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Meet Lily

Lily has cerebellar hypoplasia. She’s also an extreme extrovert. She loves chasing and shaking her toys. Her spirit is endless and she has no idea she can’t do it all.


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Dog Behaviour Conference Now A Global Online Event

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Positively and the Victoria Stilwell Academy have announced that registration is now open to the public for the International Dog Behavior Conference which – for the first time ever – will be held online rather than in-person.

For the past six years, Positively, VSPDT and the Victoria Stilwell Academy have hosted the National Dog Behavior Conference in the UK. It’s always one of our absolute favorite times of the year, not just because of the awesome content that our fabulous presenters bring each year, but also because of the community it represents.

The dog training world – and the dog owning world, for that matter – is a collection of wonderful people committed to providing the very best they can for the dogs in their lives. Whether that’s as a dog trainer, daycare owner, veterinary staff, rescue volunteer or employee, or just an uber dog-geek of an owner.

The Dog Behavior Conference brings together like-minded people who are passionate about making the world better for animals around the world. And up until this year, it’s been pretty much limited to people in Britain since the conference has been hosted in the UK in the past.

Now, though, with the coronavirus situation wreaking havoc with all of our lives, we’re excited to share that the conference is bigger and better than ever… online!

While we were disappointed to have to cancel the in-person conference, we’re really excited about the new benefits that this move to an online event will bring.

First, more people can join us and get access to the amazing content that some of the world leaders in the pet industry have to offer. The conference is now open to everyone around the world, so you can log in from anywhere and be a part of the action.

Second, we get to add a couple more rock star presenters to the speaker list. We already had a ridiculously talented and engaging lineup including Victoria, Sarah Fisher, Holly Root-Gutteridge, J. Nichole Smith, Sarah Heath, and Kay Laurence.

But now we’re thrilled to announce that we’ll also be hearing from the esteemed Clive Wynne from Arizona State University, as well as the tremendous Zazie Todd of Companion Animal

Plus, we’ve been able to lower the cost of registration to less than half of what it had been for the in-person version. Full registration for the two day online event is just $125 – and that includes lifetime access to watch the video recordings of the presentation as much as you’d like after the event.

The online International Dog Behavior Conference will be held on May 9-10, 2020, and you can register to reserve your spot now at

Seats for this online conference are limited, and we’ve sold out of this event each of the past several years in-person. Now you can reserve your place and take advantage of lifetime access to the content for just $125.

Click here to learn more and register today!

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‘Hudson & Rex’: Canine Actor Challenges us to Look at Animal Labor

The Canadian TV show ‘Hudson & Rex’ features actor John Reardon playing Det. Charlie Hudson and German shepherd Diesel vom Burgimwald as Rex. Images courtesy Beta Films.
The Canadian TV show ‘Hudson & Rex’ features actor John Reardon playing Det. Charlie Hudson and German shepherd Diesel vom Burgimwald as Rex. Images courtesy Beta Films.

My favourite police officer on television is smart, empathetic, attentive and brave. He’s also incredibly handsome.

I’m talking about Rex, the fictional police canine played by the German shepherd Diesel vom Burgimwald who co-stars on CITY TV’s hit show Hudson & Rex. It’s not prestige TV, but it is a well-made, diverse, thoughtful and unapologetically Canadian police procedural with an impressive four-legged officer.

As the show wraps up its second season, it’s clear that Rex/Diesel has charmed audiences. His work also invites us to think more about animals’ minds, work and contributions to our shared communities.

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Separation Anxiety Training

Downtime provides a unique opportunity
separation anxiety in dogs

Two weeks ago I celebrated with one of my separation anxiety clients over her newfound ability to leave her dogs alone for three-plus hours without barking complaints from her apartment neighbors. And then suddenly the gym where she could finally climb the rock wall again closed and the library that she visited on her first night of dog-less freedom closed and the coffee shops closed and… you know where this is going. But I’m not the kind of person to dwell on the negative, and neither is she, so we had a good laugh about the irony of it all.

Then it hit me: This Coronavirus shutdown is the PERFECT time for us to teach dogs how to handle being alone.


