Updated: Sep 4, 2020
So summer is just around the corner, you are starting to feel it, that itch. But that’s not what we have this year….Call it what you want, senioritis, stir crazy, death by cubicle, rainy day blues, or corona quarantine. This is a short list of the millions of names people give the stress caused by being locked indoors. But humans are not the only ones who suffer from this disorder. Compulsion behaviors and mental deterioration caused by looking at the same four walls day in and day out can have an effect our four-legged friends as well. And while our buddies living in a shelter are the most at risk, those living in your home can be just as affected without the proper care. Take a look at the symptoms and breeds below to see if your pet might be due for some R and R out in the open skies and what you can do to help.
Breed predilection. While all dogs, all animals for that matter, can suffer from anxiety caused by confinement, the ones that are notorious for high energy and high intelligence are the ones that suffer most. Breeds like the Border Collie, Jack Russell Terrier, and Heelers are predisposed to turning the internal engines up and burning out the pilot if given little outlet to burn off the heat. These breeds need not only space to run and exercise to keep them fit, but mental stimulation like a good thinking job to keep their mind from stressing and turning normal behaviors into pathological ones. This isn’t saying that your border collie is going to turn into a serial killer, but it may be that your once loving and easy going dog develops obsessive compulsive behaviors as seen below.
Energy demands set to low. Dogs who are chronically underexposed to the outside world are most prone to this disorder. True, shelter dogs fall victim even in the best of circumstances if they are in the category above just based on the nature of the beast (both shelter and dog breed), given enough time, a dog with a breed predilection and in a shelter will begin to show symptoms of the stress. Some sooner than others. But a dog that lives in a home environment can succumb as well. Dogs who never see the end of the leash for more than the 2seconds it takes to go potty. Or dogs whose sole view of the outside world is through the slats in their privacy fence are those most at risk. Mental exercise and acuity is more than just doing some math or reading a good book, its working out problems and taking in new stimuli and interpreting it. Dogs who never have the opportunity to do that begin to take in stimuli that may be otherwise dismissed and dwell on it. Unhealthy behaviors can result.
Miscellaneous stressful events. Whether it’s a new baby, a new job, a new house or a new pet. Perhaps there is discord in the home between people or even between the other pets. Maybe the home is near a fire station, police station or a noisy bar. Maybe a new cat moved into the neighborhood. Most of these things may be somewhat stressful or uneventful to us, but our pets notice. And sometimes they notice with overly serious reactions. If your pet suddenly begins acting peculiar seemingly out of the blue, take a look at this list and see if there are any potential stressors you may have overlooked.
Behaviors that might show your dog is on the list of anxiety sufferers:
Inappropriate licking/biting/chewing of himself or objects
Sudden inappropriate signs of fear/aggression
Seemingly repetitive compulsive behaviors like circling, jumping on and off or up and down, licking, air snapping etc
Missing hair or random injuries to his body not caused by trauma or contagion
Excessive focus on a task including escape to the point of bodily injury
So if your pet meets one or more of the categories above and is suspect for performing any of the behaviors in list two, it may be time to intervene. Dogs, and cats to a lesser degree, rely on us to enrich them. For most dogs, simply living in the free moments that people have between work in sleep is not enough. They need quality time and behavior enrichment. This proves to be a great motivator to get people outdoors and enjoying nature or on the treadmill! (Yes, dogs can be taught to run on a treadmill, please speak with your veterinarian or local behaviorist for tips and to find out if your pet is healthy enough for this activity) What can you do to help?
Exercise Exercise Exercise. They crave it. They NEED it. At least 30minutes a day, and preferably more if you can make it happen. A jog. A leash walk. Outside the confines of the backyard, not just tossing the ball around, although that might do in a pinch.
Mental games. Find it. Leave it. Obedience commands and games. Agility games. Herding the pigeons. Whatever task you and your dog can find to enjoy, do it. And do it frequently. Learn a new game. Go hiking. Enter a competition. Give your dog a JOB. Something to make him feel accomplished.
Love. At the end of all that activity and mental support, praise him. Love him. And make him as much a part of the family as you can. This doesn’t mean all dogs have to belong inside by the fire. Some are just as happy living outside in the sunshine and under the stars, but it does mean they spend time with their people. They spend good time with their people. Let them know that just because they completed the task they won the Nobel prize of the doggie world. For that moment, they are the king.
And if your pet gets all these things and is happy and healthy, then remember, there are shelter dogs near you that live behind 4 brightly colored yet familiar walls who would love to have some R and R today under the big sky. Make an appointment to walk a shelter dog! ;)