The definition of stress is "the response of an organism to a demand placed upon it to change or adapt."
As any owner knows, JRT's are vibrant, energetic, bundles of fur. But, they are also hyper-sensitive to the world around them. Because of this sensitivity, they may not interpret what we say, or our body language, the way we do. What you see as meaning one thing, your JRT may see as meaning another, or be totally confused about to begin with. It is because of this chasm between our world, and the animal kingdom, that things we do and take for granted as being proper, a JRT may see as something that totally stresses them out.
But, you ask, what are some of the situations or actions that I may be doing that are stressing my JRT out? I am glad you asked. Lets take a look at the most common ones.
1. Lets face it, dogs were created to be outside, and partaking in plenty of exercise. They are hardwired for this, and when they do not get all the exercise they require, and all that energy is pent up, they will become stressed. And when a JRT gets stressed, they need to take that frustration out on something....anything. So, they may begin to turn to destructive behaviors such as digging, chewing, or even shredding items around the house. One of my girls went through a phase that nothing in the way of a paper was safe. I thought at one time that I would have to change her name to Shredder, because that was what she was constantly doing. But, after being able to let her outside more, and taking her on frequent walks, that behavior began to ebb away. Now, when she starts to shred paper, I know that she is stressing over pent up energy, and I make sure she gets her outside time.
2. Remember, your JRT is a DOG. It is not a small human child, and it is not naturally going to act the way that you think it should. All JRT's are made to sniff, bark, run, chew, hunt, roll in dirt, shed their fur, and yes...smell. They are dogs. It is what they do. So, do not get upset when you put human constraints on them, and then they do not own up to them. Yes, you can train your JRT to certain commands, and actions, but keep in mind that no matter what they learn...they are DOGS. Your trying to change your JRT's very nature will do nothing but stress both you and them out. And, when you are stressed, your JRT picks up on it, and that heightens their stress levels even more.
3. When you sets rules for your JRT, stick to them. Do not be inconsistent, and one day allow them on the future, and the next day get upset when they jump up on the couch next to you. They only know and understand what you tell them and train them to do and not to do. By not being consistent, you are only confusing your JRT, and adding more stress to them. Not to mention the mental stress involved as well.
4. I admit it, I have done it. We have all done it at one time or another...had a staring contest with our JRT. But what I, and probably others didn't know, is that it can cause your JRT to become very uncomfortable, and stressed. In the canine world, staring is a form of challenge. For instance, have you ever noticed when you took your JRT for a walk, and they see another dog or a rabbit. They will stop, become completely still and stiff, and stare at the other animal. My oldest girl does this, and after a few moments, she will start to shake. This is a sign of stress, and irritation, and also a form of challenge. Although, with your own JRT, it may not be quite as stressing to have a staring contest with them, but when they meet others, ask them to refrain from extended eye contact with your JRT. This will help your companions stress level immensely, and will help them to more easily accept their new acquaintance.
5. No JRT is perfect, and from time to time they will need to be reminded of what they can and can not do. The form or means of punishment you chose to use can play a large part in your JRT's overall stress level. There is nothing that your JRT could do that would warrant hitting, kicking, or beating them. This is not a form of punishment, it is a form of cruelty. If your JRT does something that displeases you, the very act of making this displeasure known will not be lost on your JRT. After all, they are pack animals, and they take guidance from, and want to please their alpha...YOU
6. Some experts claim that hugging your JRT can ramp up their stress and anxiety levels. Although, with my own girls, I do not believe this to be true, with some JRT's it might be a fact. I have known other JRT owners who have commented "don't pick her up, she doesn't like that". When hugging your JRT, observe their body language. Are more whites of their eyes showing? Are they turning their head from you? Are they drawing their ears backward, against their head? If so, then they very well may be stressed by the whole hugging process. Hugging may be something that your JRT will have to be gradually introduced to. We, as humans, shower our love on our JRT companions by various means, hugging being one. But, in the canine world, hugging is not a gesture they use, and in some cases, interpret if for what it is. They only know that is makes them uncomfortable, anxious and stressed.
7. You are taking your JRT to the vet. You get out of the car, and open the door to the vets office. Your JRT tenses, wiggles around in the arms, and tries to escape. You try to comfort your JRT by saying "its okay". Those two little words, in and of themselves, will become cue words that will ramp up your JRT's stress. We, as humans, tell each other "its okay" in scary situations. But, using those same two words to try to comfort your companion will only condition them for the stress to begin, or intensify. JRT's learn through repetition. So, if every time you go to the vets office, and your JRT starts acting nervous or anxious, and you say "it's okay", your JRT will see that as it is not okay, adding to their overall stress of the situation.
These are some of the most common triggers for stress in your JRT. There may be others, that are specific to your companion, but these are the more commone triggers. In the next article, we will look at methods to help your JRT deal with and reduce their stress levels.