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Forget About Stress & Anxiety

POSITIONING THEMSELVES FOR REINFORCEMENT First off, sorry. The title was designed to get your attention. We cannot forget about stress and anxiety but rather than focus on those conditions we assume a dog is experiencing, let’s get down to the business of behavior. It has been important that people have been encouraged to […]

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Au Revoir: The Bark Ceases Print Publication

Editor’s Note

With a heavy heart, I must tell you that, after 23 years, we are ceasing publication of the print version of The Bark. Issue #100, the upcoming Spring 2020 edition is the last of its long line.(We will continue to publish online here at

There are oh-so-many reasons for this decision. In the last decade, many corporate-owned magazines have folded or migrated to digital-only following precipitous declines in both readership and advertising. As an indie magazine, we have found this larger trend to be insurmountable. We simply don’t have the resources to continue.


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Give Your Puppy a Smart Start

When it comes to puppy training, it’s never too early to start. Puppies are more than ready to learn by the time they leave the litter and transition into a home. After all, they’ve been learning since birth, so why not keep the ball rolling as soon as you welcome a puppy into your family? 

It’s our responsibility to teach puppies how to successfully live in our human world, which has a rule structure quite different from what they’re used to with their littermates. There are plenty of options for positive-reinforcement training starting at a young age: a well-run, in-person puppy kindergarten class; one-on-one instruction with a trainer; an online program; books and videos; your own knowledge of training; or a combination of options. No matter what you opt for, starting sooner, not later, is key to success. From the first day you bring your puppy home, have these three basic principles in mind:

1.  Have clear goals for your puppy’s behavior from day one and support his understanding of them every day. 

It’s important to have some basic training goals before your puppy comes home, so you can create clear behavior contingencies from the very beginning. 

Your puppy is constantly learning. From the moment he sets paw in your home, he will be learning which behaviors get him things he wants and which ones don’t. Make it easy for him to get what he wants when he does behaviors you like, and prevent him from getting what he wants when he explores behaviors you don’t want him to practice. The more black and white your expectations, the easier it will be for the puppy to figure out what works for both of you. 

So, as just a few examples: If you don’t want a grown, 80-pound dog jumping on you to get your attention, avoid petting the tiny, 8-week-old puppy when he jumps on you. Instead, if he happens to sit or even just greets you with happy eye contact and all four paws on the floor, go ahead and tell him what a good puppy he is and lovingly give him all the petting he wants! If you want a well-housetrained dog, commit to paying close attention to your puppy’s need to eliminate, not giving him a single opportunity to “make a mistake” indoors. And if you don’t want your adult dog to sleep with you on your bed or your nicest sofa, don’t allow the puppy to do so, either. 

Gray areas are challenging for dogs. It’s not fair to make exceptions to what we know our rules will be later (because the puppy is so cute!) and then change the rules as she grows. It’s also harder to “fix” unwanted behaviors than to train correct behaviors from the beginning. (For more about this, see “The Biology of Early Learning”)

2. Make your interaction with your puppy rewarding and engaging. 

Teach your puppy that spending time with you is fun! Be generous with rewards of food, attention, petting, and play so the puppy is eager to focus on you in anticipation of enjoyment. 

Build a strong history of reinforcement (with treats, toys, praise, and play) for behaviors that you like from your puppy; she will strongly associate you with all these good things, helping cement a solid relationship between you.

A great strategy is to aspire to feed more of your puppy’s daily ration of food from your hand than from a bowl. This makes you the primary source of a pretty great thing and gives you plenty of calories to leverage to your advantage by reinforcing any behavior you’d like to see more of. 

Be super generous with rewards with a young puppy because, as the puppy matures, environmental distractions will become more interesting, and it’s helpful for the puppy to have a strong history of finding you rewarding. This makes it easier for the puppy to continue to choose you, and what you have to offer, over the environment. No need to worry the pup will end up “only doing it for the food.” Since the food comes directly from you, you gain value by association. Plus, when you pair praise and petting with the delivery of food, the food increases the value of your praise and petting, so it is more reinforcing in the future if you choose to use fewer food rewards in training.

