort. Three - your dog experiences a thunderstorm for the first time - he/she becomes startled. Four - your dog refuses to eat a meal and you start to fuss. Five - you move to a new home and feel stressed during, and after the move - your dog senses your stress and is ‘uncomfortable’ in the new home. Six – you take your dog to the dog park and another dog displays or acts aggressively to your dog, no physical damage occurred but you and your dog are ’shook-up’ by the experience; or worse if your dog has suffered actual physical harm – you leave the dog park upset. All of these situations can create psychological trauma leading to long-term stress (chronic stress). To avoid the development of chronic stress you must know how to create and maintain a good stress response in yourself and your dog.

Chronic stress is an inflammatory condition that adversely effects mental and physical well-being, reducing quality of life and can shorten life-span.

What You Can Do to Support Good Stress Response

Choose a holistic approach that considers all of the factors - major and minor, that enable a ‘good’ stress response, vs. a ‘bad’ stress response. To understand how we can best support good-stress response we need to keep in mind factors that contribute to good and bad stress-reactivity. These factors include:
  1. Inherited and acquired traits
  2. Environmental influences – acute and long-term (animate – example your influence on your dog, other dogs influence on your dog, etc.), inanimate – example extreme weather conditions)
  3. Previously conditioned behaviour – for example your dog has learned to be frightened of thunder storms, fears going to the veterinarian, etc.
  4. Communication – for example your ability to communicate clearly to your dog, and understand what your dog is communicating
  5. Diet and health regimen – both play a large supporting role in physical and mental health
  6. Physical and mental health – the state of yours and your dog’s
  7. Psychology – human and canine as pertains to species and the individual human and canine, and the quality of interpretation – read here for an example
  8. Emotional intelligence and physical capacity – as pertains to the individual dog, and the individual human, as influenced by societal beliefs, which may acts as constraints and limitations.

Good Communication vs. Misaligned Communication
Our emotions drive our thoughts, and our thoughts drive our body language. When we are not working to align these three components of communication and expression - our emotions take over. When this occurs, we are not grounded, and we are not in a state of ‘normal’; we are in a state of heightened reactivity/arousal. We may be nervous, tense, anxious, insecure, fearful, frustrated, angry – reactive. When this occurs, we have nothing new to contribute to the situation, we are simply reinforcing the unwanted, unhealthy behaviour our dog is experiencing. We are leading by example – the wrong example. To engender a better response in our dogs, we must first achieve a better response within ourselves. We are human. We must accept that we can never be perfect. We must accept that we are creatures of emotion - but within that, we must also learn to preserve and operate from a place of patience, logic and empathy.

Enabling Good Stress Response from the Inside Out
In partnership with managing how we respond to situations we should also review our dog’s diet, and health regimen. Optimal physiological health plays an important role in ‘good’ stress response. Ours and our dog’s reaction to stress is effected by conditioning, by the health of our body and our brain. If the food your dog consumes does not support good: gastrointestinal function, glandular function, and good brain function - the ability to cope with stress is adversely affected. Real food – whole foods, raw foods, minimally processed foods (not highly processed food), combined with herbs and nutraceuticals form the basis of a diet that supports good physical, physiological and mental health. If you must feed your dog highly processed food (i.e. dry dog food) make sure you add some basic health supporting items to the daily diet. Consider adding some real meat and bone broth to your dog’s daily diet. Add some good quality Omega-3 - no dry dog food provides sufficient omega-3. Fish oil sourced from wild or wild caught deep, clean-water fatty fish; or organic hemp oil are good choices. Add a good-source of vitamin C – most vitamin supplements are sourced from China, and are contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins. I prefer vitamin C obtained from eating real food, herbs and nutraceuticals. Organic coconut oil offers many benefits. Look after your dog’s gastro intestinal flora by adding some real, fresh-food sourced probiotics. Probiotics in dry dog food are dead and offer no health benefit. Raw unpasteurized honey is also a good source of prebiotics and probiotics (don’t give raw honey to dogs that are 12 months of age or under). Fresh pureed papaya is an excellent source of digestive enzymes.

You can also consider adding some dog-safe real foods that are high in tryptophan, for example: pumpkin seeds, apple, banana, free-range eggs, free-range turkey, kelp, tart red cherries and wild Alaskan salmon. Be careful to use kelp sourced from clean-uncontaminated wild open waters.

