The Pets Doc

Dr. Kevin Watkins, DVM

812-273-1803

Many Factors Can Cause Puppy Stress

Q : My work schedule changed recently and my otherwise wonderful puppy started chewing up everything in my house, even when I’m home. Why has he reverted to this behavior, and what do I do about it?

A: In answer to the first part of your question, stress is defined as: “The difference between the current situation and how we think it should be.” Dogs show abnormal behaviors as a result of stress, just as every living creature does.

Some common causes of canine stress are lack of exercise, lack of companionship or mental stimulation, fleas, other parasites, or any medical condition, rivalry (real or perceived), change in owner’s work schedule, change in feeding schedule, fighting or arguing among members of household, unclear or inconsistent leadership by owner, owner gone too long, or the death of a member of the household, whether two-legged or four.

Just like humans, dogs need to release their stress. There are as many unique responses to stress as there are individual people and dogs, but we can group stress relievers into three main categories:

  • Oral,
  • Vocal, and
  • Physical.

Oral stress relievers tend to chew things up. In canines, the main example is household destruction. In extreme cases, dog’s have been known to actually mutilate themselves. In people, some examples are thumb sucking, nail biting, smoking and overeating.

Dogs that release stress vocally tend to bark, whine and howl. People tend to yell, scream and curse. Some dogs, and humans, need to release stress by using their muscles. You will see this in canines as leash pulling, door dashing, and-or escaping from a yard or pen. In humans, physical stress relievers pace, fidget, finger tap, knuckle-crack, nail bite and pull, twist, and chew their own hair, just to name a few.

Finally, both canines and humans sometimes relieve stress through an act of aggression. The cause of the stress might be fear based, or simply a dominance issue, but the outcome is the same. In a situation that provokes extreme stress, both dogs and humans will attack and sometimes even kill.

Some common symptoms of canine stress are overeating, anorexia, excessive barking, digging, licking, and-or salivation, destructive chewing and aggression. When a dog exhibits aggression, consistently, or even only once, you must consider what the history of that animal is. What creates an aggressive dog? What was the circumstance that led to the aggressive act? In humans, we refer to this as “the stick that broke the camel’s back.”

We in the veterinary profession are sometimes asked to euthanize a dog because it bit someone, usually the owner. Why would a dog bite the hand that feeds it? In my capacity as an animal behaviorist and pet behavior counselor, I must consider what kind of relationship people have with their canine “pack” members. Is the dog considered a member of the family? Does it live inside with the other “pack” members, or does it live strictly outdoors? Is it chained? What events in that dog’s life led it to believe that humans are unpredictable and not to be trusted? How and why did that dog learn to control humans by using it’s teeth?

These are all extremely important questions, but unfortunately they usually don’t get asked until after a dog has attacked either another canine or a human. Frequently, at this point, the dog is condemned to a local shelter or euthanized.

More often than not, however, it is the owner’s failing, not the dog’s, that leads to undesirable behaviors. The answer to the second part of your question is, you must go back to square one in your puppy’s training.

First and foremost, you must keep your puppy supervised, either by tethering him to you, or kenneling. A supervised puppy is not going to have the opportunity to chew up and destroy your new leather shoes or your furniture. In other words, don’t set him up to fail.

The second best stress release for puppies is appropriate chewing on an owner approved toy.

And finally, the healthiest stress release for people and dogs is regular physical exercise, so make sure your puppy gets the opportunity to romp and stretch his muscles every day.

Margo Watkins, Pet Behavior Counselor

Pawsitive Pet Behavior Blog