There are a million reasons why dogs become anxious or stressed and twice as many ways for them to reveal their nervousness. As a dog owner, it is most important to pinpoint what is making your pup uneasy so you can get him back to a relaxed and happy state. Determining the root cause of your dog's nervousness aids in deciding what images will help calm him.
A Dog's Viewpoint
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Understanding that a dog sees differently than a human is the first step in recognizing the images that will have a calming effect on an anxious pup. It is an incorrect myth that dogs see only in shades of gray, according to Dr. Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia. While not to the degree of a typical human, dogs see color mainly in shades of yellow, blue and gray. Coren goes on to explain that a typical and common red dog toy is likely not as visually appealing or recognizable to dogs, as it is viewed as brown or black in color. Something to think about when buying a new toy or chew for your pup. According to Dr. Jennie Willis, an instructor of animal behavior at Colorado State University, dogs have particular cells in their eyes, called rods, that detect quick movement while sacrificing color and other factors that humans likely take for granted. This explains why dogs are so compelled to chase small, quickly moving things. Similarly, dogs have overall blurry vision. They rely on what something should look like, so a person standing with an umbrella or baseball cap for instance, may cause noticeable alarm and anxiety in a dog.
Obvious Creature Comforts
Based on what is known about a dog's sight, a favorite toy or chew is one of the most obvious antidotes to help an anxious dog. Take his favorite toy to the vet with you, for example, or something from your house that brings him pleasure. Helping your dog to associate an unpleasant experience with positive reinforcement or comfort will help to change his nervous outlook on a scary situation. A toy that exercises his mind will keep him preoccupied instead of worrying about what lies ahead.
A common soothing mechanism for dogs is simple to obtain - it's the ability to see you at all times. Dogs are no strangers to what we call separation anxiety. To many dog lovers, the effects of separation anxiety come out in all sorts of ways, from digging and chewing to panting and shaking. These symptoms are not always due to separation anxiety, however. They are common in any stressful situation for your dog. When a veterinarian is examining your dog, for instance, and your pup is clearly nervous, remain in his line of sight with a calm attitude. Speak to him in a reassuring and loving tone while scratching him behind the ear. If he sees you in a composed state, he'll likely calm down.
The Bottom Line
The better you know your dog, the easier it is to figure out what image might calm him in a stressful situation. Whether it's keeping his beloved stuffed kitten on hand, or giving him his favorite blue rubber ball to chew on, the images of these things will help him associate uncomfortable circumstances with positive thinking. Similarly, the sight of you, or other cherished family members will help immensely. While a dog visually sees things differently than humans, it's the sight of the things that make him happiest that will continue him on a stress-free path.
Jen Tenenbaum received a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Grand Valley State University in 2004. She started as an intern for NPR and periodically works as a copywriter and blogger. She also has experience as a dog trainer and kennel caretaker.