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Stress in Therapy Dogs: How to Recognize It, What to do About It

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Do you know how to tell if your dog is feeling
stressed? It is important to be aware of your dog’s body language, each dog may
show signs of stress differently.

Some signs that a dog is feeling stressed may include:

  • Excessive Panting

  • Whining/Barking

  • Tail Tucked Under

  • Ears Back

  • Disinterest

  • Excessive Water Drinking

  • High Speed, small amplitude vibration at tip of Tail vs. Tail Wag

  • Excessive Licking

  • Willful Disobedience

  • Leaving Sweaty Pawprints

  • Clinging To handler

If your dog is displaying signs of stress, it is time to
end the visit, and allow him to relax, even if it has been less than the usual
amount of time you spend at the facility. Don’t make a big deal about it or fuss
over him, simply gather up your belongings, speak to him in a happy, positive
voice, and take him home. Don’t make him think he did anything wrong, or that
you are displeased or disappointed.

After you are home and your dog is comfortable, think back
and try to remember anything that may have triggered his discomfort. There may
not have been anything specific, he may be having a "bad day," (dogs
have them too!), may not be feeling up to par, or may not be ready to visit for
that amount of time. Don’t be discouraged, or cancel your next visit, but be
observant of his attitude during the next scheduled time.

Also, be sure your attitude is positive and happy- as we
know, our dogs are very in tune to our moods and may be picking up on stress you
might be feeling. Don’t overstay your visit- some dogs may be only able to
tolerate 45 minutes to an hour. If all goes well for awhile, then consider
increasing the time. Remember, the visits should be enjoyable for the dogs
also! When your visit is done, give your dog some time to "play",
take him to the park, for a walk to his special place, or simply let him hang
out with you. This is also a great time to give him a massage. If you find that
your dog continues to be stressed, give him a break for awhile and be sure to
give him plenty of time doing a favorite activities, play his favorite "games"!

One should also consider whether there have there been any
big changes in the dog’s home or routine- (e.g.- new addition to household, a
move, a change in your schedule, new job hours, etc.) These and many other
events can cause stress in your dog. Finally, if there is any suspicion of a
physical cause for the dog’s behavioral change, it may be a good time for a
visit to the vet.