By LuAnn McLain
Cats remain agitated for several hours after experiencing something that upsets them. If a cat cannot deal directly with what upset it, it might attack whatever or whoever is at hand. Sometimes this is even the human owner.
I have observed one of my cats doing this when a strange cat appeared on our fence. The dogs were barking furiously and our cat actually started leaping on one dog. Our cat might have easily taken a swipe at one of the other cats some time later, simply because it remained disturbed.
Dogs experience something similar. It is said to take about 15 minutes for hormones that are released into the body to reach maximum output when something causes stress. It then takes 3 or 4 days for the body to return to normal.
When a dog surprises an owner by doing something aggressive that is out of character, a review of the events of the last few days should be made. The effort may well reveal an event that was especially upsetting to the dog.
An animal in this stressed condition may overreact to other situations and restimulate the stress response in the body. Some animals may never get the chance to actually return to the relaxed state.
One example of animals stress might be the barking or aggressive dog in an animal shelter. It may never get the chance for its body to return to normal, so his personality may difficult to evaluate.
An owner may find her cat has suddenly turned aggressive toward her. A cat that sees an intruding cat outside a window will surely be upset. If the intruder is seen again, the cycle starts all over. It may be even worse if the cat inside has not yet had a chance to calm down. Some cats are so upset by an intruder they become difficult to be around.
A barking dog is another example of a stressed dog. Most often these dogs are left in the yard for extended periods of time, although sometimes a dog with barking problems can also be left indoors.
A dog can begin barking out of boredom or loneliness. There may also be something to stimulate the barking, such as people who pass by the yard or other animals. Once the cycle is started, the dog may remain stimulated enough to overreact the next day and on and on. Whatever the original cause, being left without humans to direct behavior is sure to perpetuate the barking.
Some dogs that are very active and seem to need a lot of exercise may actually be getting the wrong kind of exercise. Chasing and catching stimulates hunting and herding dogs. A game that is very stimulating to these dogs is Frisbee.
If an owner wants her dog to be restful while left alone or when the she is busy, playing with the flying disk is not recommended. The stimulation will actually hype the dog. Since we know the hormones will take several days to return to normal it becomes apparent that this type of play can be self-defeating.
Catching something in the air also creates a special response in a dog as opposed to catching something with all four feet on the ground. Research has shown that dogs leaping to catch things do damage to joints and bones, especially if teeth are clenched when they land.
Playing with our dogs is important. Until quite recently I believed playing with a dog by throwing a flying disk or similar toy would be good exercise for a dog that tended to be hyper. There are other activities that might be better suited to these dogs.
Agility exercises can be great training and lots of fun for both dog and owner. These can be especially fun if the human does not worry about perfection but concentrates on having fun. An active dog loves to learn new things and will be happier as a result.
Have a great week with your companion critters! If you would like to write to Pawsitively Pets, please send your letter to P.O. Box 1731, Havre, MT 59501.