She doesn’t bite her nails. Or twist her hair into knots. How can we tell if Honey, our dog, is stressed?
Looking For Signs
Every day we watch Honey, looking for signs of stress.
It’s not easy.
Honey is a sweet and adaptable dog with an intense desire to please.
When we were fostering puppies, we had to step in when one little stinker or another would use Honey’s tail as a tug toy. And Honey will endure a lot from a humping wannabe before she puts her paw down and insists on being left alone.
Because Honey will put up with so much, we have to make sure we advocate for her. Because she will not advocate for herself.
But that changed the other day.
Everything Is Better Together
Honey is not a morning dog.
On days that we have to leave early to sail to a new spot, we have to wake her up early to have breakfast and a walk before we go. She even looks a little surly about it.
Eventually we figured out that if she’s happy sleeping, we’d just leave her below in the cabin on those early morning days. For one thing, it’s one less body to trip over while we’re trying to pull in lines and steer away from a dock in high winds.
Most of the time it works out fine. But not when we were leaving Hampton, Virginia.
We set out in high winds. And as we left the shelter of the harbor and into the shipping lanes we found ourselves bounced about by strong waves. Now we were really glad we had left Honey in the safety of the cabin. But she had other ideas.
For one thing, she couldn’t get comfortable. Even under motor, the waves kept knocking her onto the floor.
When I wasn’t needed on the cockpit to look out for way markers or big boats, I’d go below and try to comfort Honey. When we couldn’t be with her, Honey would cry and try to climb the steep companionway ladder.
At one point, I climbed down and crouched on the floor next to the ladder. Honey crawled up and settled all 50 pounds into my lap. We sat that way until the waves calmed down and I could bring her up into the cockpit with us again.
That day was the first time I’ve seen Honey show major signs of stress. She wasn’t even this upset on the day it took us all day to sail back to safety after fouling our propeller.
How I Know My Dog Is Stressed
So what are Honey’s stress signs?
Like many dogs, panting is one. And this last trip, I heard a sound I’d never heard before: whining.
But Honey’s biggest sign of stress is also a sign of affection. When Honey feels scared she crawls as close to us as she can.
I’m not a good enough writer to explain the difference. But I can feel it. And it makes me feel terrible.
Helping A Stressed Dog
I don’t want Honey to feel bad on the boat. It has to be fun for all of us.
So what can I do to help my dog when she feels stress?
Remove the stressor
Believe me, if I could have, I would have stopped the wind and waves. But we can plan our travel.
That day, we had talked about leaving a day earlier because the wind would have been lower. Perhaps we’ll have to revisit the question of how high a wind is too high a wind.
Help her calm herself
We’re big fans of Nylabones. They’re like puppy pacifiers. And it helps Honey get some stress out.
Reward her resilience
When we finally get back to shore, no matter how tired we are, Honey gets play time. And she certainly takes advantage of it—after she rolls on the ground gratefully.
Stress is a normal part of life. We all experience it.
While we don’t want our dogs to feel stress, sometimes the best we can do is give them the best tools possible to cope until things calm down. We also must make sure they aren’t under constant stress because of circumstances we’re able to change.
I’ll definitely keep Honey’s comfort in mind as we plan our trips. I’ll keep an eye out for signs my dog is stressed. And make sure I always leave room on my lap for a nervous puppy.
Your Turn: How can you tell when your dog is stressed? What do you do for him or her?