Are You Stressing Your Pet Out?
Human relationships can be rocky sometimes. We can hurt each other’s feelings or get on one another’s nerves. In the same way, some of our behaviors and actions can cause a great deal of stress to our animal companions. Let’s look at this a bit closer.
Hidden Sources of Stress
Hugging and Kissing
Hugs and kisses are a way we, as humans, express our love and affection. Cats and dogs may feel uncomfortable receiving hugs and kisses. Often hugs involve being held tightly. Your pet may feel trapped and like they cannot escape. This may cause them to feel like something bad is going to happen which is stressful. Pets may become particularly uncomfortable if strangers hug or kiss them.
Assuming Language Fluency
Cats and dogs are both proficient in reading body language. They can also be taught some word cues and learn to respond with specific behavior. However, they do not actually understand our spoken human language. It can be stressful for your pet if you speak to them and they don’t understand what you want. Sometimes your pet may have another interpretation of the words you use. For example, if you say to your pet, “It’s okay,” and your pet has learned to associate this phrase with something unpleasant like a trip to the veterinarian, this expression can heighten their stress even in a non-stressful situation.
Telling Your Pet “No”
Our companion animals are naturally inquisitive and often delight in getting into things you prefer they didn’t play with. Their curiosity is part of their charm. Stressful situations (for you and your pet) are created when your special things lay within their reach. Create an interesting environment for them that only includes items that are safe for them to play with and keep your special items in a secure area out of their reach. Don’t punish your pet for repeating their behavior after your repeated “No!” They can’t help they are naturally tantalized by the interesting things they find in their environment and they will go right back to it, in spite of your interruption.
Threatening Body Language
Pets may become afraid if you tower over them or scold them with pointing or shaking fingers. Dogs become uncomfortable if you stare into their eyes too long. They may feel in danger and be unable to interpret the meaning of your gestures and positioning. Most of these behaviors or actions would certainly cross the line if we would perform them in human interactions. Why not show our beloved companion animals the same consideration we show our human friends? Learning to be sensitive to the needs of our pets could have the happy outcome of improving our human relationships as well!
- Information provided by Valarie V. Tynes, DVM, DACVB, Premier Veterinary Behavior Consulting, Sweetwater, Texas, and Colleen Koch, DVM, Lincoln Land Animal Clinic, Jacksonville, IL for veterinarian practice handouts “From Your Veterinarian”