Suffer From Stress
German Shepherd Dogs can suffer from stress
the "wonder dog",was a German Shepherd, whose story was published in 1926.
Like his predecessor, Rin Tin Tin, he was a movie star in the1920s and '30s.
In their films, these brave dogs caught clever criminals, delivered messages
across war-ravaged battlefields, and fought wild animals without faltering.
Nothing stressed them. These dogs did not tremble in animal shelters, nor
whimper and pace when introduced into unfamiliar homes. They did not run and
hide when thunderstorms rolled over the rooftops, or fire crackers popped
like artillery on the Fourth of July. They were known as "police dogs" and
their offspring populated books and TV programs for many years. Thus, it is
not surprising that many people formed the impression that German Shepherds
do not suffer from stress. When they discover that the noble Shepherd may
suffer from anxiety, just as people do, they are nonplussed, as I was when I
first saw a severely stressed dog, my German Shepherd, Schatzi. Pictured
here is a photo of Schatzi after she's had a bath!
When my children
were young, I bought German Shepherd puppies from responsible breeders. My
dogs were well-socialized, happy dogs that were never kenneled. I never
considered that they could be stressed. In those long ago days, before
PetSmart, specialty pet stores, and Foster & Smith catalogs, people were
stressed, not dogs. If my dogs were stressed, I was unaware of it -until
Schatzi, the first dog I adopted from an animal shelter.
was thrilled to bring her home, believing that she would be happy in a
loving home, after having been found wandering along a highway. Instead, in
those first few days, her entire being projected despair. She whimpered her
way disconsolately through every room in the house, head down, ears back.
She didn't eat. She would approach me as I was sitting down, and place her
head between my knees, as if to hide. I would pet her, speak soothing words
to her, then she'd wander away.
I have since learned that restlessness is a symptom of stress in a dog. In
those first days after Schatzi's adoption she exhibited many of symptoms of
stress: loss of appetite, whimpering, pacing, lack of bowel control. In the
animal shelter, on the day of her adoption, she had stood calmly as the
adoption papers were filled out. Then, suddenly, she had a bowel movement. I
now know that was a sign of her stress, for she was fully house-broken and
never again had an "accident."
Within a week, Schatzi was a part of our family, and the symptoms of stress
disappeared, never to reappear. But in that week, I learned much about how
stress is manifested in dogs. Fortunately, without knowing much about stress
reduction, I did what dog behaviorists recommend, which is primarily common
sense. I took her for frequent walks. I spoke often to her in a reassuring
tone of voice. I provided her with a quiet place of her own to which she
could retreat and, most importantly, I was the leader in whom she could
place her trust.
While we often welcome change, as with a
trip to a foreign country, dogs are often unsettled by it, whether it be a
kennel stay, the arrival of a new family member, or a divorce. Many dogs do
fine with change, but others do not, depending on their backgrounds (which,
with adopted dogs, is rarely known) or genetic predisposition. My German
Shepherd, Shadow, adopted from German Shepherd Rescue, was the victim of a
divorce. Whenever he heard raised voices, he was uncomfortable, and got up
and left the room. He was also the dog who approached our male guests from
behind and nipped at their pants. He was uneasy with men, excepting my
husband, so to relieve his stress (and, no doubt, the stress of my guests)
I followed the advice of dog behaviorists: "Remove dog to a different
Looking Away, Ears Back
Recognizing stress in a dog is not
difficult, for the symptoms are remarkably similar to those in humans:
whining, hiding, drooling, lip licking, dilated pupils, repetitive
behaviors, lack of bowel or bladder control, and aggression, such as
biting or growling. Understanding the causes is also not difficult: traumas
through accident or mistreatment, physical restraint, confinement, improper
diet, change of routine, noise, rough handling, unwanted interactions, such
as with aggressive people or other dogs, and separation, to name the most
obvious. Boredom is also a stressor, often overlooked because it is so
Lip Licking is a Sure Sign of Stress
What to do with a stressed dog is the
challenge. There are dogs pre-disposed to anxiety because of genetics, dogs
who have been traumatized over time, and dogs distressed by a specific
situation that, once relieved, quickly regain their equanimity, such as
Schatzi. In most cases, time and love can work wonders. With storm phobia or
separation anxiety, medication may prove helpful, but, overall, kindness and
patience are the preferred medicines.
The recommendations for stress
reduction are (surprise!) beneficial for every dog. Be the leader of the
pack, even if it's a pack of two. Set boundaries. Socialize your dog to new
experiences, take long walks together, play ball, provide a variety of toys
to engage the dog's attention, and take dog obedience classes. These
activities will promote confidence in your dog so that one day your anxious
dog may feel like Strongheart, ready for whatever lies ahead.