Don’t forget to mix lots of play into your interaction. It’s fun (for puppies and people!), it breaks up training sessions, and studies show following learning with play can lead to improved performance in subsequent sessions, when compared to immediately following learning with an opportunity to rest. Playing with your puppy, in ways you both enjoy, convinces your puppy that you’re a blast to be around because you know how to play all the best games. Who doesn’t like hanging out with the fun guy or gal?

What you can expect?

With frequent, short training sessions, most young puppies can start offering simple behaviors like “sit” in anticipation of “good stuff” as early as 6 to 7 weeks old, even before they leave the litter. If you really want to stack the training deck in your favor, look for a responsible breeder or rescue that provides early enrichment and basic training opportunities to young puppies in an effort to set them up for success when they meet their new families. 

If you’re starting from scratch with the basics, it’s still reasonable to expect a young puppy to quickly learn to offer a “sit” for a food bowl or when approaching people, or follow a hand signal to lie down. In fact, in many cases, people report their puppies readily respond to cues for “sit,” “down,” “come,” “leave it” and a parlor trick or two by the time the puppy is 3 months old. 

The catch? This degree of understanding is generally limited to the home environment. Sound familiar? “But he does it at home!” is one of the most often heard frustrations among dog owners when attending a group class or otherwise asking the dog to perform seemingly “known” behaviors away from home. Learning to do these behaviors in the face of a highly distracting, enticing world takes a little more time and maturity.

Learning the physical mechanics of the behavior is easy. Adding duration, making the behavior resistant to distractions, and properly generalizing the behavior so the dog understands the same rules apply anywhere, anytime is a process that takes time and patience. Try to avoid thinking your puppy truly knows a behavior until you’ve seen him be successful under a wide variety of circumstances. Until that point, he’s learning a behavior. Working in a new environment, around new people, other dogs, interesting smells, etc. makes it harder for the puppy to perform correctly. People often become frustrated and view the pup as being “stubborn,” when really, he’s just not developmentally mature enough to concentrate for long periods and in the face of distractions. He’ll get there with patience, maturity, and continued training support. 

3. Keep training sessions short but frequent.

Like young children, puppies have short attention spans. The most effective training happens frequently throughout the day, but in short sessions each time, and with a high rate of reinforcement. Three to five minutes is perfect for a young puppy. 

Try five repetitions of cheerfully saying your puppy’s name when she’s not looking, and rewarding her when she turns to orient toward you. Practice “sit” and “down” a couple of times, changing your position relative to the pup with each repetition to help her begin to “generalize” the behaviors, understanding that “sit” means the same thing whether you are standing right in front of her or next to her.

Bust out a toy for a quick round or two of tug, trading the toy for a treat to begin a “drop it” behavior, then playfully run away from the puppy, encouraging her to follow you with a happy, “Let’s go!” as you take off. Reward her when she catches up to you, with treats or another one of her favorite toys. Aim for three to five short sessions each day. Also, remember every interaction is an opportunity for learning, so be prepared to help her practice desirable behaviors every time you casually interact with her, too.

Formal training sessions that are short and fun keep the puppy’s head in the game. More importantly, they teach the puppy to enjoy and look forward to training sessions, creating a pup who exhibits a happy conditional emotional response (CER) – that is, she becomes visibly excited – when our behavior starts to predict a training session is imminent.

The Big ‘A’ (Adolescence)

Trainers who teach group classes have seen it a million times: Owners bring their young puppies to “canine kindergarten” classes and are delighted with all the cues and behaviors they and their puppies learn to do. After graduation, a few months roll by, and gradually, more and more of those formerly delighted owners start reporting that their puppies “don’t know anything anymore!” Sit, down, come, stay – all the basic behaviors the pups “knew” when they were tiny seem to be gone! What gives?

The simple answer is adolescence. 

Adolescence is a natural part of canine development. It’s generally said to begin when the dog is about 6 to 9 months old and lasts until about 18 months old. (Different breeds mature at different rates. Smaller breeds mature faster than larger breeds. Whereas a toy breed might be fully mature at 12 months old, a giant breed won’t fully mature until closer to 2 years old, so the adolescent phase will vary from breed to breed.)

