Changes can be exciting for people as they hop on novel adventures, but ask your dog and he’ll likely tell you that he hates changes with a passion. Unfortunately, changes are often inevitable in a dog’s life. A move, a new owner, a baby, a new pet, a vacation, a new veterinarian, a previously housebound owner starting a new job, these are all things dogs are often subjected to throughout their lives. Heraclitus of Ephesus said “the only thing that is constant is change ” and while some dogs don’t seem to mind changes much, some dogs have quite a hard time adapting to them.
Life is Not Easy for Fido
We stumbled on a blog depicting dogs as not having a hard time coping with changes and that dog owners are often the ones having a harder time. While this can be the case when we start worrying about a future trip coming up in the next few weeks (while dogs live in oblivious bliss at least until those dreaded suitcases come out!), we find that several dogs “hate” change with a passion, especially if it means not coming along with the owner but being boarded in a kennel instead, while the owners are thousands of miles away enjoying a cruise to the Bahamas.
Change is often not easy on dogs, and while they are often spared from the “pre-change anxiety” we experience several weeks prior to the changing event, dogs are often as stressed, if not more, than their owners the moment the change occurs and the stress may linger even for a certain period of time afterward. Some dogs are very sensitive to changes in their routine, and we know of some dogs who even get upset if their owners happens to re-arrange furniture!
An Insight into Homeostasis
Homeostasis derives from the Greek word “standing still” and is used to depict the body’s effort to maintain everything balanced and stable. The term was coined by famous American physiologist Dr. Walter Cannon where in his book “The Wisdom of the Body”, describes homeostasis as the ability for the body to maintain steady levels of things like water, salt, glucose, fat, calcium, oxygen, blood pressure and body temperature. When something goes out of balance, the body quickly does everything it can to bring things back to normal. So if say a dog is hot, his body will do what it takes to cool his body down, if too high concentrations of glucose are detected in the blood, insulin is released and the dog’s thirst center will be triggered causing him to drink more, if the dog’s body temperature lowers, homeostasis is often attained by evoking the muscles to generate heat by shivering.
“A thermostat exhibits the quality of homeostasis—when the room temperature rises above a set point, the thermostat activates the air conditioner; when the temperature falls below the set point, it activates the heater.”~Planned Success Institute
Mechanisms for Changes
In the same way as homeostatic reactions occur to make adjustments when things need to be stabilized, the mind undergoes something similar too. Homeostasis in this case works on bringing back the dog’s body and mind to an optimal state after it has been disturbed by some stressful change. Fortunately, people and animals are equipped with several mechanisms to help them adapt to changes. When exposed to a change, several physiological and behavioral processes take place before a psychological adjustment is made that helps the dog accept a stressful stimulus or situation and consider it nonthreatening.
“The concept of homeostasis can be applied not only to stressors associated with internal changes, such as changes in blood sugar, but also external changes such as unpleasant and dangerous environments or situations that are confusing to the animal: thus, if something scares the animal it may run away in order to restore the preferred state of relaxation in a safe and secure environment.”~Daniel Mills et al.
Working to Restore Balance
Gaining that cherished balance back and returning to a state of normalcy can sometimes be quite difficult and people often misinterpret the dog’s efforts.For instance, when a dog is placed in a kennel or crate, many people assume that their dog’s whining and barking is due to boredom, but often it’s actually the dog’s frustration from not being able to restore homeostasis, suggests Daniel Mills professor of veterinary behavioural medicine at the University of Lincoln along with other authors in the book “Stress and Pheromonatherapy in Small Animal Clinical Behaviour.”
In a similar fashion, a dog who finds himself in a new place with new noises or with a new pet, may crave going back to a state of normalcy, but when this is not possible, he must learn to cope and adapt, hopefully with the help of the owner and possibly with some calming aids such as DAP sprays. According to the book Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff “As a consequence of the stressor, the animal will then undergo behavioral and physiological adjustments to avoid or adapt to the stressor and return to homeostasis.” Restoring balance and a state of normalcy therefore feels good, and all living beings cherish that comforting feeling associated with reaching that neurophysiological stability associated with “emotional homeostasis.”
“Every individual strives to achieve and maintain emotional homeostasis., i.e. a positive emotional state. The function of emotional homeostasis is to allow an individual to deal with and adjust to the many changes that are part of everyday life.”~The APBC Book of Companion Animal Behaviour
Did you know? A dog’s capacity to remain in emotional homeostasis develops through the puppy’s sensitive period for behavioral organisation. According to The APBC Book of Companion Animal Behaviour, in early life “a picture of the world” is formed where everything that is considered within the norm is retained. Any changes in the environment that deviates from this “standard” can cause emotional upset.
- Scientific American, What is homeostasis? retrieved from the web on Sept 17th, 2016
- Stress and Pheromonatherapy in Small Animal Clinical Behaviour, by Daniel Mills, Helen Zulch, and Maya Braem Dube, John Wiley & Sons; 2nd ed. edition (21 Dec. 2012)
- Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff 1st Edition, by
- SENSITIVE PERIODS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF BEHAVIOURAL ORGANIZATION IN THE DOG AND THE ROLE OF EMOTIONAL HOMEOSTASIS J. Pluijmakers1 D.L. Appleby2 * J.W.S. Bradshaw1 1 Anthrozoology Institute, Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol, BS40 5DU, UK 2 Pet Behaviour Centre, Defford, Worcs WR8 9AB, UK
- The APBC Book of Companion Animal Behaviour, By Sarah Heath, Rosie Barclay, Julie Bedford