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Answers from vets about your dog:

Is Your Dog Secretly Stressed?

Posted March 11, 2015 in Dog Behavior

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is www.DrPhilZeltzman.com. He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (www.amazon.com).

AJ Debiasse, a veterinary technician in Stroudsburg, PA, contributed to this article.

Dogs can experience stress just as their human counterparts do. Ongoing or chronic stress in dogs and people alike can cause multiple health problems with various levels of severity. Each dog is unique and may require different strategies to reduce stress, feel comfortable and enrich their environment. Our dogs need to be physically, mentally and emotionally stimulated. Luckily for pet guardians, most of our dogs are easy to please.

So how can you enrich your dog’s life? Let’s discuss food enrichment and sensory enrichment; two easy ways of stimulating your dog’s senses.

Food enrichment to relive dog stress
A great and simple place to start enriching your dog’s life is through food enrichment. Most of our canine friends are highly food motivated, sadly, sometimes to a fault.

However, this does not, in any way, mean that you should give your dog a large number of treats—adding to the obesity problem. What it does mean is that food and treats can be your allies. You can make a game out of meals by hiding portions of the food in different locations and giving lots of praise when your dog finds the portions.

You can also use puzzle toys to provide your dog with entertainment in your absence. There are multiple hard rubber toys that allow you to stuff the middle with other toys or treats. Food can also be used as a reward immediately following a desired behavior, such as eliminating outside or performing a command.

Sensory enrichment to relive dog stress
Sensory enrichment is also very easy to provide. Turning on stimulating TV shows or providing a location where your pup can look out the window can provide hours of entertainment.

Sometimes, other pets provide the entertainment, for example, fish tanks or small pocket pets in terrariums. If your dog seems interested in small exotic pets, please make sure he has good intentions!

You can play scent games by scenting multiple toys with safe smells, hiding the different scents or asking your dog to identify them. Remember, dogs have a highly developed sense of smell, so don't overdo it. Baking extracts or essential oils can be added to spray bottles filled with water. Check with your veterinarian to make sure what you've chosen is safe.

Providing different textured toys can provide both sensory enrichment and comfort. Make sure that anything you pick is not left alone with your pet until you are certain he will not misuse it, e.g., he should not try to ingest a toy or rip up the couch while playing with it.

There are many CDs and audio files that are made specifically for dogs. You can also leave the radio or TV on when you are away or when trying to accomplish other things around the home that your dog is not involved in.

It has been said that a dog is the only being that will love you more than he loves himself. With so many easy ways to make your dogs happy, it's nice to know that you can provide them with what they need for a happy and healthy life.

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at www.DrPhilZeltzman.com, and follow him at www.facebook.com/DrZeltzman.