Did you know that the effects of the fear and anxiety continue for hours and sometimes days or weeks after the event? So even though you and your anxious dog may have made it through the Fourth be aware that for the next couple your dog will need extra TLC.
The physical process that we, and our dogs undergo during stressful events are quite complicated, but some of the effects can be mitigated through awareness, management and behavior modifications techniques. But first it is helpful to understand what is happening inside your dog’s body when they are stressed.
The body’s reaction to stress
When a dog’s body is placed under stress their body reacts by releasing hormones. These hormones are called glucocorticoids. Once released, they create a feedback loop which means that when they reach a particular concentration level, the hormones then stop the factors that stimulate its release, and this helps the body to regulate itself. However, when a dog or any other animal for that matter, is placed under prolonged stress the body’s ability to regulate itself can breakdown. Stress hormones include cortisol, adrenaline, aldosterone, and testosterone.
When a dog is placed under stress the immediate result is an increase in the heart, blood pressure and respiratory rate, together with the animal’s cells fueled with glucose and free fatty acids. Studies indicate that cortisol typically takes around 60 minutes to drop back to half of its concentration level. But when a dog faces multiple stressors at once the negative feedback loop breaks down, cortisol continues to be released, and up to four times as much cortisol as normal can be present in the body. So the cortisol can sometimes take days to be completely dispelled. This means we now have a ‘pressure cooker’ effect happening inside the dog’s body and mind. So. if they encounter a situation or event which causes fear or anxiety in that same week as the other stressors, their behavior is likely to escalate. Many times this is when aggression or other behaviors can happen seemingly out of nowhere.
Trigger stacking is when too many stimuli that the dog is sensitive to occur in a short period of time. The these stressful event reach a level that is just too much for your dog.. This is where the dog’s basic survival instincts are switched on and they become reactive. Reactive behavior includes spinning on the lead, lunging, barking, growling, and whining etc..
Stressful events like the noise of the Fourth of July can take the body days or weeks to recover. You may see this manifest in different ways depending on the dog. For example a dog may be more reactive than usual; they may become destructive or lethargic. Basically they are exhausted. They may also have symptoms like diarrhea or low appetite. So go easy on your pup after any stressful event.
How to help your dog
After this type of stress remember to pamper your pup. As mentioned, your dog is probably exhausted so low excitement activities are in order. Be especially aware of keeping your dog away from those things that are unpleasant and trigger over excitement, fear or anxiety. If they are leash reactive or dog-dog reactive take them for walks that are in low traffic areas and give them time to sniff and walk at their pace even for part of the walk. Maybe consider therapies like T-Touch, massage, or Healing Touch.
If your pet continues to show stress related behaviors contact your holistic veterinary practitioner and ask about herbal calming remedies, and/or call an experienced behaviorist. In my work I often help people and their dogs with fear, aggression and anxiety issues. So, contact me if you need more information or need help.
Debbie Lewis, MS
I educate and support people as they deepen their understanding of their pet's behavior to create happy, healthy pet-people relationships.