If you don’t want your puppy to chew your shoes or any other household items, make sure you provide him with a large and varied assortment of “legal” chew items and toys, so he always has “good” choices available.

Dogs go through lots of changes during this time – physical growth spurts, hormone surges, and an increased need to chew in an effort to fully set adult teeth into the skull. These physical changes generally coincide with the secondary fear period, a developmental stage where dogs often react fearfully to things they’ve been fine with in the past.

Much like in human adolescents, a hallmark of canine adolescence is a push for independence. Dog owners often report the adolescent dog is “blowing them off,” “being stubborn,” or otherwise seems to have forgotten everything she’s ever been taught. 

Although it can be a trying time, patience is a virtue. Find ways to foster success and prevent failure in training. For example, if your young adolescent is overly distracted by other dogs when in a group class, add distance or use a visual barrier between the dogs to filter the distraction. If the dog is clearly driven by his nose, avoid letting him off-leash in unfenced areas. Avoid scary or painful punishers, as they can erode the relationship you share with your dog. The good news is, this too shall pass. 

The Bottom Line

When we bring a dog into our life, it’s our responsibility to teach them how to successfully live in our human world. Good training is a partnership. It’s not something we do to our dog, it’s something we do with our dog. It’s also ongoing. We get out of it what we put into it. With modern-day positive reinforcement training methods, it’s easy to make training an enjoyable way of life that creates treasured companions for years to come. 

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The Biology of Early Learning

Puppies are often described as sponges due to their ability to soak up information, especially during their critical socialization period, which occurs between 3 to 12 weeks of age. To learn more about what goes on inside the puppy’s brain, we reached out to Jessica Hekman, DVM, PhD, a post-doctoral associate with the Karlsson Lab at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, where she works with the genomics of canine behavior.

“When a dog learns something new, the synapses between neurons become stronger, connecting the neurons more tightly, so that information – in the form of neurotransmitters – flows between them more readily,” Hekman says. This process is part of what builds the brain’s ability to take in information and make decisions based on that information.

One difference between the brains of puppies and adult dogs is that the puppy brain initially makes lots of extra synapses to support the puppy’s ability to rapidly learn about the world. This means there are more pathways available for learning. This age-related increase in available synapses is short lived, as the brain can’t sustain so many simultaneous pathway information exchanges at once. As the early socialization window closes, weaker synapses (those with fewer learning experiences) are weeded out in a “use it or lose it” process known as “pruning.”

This is why thoughtful socialization during early puppyhood is so important. You want to strengthen the synapses for experiences like, “Strange men in hats mean cookies are coming!” due to repeated positive experiences with men in hats, and synapses for “Strange men in hats are scary” to be weak (because the puppy had few negative experiences with strange men wearing hats).

This is why it’s also wise to begin basic manners training as soon as possible with a young puppy. We want strong synapses related to lessons like, “Four paws on the floor brings cookies and petting,” “Running to my person when she calls my name makes her play with me,” and “Lying on this dog bed makes good things happen.” Conversely, we want synapses associated with less desirable behaviors to be weak. When pruning occurs, we’re left with brain wiring that’s better equipped to support behaviors we like and can continue to reinforce. 

Hekman explains that, whereas a young puppy’s brain is constantly evaluating situations (which is exhausting), by the time the early socialization window closes, the brain is relying more on its carefully pruned garden of knowledge and can start making assumptions about situations. Ideally, this is when you’ll see a return on your investment in thoughtful socialization via a dog who doesn’t bat an eye around the tall stranger in a hat; the well-socialized puppy’s brain simply assumes it’s fine. 

This is also why it’s easier to teach desired behaviors from the beginning than to un-do unwanted behaviors. When a young puppy’s synapses related to “Butt-on-floor brings good things” are stronger than synapses related to “Jump on the human to get what I want,” the brain assumes “butt-on-floor” is the way to go, and we see a puppy who eagerly offers a “sit” in anticipation of good things. 

“When you are helping a puppy make good associations during his socialization period, what you are really helping him do is to prune his synapses in a way that is appropriate for the world he’s going to live in,” says Hekman. “We want him to keep a lot of connections and to have them be good ones.”

