Life Changes Can Be Problematic
Stress effects dogs in much the same way that it effects people and if you’ve been following this blog over the years, that should come as no surprise. What we are sometimes surprised by is that events that are seemingly innocuous to dogs can absolutely be stressful enough to cause problems. We know major life changes like moves, divorces, and babies can cause enough stress to see behavior changes in dogs but even seemingly little changes can be problematic.
About 2 months ago one of my dog walking families welcomed a new baby into the home. Once the new baby was born the mom went on maternity leave from her job so she was home most of the time. I continued to walk the pup even though his human mom was home and he did great. It was a bit of an adjustment for him the first week with the new baby but he got through it just fine. His mom’s maternity leave is now over and I definitely saw some behaviors I haven’t seen with him in many months. During my visit we struggled a bit with his arousal level, impulse control, and he gave me a very hard body slam when I had his toy (we were playing fetch). These are things that haven’t happend since I first started working with him (and even then only happend once or twice).
I suspect that this behavior change is connected to the change in the routine in his home but also in the change of stress level in the home. I know going back to work, sending the older child back to daycare, and leaving the new baby was a stressful experience for both parents. Something as seemingly small as the human stress level caused a behavior change in a pretty stable dog.
It’s really important to consider our dogs when life happens, especially if we see changes in behavior. Any number of changes, shifts, stresses, or relocations can lead to unwanted behavior shifts. Breakups, divorces, illnesses, new baby, new job, new pet, change in daily schedule, relocation, death in the family, new significant other and particularly stressful times (like tax season for accountants, finals time for students, wedding planning) can all have an effect on a dog’s behavior. Previously “well trained” dogs may suddenly start having ‘selective hearing’, dogs who have never shown an ounce of aggression may start showing some subtle behaviors that are precursors to bigger problems, dogs may start showing signs of separation anxiety, you may find that Fido has set backs with potty training or behavior modification training, and some dogs may even start showing symptoms of being medically ill.
Knowing that what happens in our daily lives can have an effect on our dogs’ behavior can be really helpful in noticing behavior changes early on and making a plan to address the issues before they become overly problematic or dangerous.