There are some very good pre-blended homeopathic, as well herbal tonics that can be used to help calm an adversely stressed dog. The following are a few important things to keep in mind when thinking of using these tonics. These tonics are best used as a secondary support in combination with; a properly designed diet, and behavioural well-grounded mentoring. While there are some very good quality tonics, there are also many that contain inappropriate, inflammatory and toxic ingredients – choose wisely. Scrutinize the ingredients. Organic chamomile and ginger are two readily available herbs that can be added to food in tea or powder from.

If your dog has a medical health issue or is on any type of conventional drug(s), make sure you check all new items you add to the diet (herbs, nutraceuticals, foods) for interactions with drugs and your animal’s health condition.

Reset Yourself - Reset Your Dog
If your dog has become conditioned to ‘bad’ stress reactions – i.e. to thunder storms, people other dogs, being left alone, vehicle travel, etc.; you must start the process of change within yourself. Examine how you feel when about to enter a situation in which your dog normally gets ‘bad’ stressed. If you are anticipating ‘bad’ stress, if you are anxious, tense, frustrated or otherwise emotional you are directing your dog. If you are grounded, if you feel normal, well-adjusted you can then begin to work with your dog to un-condition ‘bad’ stress reactions. This will need to be done in tandem with techniques to further direct the situation. You must take over all decision making - not allow your dog to decide what he/she should do. For example a dog that has thunder storm anxiety may react by pacing, and hiding, then getting back-up to pace, and look for another hiding spot. Making these decisions is stressful for your dog – if he/she knew what to do she would not be anxious. Take over for your dog. Decide where your dog should lie down, and guide him/her to that spot, and communicate the ‘down’. If your dog gets up, don’t be annoyed – be grounded, be normal. Simply direct your dog back to the spot you selected and direct him/her to lie down. Dogs generally have more patience that their human. Patience in this case can be defined as having the patience to wait quietly, or having the determination to persist until he/she has obtained what he/she wants. Persistence and determination are part of being patient. It is necessary for the human to match and exceed the dog’s patience – this is how respect is earned. Pure logic – if you want another being to do something, to be something you need to be that thing first, yourself. This is leading by example, that is true leadership, and that is pure logic. I always say ‘dogs love logic more than humans’. Dogs do so because they are perceptive.

If your dog is ill, or grieving the loss of a loved human, or animal companion - follow the same rules provided above.

Build Confidence
Don’t ever feel sorry for your dog – sympathy is not confidence building. Feel empathy instead, and let that feeling compel you to provide solid leadership to your dog. Dogs are perceptive manipulators of human emotion. Dogs do learn how to emotionally pressure humans. Be aware of this, marvel at the intelligent capacity of your dog - but do not let the pressure alter your focus. Be more persistent than your dog, stay grounded and firm. Focus on what your dog needs rather than on the patterns of the past.

When you truly lead by example – patiently, persistently and without rancor, without guilt and other destabilizing emotions, without punitive force, and with empathy; you become a stabilizing presence, a grounded presence. With this you may earn the right to have your dog’s attention and respect, even in the most stressful of situations.

The Bottom Line  
We cannot change the genes which are dog has inherited, we can’t change what our dog has experienced in the past, but we can have a substantial impact on the present and the long-term. The sum of poor communication and bad diet is anxiety and stress for ourselves and for our dogs. So what is it that we need to do to turn things around? We need to take the time to slow down, be consciously deliberate leaders for our dogs, and support our dogs’ good mental function from the inside-out.

Be The Change, Lead The Change
By carefully following the steps above you can self-regulate yourself, break your own ‘bad’ habits, and preconditioned responses - by doing so you set the foundation to enable good stress response in your dog.

Additional Assistance - Holistic Health and Wellness Service
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Understanding Dog Psychology - Help Your Dog, Help Yourself

Understanding dog psychology - help your dog, help yourself, all three are intertwined. When we understand the profound ways that we affect our dog’s mind and behaviour we step into a world of positive growth, for our dogs, for ourselves. What we get right. What we misinterpret. What we get completely wrong, and how to better understand and direct ourselves - so we can better understand and support our dogs.

To Be Consciously Aware is Essential
I see and hear the term ‘dog psychology’ used everywhere – on dog trainers’ and behaviorists’ websites, on professional group discussion boards I participate in. The word ‘psychology’ has become a trap, a catch-all, a regurgitation of misconceptions about dogs - a disaster that needs to be fixed, for the sake of our dogs, and ourselves. For the most part dog’s do exactly what their human tells them to do…

Thought Streaming on Auto Pilot - Working Against the Greater Good
Most of us move through our typical day surrounded, and yes flooded by visual and audio stimuli which we observe casually, without depth, without deliberate conscious thought - we are on auto-pilot. We ‘see’, we talk, we react on auto-pilot. When we do this to excess we fall out of the good habit of deliberate, conscious choice – this has a serious impact on our ability to connect within ourselves to direct our thoughts, and our communication.