To read more from Hekman about what’s happening during socialization and early learning, look for her article, “Puppy Socialization: What happens inside the brain?” in the free e-book Growing Up FDSA: Surviving Your Dog Sports Puppy, available from Fenzi Dog Sports Academy at

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Give Your Puppy a Smart Start

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Good Reads

For the most part, the articles in WDJ contain information that you can go right out and put into practice – training tips, food-selection suggestions, product reviews, and practical things that you can do improve your dog’s health. While we do have a couple of those in this issue, we also seem to have collected a number of articles that (we hope) will provide you with food for thought, too. 

The first article that falls into this latter category, “Howling in the Uncanny Valley”. The article sprang from an online conversation I had with its author, trainer Heather Houlahan, as we commiserated about how much we both hated the computer-generated imagery (CGI) used to wholly create the dog in the new movie The Call of the Wild. The human expressions the movie artists covered the otherwise winsome animated (but real-looking) dog’s face with absolutely gave me the shivers – and not the good kind. Heather and I both felt our skin crawling with revulsion when we saw the CGI dog’s weird gaits and human-looking eyes – yet we know other people who didn’t detect anything wrong with the depiction of the dog at all. When Heather asked me if I’d like her to write an essay expressing why she felt this sort of unreal, sort-of-real-looking dog’s appearance in a popular movie could actually do damage to the human-animal bond, I was more than happy to give her the assignment.

I had never before heard the expression “the uncanny valley” before I received Heather’s piece, and I found it fascinating to follow a number of online links from the page that defined the term. The observations made about the creepiness of human-like robots in those articles definitely rang true for me – but even more strongly to the CGI dog in The Call of the Wild than for human-like robots. I’ll be curious to hear what you think about all this.

Another eclectic piece in this issue that I was fascinated by: long-time contributor CJ Puotinen’s article about “conservation dogs” – dogs who are trained to find endangered animals (as well as the poachers who threaten them). The dogs are also used to sniff out invasive plants and animals that threaten native populations and habitats! I’m not exactly sure how many of you will go out and train your own dogs to do work like this – but if any of you want to, there are some stellar role models and organizations mentioned in the article that would provide guidance to do so. 

I think it would be the coolest thing ever if one of our subscribers read about this work and was inspired to take it up with their dog. Please let us know if that person is you!

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Stressed Out

Stress is not specific to humans – it affects all species, including our dogs, and it takes a toll on every living thing that it affects. The growth rate and production of plants decreases when they are stressed by unseasonal weather. Bees sting when they are stressed by threats to their hive. Humans  get ulcers, are more susceptible to illness, and are more likely to lash out at other humans (or our pets!) when stressed. 

As kindred mammals, the dog’s response to stress is very similar to our own: It can make them sick, and it can affect their behavior in ways that no one around them enjoys. It behooves us, as well as our dogs, to recognize the stressors in our shared lives and do our best to minimize them. 


There are two kinds of stress. “Good” stress, known as eustress, can actually enhance our lives (“eu” is Greek for “good”). Eustress is defined as: “The positive cognitive response to stress that is healthy, or gives one a feeling of fulfillment or other positive feelings.” This is the stress you feel getting ready for a promising date, or waiting to go pick up your new puppy. It’s the stress your dog feels when she hears your car turn into the driveway gets happy and excited because you’re home after you’ve been away at work all day. We’re not worried about eustress – ours, or our dogs’.

What we’re concerned about is the “bad” stress, technically called distress, and defined as: “Psychological discomfort that interferes with your (or your dog’s) activities of daily living.” If you’ve lived with a dog or dogs for any length of time, you have probably seen some of the signs of their distress (we’ll just call it “stress” for the rest of the article). Here are a few you may have seen:

Tension and trembling on the exam table at the vet hospital

Hackles raised and growling at the UPS delivery person

Hiding in the back bedroom when guests are visiting

Crawling behind the toilet when a thunderstorm hits

Drooling or foamy mouth at the dogpark


The list could go on for pages, but you get the idea. So why is stress such a bad thing? For starters, a huge percentage of what is perceived as canine “misbehavior” is actually a dog’s response to stress. Eliminate the stress in your dog’s world and you might be amazed at how much better behaved she is.

