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0 Comments | Oct 20, 2015

Reducing stress and fear

Question:

We have a 7 year old rescue lab/boxer (who we have had for 4 years) who is scared of our 8 month old, and it seems to be getting worse. She mostly avoids my son, but she does greet him happily in the morning or when we get home. She loves giving him kisses. But lately he has started trying to chase her and play with her. It stresses her so much that she peed on our bed a few days ago. We also just moved, so I think she’s stressed from that still. –Mary B.

Answer:

Okay, it sounds like between the move, your son becoming mobile, and you having less free time, her stress level has gone up. No surprise, and some dogs would just handle it in stride, but she sounds pretty closely bonded to you, and boxers can be anxious. I would try a couple of things:

First, increase her exercise if you can. If she has a dog friend she can play with that is a great way to get exercise, or if you can increase the fetch games, that can help. Exercise lowers stress for dogs, just like it does for us.

Next, more brain games. Teach her some new tricks, play some hide and seek or find it games, things like that, which can help refocus her and give her something new to think about. Tricks are a good outlet because they encourage bonding and learning, and there is no end to the number of tricks a dog can learn, so there is always something new to learn.

Third, relaxation things, like more walks where she can sniff and explore (sniffing works for dogs like browsing the internet or watching TV does for us–it gives them a “story” to read). Maybe you can put the baby in a stroller and try a midday walk? Another good relaxation thing can be massage–spend a few minutes with her, just giving her a nice slow massage, which can ease stress for you both. You can also pick up some Adaptil, a product that releases a simulated dog pheromone in order to calm the dog. Humans can’t smell it, but it works to calm some dogs.

Last, and most important, you have to prevent your son from pursuing her. As he gets more mobile, and probably louder, she needs to know you won’t let him chase her. So, if he starts after her, you will need to interrupt and redirect him to something else. As he gets older, this will of course get easier, as long as you are consistent in not letting him chase. For now it is just all management, if he starts after her, you need to stop him and get him interested in something else. We certainly don’t want her feeling unsafe around him, as that can result in her trying to defend herself.

The good news is, for now her response is retreating, which is great. We just want to keep it that way, and do our best to lower her anxiety while your son grows and learns how to be calm around her.