For the majority of us our default state is an emotive-reactive state where we forget to be truly observant and present. We default to a state were logic is absent, and omission is enabled – meaning we do not consciously see, feel, sense many of the details that surround us. This is also how many of us habitually communicate – from a state of surface awareness

When Auto Pilot Becomes a Healthy Default State
Auto-pilot is advantageous when it includes the habit of being aware, alert, and observant – this is a healthy state of normal.

When Auto Pilot Fails Us and Our Dogs
When auto-pilot is comprised of unconscious stream of thought and reactivity you become just what you don’t want your dog to be – inattentive, unfocused, flooded and reactive. An undesirable state of normal.

Observation is a Foundation to Understanding
The typical dog is an observant being with an acute ability to perceive what we are really communicating, which is often very different from what we ‘think’ we are communicating while we are on auto-pilot. Some dogs have heightened sensitivity (HS). A dog with HS has a level of perception that exceeds the average dog’s already perceptive senses. Heightened sensitivity is an asset that can be leveraged to achieve a deep bond with us, when it is understood and properly utilized. When heightened sensitivity is not recognized, not understood it becomes a serious disadvantage as you will seriously misinterpret your dog’s mind and behaviour. Does your dog have HS? Do you have HS? Read more about HS here.

Breaking Away From Our Self-Induced Limitations
Our disconnected out-of-touch, and unobservant default state is further enabled by our cultural beliefs as humans – i.e. dogs cannot express emotions as humans do. Dogs have less value as beings than humans do, etc.

We Need to Acknowledge There is More
Dogs have a full range of emotions, they also have the muscular facial structure to express those emotions. Have you ever thought you saw your dog smile, but you dismissed the ‘notion’ as ‘ridiculous’? Well, the fact of the matter is that dogs do smile - read more here.  Dogs feel and express joy, surprise, sadness, grief, and everything in between. Dogs have empathy. Dogs react to stimuli much like we humans do – based on nature and nurture. Each individual (whether canine or human) has a unique combination of inherited traits, and acquired traits shaped by environmental influences. You are an environmental influence on your dog. Environmental influences help to determine how we and our dog’s react, and adjust to various situations. Do you foster ‘good’ stress reactivity in yourself or your dog, or bad stress reactivity? Find out more here.

Dogs form habits and associations to situations much like humans do – changing habits and associations in dogs and humans requires a similar approach.

And How About Diet?
Optimal function of mind and body is supported by a truly good diet and health care regimen. A combination of highly processed ‘food’, and chemical-dependent health care is not supportive of optimal brain and body function. ‘Pet’ store shelves and most veterinarian practices peddle highly processed ‘food’ that contains multiple listed and hidden toxins, and carcinogens which also disrupt our dogs’ normal, healthy serotonin levels, thyroid and other glandular levels. If you are not well informed about what constitutes a good diet you are an easy target for psychological manipulation by the pet food, veterinarian, pharmaceutical, and supplement industry. When we make uninformed choices we adversely affect our dog’s psychological state as we fail to properly support mind and body.

Training for Us – The Road to Positive Change
While a dog needs some support to change his/her habits the dog is already a good communicator. We need the training to better our communication skills, our awareness, and our insight in order to support conscious observation. This is how we change our default state, and by so doing gain the opportunity to provide true, logical and consistent leadership to ourselves and to others.

Our dogs offer us a gift – it is the gift of learning. We can choose to decline the offer, or we can rise to the challenge, and work hard to become better beings.

You can’t fool a dog. And that is the truth.

Additional Assistance - Holistic Health and Wellness Service
If you require additional support, and guidance - contact me to discuss your requirements. I will determine the appropriate course of action for your situation and I will let you know the applicable fees. I offer consultative services to clients around the world...
Diet, Nutrition Wellness Services
  • Unbiased Diet, Nutrition, Product Advice - information and payment here >>. 
  • Holistic Diet, Nutrition Wellness Plans - information and payment here >>.
Dog Obedience Training and Behavior Modification Services
  • In-Person sessions - information and payment here >>.
  • On-Line consultation and sessions - information and payment here >>.