The other significant reason stress is bad is that it affects your dog’s physical health. It is well known that anxieties trigger the release of stress hormones – adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine – and chronically increased levels of these hormones can negatively impact the immune system. A compromised immune system makes your dog more susceptible to a variety of infectious diseases as well as serious long-term health issues, including cancer. A 2016 study suggests that dogs who are diagnosed with cancer are significantly more likely to have lived in stressful environments than those who are cancer-free. 1


There’s no end to the things that can stress your dog – but some are more common than others. Life with humans can challenge dogs in a number of common ways, including: 

  •  Change. Life changes are stressful for all of us. For your dog, this can be something as small as a change in routine (such as when daylight savings time changes mealtimes) or as significant as the loss of a human or canine companion. Moving is another big stressor that often results in unwanted canine behavioral changes (although a move that removes stressors can be a good thing!).
  • Presence of an aversive stimulus. An aversive stimulus is defined as “an unpleasant stimulus that induces changes in behavior.” If your dog doesn’t like or is afraid of other dogs (or men, or children, etc.), the presence of another dog (men, children) is an aversive stimulus. If your dog is sound-sensitive, thunder, fireworks, a pan dropping on the floor or even the “ding” from a microwave oven could be aversive stimuli. The greater the intensity of an aversive stimulus – more dogs, dog(s) closer in proximity, louder volume of sound, repetition of the sound, etc., the more stressful it is to your dog.
  • Forced restraint. Many dogs prefer not to be restrained – and some find it very stressful. Forced restraint most often occurs during husbandry procedures – veterinary visits, grooming, nail trimming, etc. The shift toward cooperative care in the veterinary, grooming, and training communities is a change that will be appreciated by many dogs (and their humans). (See “Fear Free Veterinary Care,” WDJ August 2019, and “Fear Free Vet Visits,” December 2015.)
  • Force-based training. By definition, force-based training involves the use of techniques that are aversive to the dog – usually both verbal and physical force and coercion. These are significant stressors for dogs, and studies support the position that dogs trained with these methods are considerably more stressed and exhibit more problem behaviors than dogs trained with force-free methods.2
  •  Medical conditions. Whether illness or pain (chronic or acute), medical issues are extremely significant stressors. This is why it’s critically important to rule out or identify and treat medical issues as soon as possible in a behavior modification program. You are likely to still have to do behavior modification after the condition is treated or managed, but your likelihood of success is greatly enhanced when you remove the medical stressor.
  •  Owner stress. We have long known that dogs are very aware of their humans’ emotional states. A recent study supports our also long-held belief that dogs mirror their owners’ stress levels. If you are stressed, you are stressing your own dog, so mitigating your own stress can be beneficial to your dog as well as to you! 3

This is by no means a complete list of stressors. It will behoove you – and your dog – for you to sit down and make as complete a list as you can of your dog’s own personal stressors, so that you can begin to address them and help you and your dog have a better life together. (See “Reducing Your Dog’s Stress,” page 15.)


If you are not fluent in canine communication, it’s time to study the language so you can better understand your dog and be prepared to help her when she needs it the most. Here are some of the common signs you might see that tell you your dog is stressed:

  • Aggression. With one very rare exception (idiopathic aggression), aggression is caused by stress. The best thing you can do for aggressive behavior is reduce stress. The worst thing you can do is punish the dog, which merely adds stress to your already stressed dog. (See “Good Growling,” December 2016.)
  • Vocalization. Dogs vocalize for a long list of reasons. Vocalization is normal canine self-expression, but it may intensify under duress. Dogs who are afraid or tense may whine or bark to get your attention or to self-soothe. 

Dogs with separation anxiety may bark or scream for hours. Your dog may howl to express her unhappiness, or because the fire truck is going by with sirens blaring. When your dog vocalizes, check to determine the trigger. If it’s from stress, it needs to be addressed to mitigate her emotional distress, whatever the cause. (See “Oh Shush,” March 2017.)

