Dogs become stressed when something is happening to them which they don’t like. They are not happy with their current situation and want to change it.
Your dog can’t just turn to you and say, “I’m sick of this – let’s do something else” but there are a number of ways he does tell you how he is feeling. These signals will be obvious to other dogs and as conscientious dog owners we should learn to recognize them too.
Understanding the signals is the first step towards relieving the problem.
Displacement behavior happens when an animal is torn between two incompatible drives.
We love hugging our dogs. They are not so keen. If our family dog is being hugged by one of our children and he doesn’t like it, he is not sure how to stop it. His natural reaction may be to bite, but he doesn’t want to do that. The dog will channel his biting instinct into another behavior. This is an example of displacement behavior.
Displacement behaviors can include yawning when he is not tired, licking his lips when there is no food around, gnawing at his paws or other body part or suddenly sniffing at the ground.
In a different context, these are natural dog behaviors. It is only when they are happening out of context that they can be classed as displacement behaviors.
When you see one of these things happening, it is time to intervene. You need to take some action that will prevent the situation developing further.
In this example you need to separate the child and dog. You then need to take some action which will prevent something similar happening again. This means teaching the child not to hug the dog or training the dog to enjoy the behavior. If you choose the second, more difficult path you will most likely need the help of a specialist trainer.
On other occasions, your dog will want to get away from the situation that is stressing him. If your dog is prevented from leaving, this will increase his stress.
To use the same example as before, your dog may try to end the hugging situation by getting up and leaving the room. Other avoidance behaviors include hiding behind someone, turning his head away or barking and moving away. He may show the submission signal of rolling onto his back.
As before, intervention is needed to stop the situation deteriorating.
Other Signals Which Indicate Anxiety
There are a number of other signals that show that a dog is anxious. These include:
Tail between the legs or in a low position with only the end wagging.
Ears sideways (particularly for an erect eared dog)
Dogs are just like us and, every so often, they need timeout. They need a safe haven where they can go when they just want to be left alone.
Everyone in the family should know not to bother the dog when he is in his safe place.
When he is ready to share in more activities he will come to you.