Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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How to Tell When Your Human Is Stressed

January 10, 2010

Travvy and I were planning to compete in a Rally obedience trial -- two of 'em, in fact -- in Taunton the weekend of January 23 and 24. Then I was offered a rush proofreading job, due in on the 20th, that has to be turned around in a week. Make some rush-rate money vs. drop a bundle on entry fees, ferry fares, and overnight motel accommodations? It should have been a no-brainer, but I actually spent 24 hours seriously contemplating turning down the job (which I'd already accepted, not realizing it conflicted with the dog show). I finally did the responsible thing, but Trav and I have been practicing with our buddies anyway. There will be more opportunities to try for the third leg of our Rally Novice title. (Can anyone out there explain why most canine sport titles have three legs while most dogs have four?)

Yesterday teacher Karen distributed a useful handout on how to recognize when a dog may be getting stressed, or overstressed. Travvy has some advice for his classmates who are going to the trials. Here it is.

Woo-woo to Dundee, Willow, Xochi, Tobey, and Nolan!

When humans go to where there are lots of dogs, they get very excited. Sometimes they get stressed. When they get too stressed, they forget what we have taught them. That is not good! They might get mad. They might even forget to feed us! Here are some ways to tell if your human is stressed and some ways to make them feel better.

When humans turn red in the face, they are very stressed. If you are very little, you cannot see the red, but sometimes you can feel it because it is hot. When your human gets red in the face, you can lie down and wag your tail very slowly. Look very sad. Usually they will calm down.

Sometimes humans talk very fast. Their voices get high and they sound like little yappetizer dogs. This means they are stressed. You can sit and cock your head as if you are trying very hard to understand what they are saying. This makes them smile. Smiling is good! When they smile, it means they are not so stressed.

When humans get excited, they give off stronger smells than usual. It does not mean they are sick. You do not have to do anything about this.

Some humans eat too much when they are excited. They like to eat chocolate. Too much chocolate makes them sick, but do not try to take the chocolate away from them. That will make them more excited.

Sometimes excited humans think they are hungry when they are not. If you are lucky, they might give you their hamburger!

Excited humans can be forgetful. They forget that if they leave their hamburger on a chair, you can reach it. Should you snatch that hamburger? Your human might get mad. It is safer to look at the hamburger and then look at your human. Then they will say, "What a good dog you are! Here is a chunk of my hamburger." That way they are happy and you are happy too.

When you see all those other dogs, you will be excited too, but it is important to pay close attention to your human and try to calm them down before they get too stressed.

Your friend,



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