  •  Destructive behavior. Left unsupervised, puppies can wreak havoc on a home in almost no time. That’s often just normal puppy behavior. When an adult dog is destructive, we tend to think she’s being a “bad dog.” In many cases, however, she’s destroying things because she’s in a stress-related panic. Reduce her stress, and you’re likely to see a significant behavior change. 
  • Unusual elimination. Just as with anxious humans, nervous dogs can feel a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. House-soiling in an otherwise well housetrained dog is a big red stress-flag. Marking (especially indoor marking) is commonly a function of stress rather than a housetraining issue. Diarrhea can be a sign of stress, and the sudden release of bladder and/or bowels can also indicate significant stress. (These can also be medical issues, so be sure to discuss  with your veterinarian.)
  •  Not eating/losing weight. If your dog turns up her nose at your high-value treats during a counter-conditioning session, she is probably stressed because the aversive stimulus (the thing you are trying to change her response to) is too close or otherwise too intense. Move farther away or otherwise reduce the intensity of the stimulus (by decreasing its volume or movement, as appropriate). If a dog with an otherwise good appetite isn’t eating well, consider illness first and consult your vet, but don’t rule out generalized stress.
  • Avoidance, escape, and displacement behaviors. When faced with an unwelcome situation, your dog may “escape” by focusing on something else. She may sniff the ground, lick her genitals, suddenly start scratching an itch, avoid eye contact, or simply turn away. If your dog avoids interaction with other dogs or people, don’t force the issue. Respect her choice. 

Some dogs will move behind their human to hide – an extension of avoidance. Other escape behaviors include displacement activities such as moving/running away, digging or circling, or hiding behind a tree or parked car.

  • Hypervigilance. The dog who can’t seem to settle, is always on alert, reacting to every noise or change in the environment, is very likely a stressed dog. This behavior is common with dogs who are identified as having generalized anxiety disorder – they rarely or never relax. 
  • Stressed body language. There are a multitude of ways that dogs tell us they are stressed, with their eyes, ears, tails, faces, mouths, and body posture. In fact, your dog is talking to you all the time; be sure to “listen” with your eyes. (See “Listen by Looking,” August 2011, and “About Face,” March 2013)
  • Comfort-seeking. Your stressed dog may seek you out for comfort and reassurance. Contrary to an unfortunate popular myth, it is okay – no, it is good – to calmly comfort and reassure your stressed dog. A stressed, frightened dog may also tremble – again, provide calm comfort and reassurance. 
  • Yawning, drooling, licking, scratching. Of course, dogs yawn when they are tired or bored, just like we do. They also yawn when stressed, just like we do. A stressful yawn is more prolonged and intense than a sleepy yawn. Dogs may also drool, lick, and scratch excessively when nervous. Again, rule out medical conditions and fleas when you see these, but also consider stress.
  •  Excessive shedding. It’s normal for dogs to shed a lot in the spring and fall, getting rid of their old coats to prepare for the new season. Some dogs also normally shed year-round – Labrador Retrievers and Huskies (and several other breeds) are notorious for this. However, shedding can also increase when a dog is anxious, so watch for this type of shedding as a stress indicator.
  •  Panting. Panting when hot, excited or having just exercised is, of course, normal. If, however, your dog is panting absent those conditions, it is quite likely due to stress.


This is not a complete list of all the signs exhibited by dogs who are stressed. Your dog may display some of the stress signs listed above or others. Take time to observe her and identify her particular signs of stress so you can recognize them and help her when she is stressed. 

Most importantly, remember that when your dog is behaving inappropriately it is most often because she is stressed and cannot help it, not because she wants to misbehave. One of my new favorite aphorisms is, “Your dog isn’t giving you a hard time, she’s having a hard time.” Remember this, and help her times get better. 

Author Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT‑KA, is WDJ’s Training Editor. She and her husband live in Fairplay, Maryland, site of her Peaceable Paws training center. Miller is also the author of many books, including Beware of the Dog: Positive Solutions for Aggressive Behavior in Dogs. See page 24 for information on her books and classes for dog owners and trainers.

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