Signs of a Stressed Dog
Updated: Apr 6
Stress is a word commonly used to describe feelings of strain or pressure. The causes are varied; such as jobs, family, new situations, changes to routine, money and more.
To reduce stress, you may seek comfort. You find solace in a trusted friend. Perhaps you relieve stress through completing routine chores. Or maybe you blow off steam with physical exercise or meditation.
As you know, our dogs also experience stress. Since we know how stress makes us feel, we certainly want to help alleviate our pet’s stress. However, our dogs do not voice their feelings, so how can we tell when they are stressed? Signs of anxiety in dogs are often subtle. In fact, some stress-related behaviors mimic everyday behaviors.
WHAT ARE INDICATORS OF STRESS IN A DOG?
Pacing & Shaking. You've seen your dog shake after a bath. That whole body shake can be amusing and it's quite normal… unless it occurring as the result of a stress trigger. For example, dogs are commonly stressed when visiting the veterinarian. Dogs, like people, also pace when agitated. Some dogs walk a repeated path around the exam room while waiting for the veterinarian.
Whining or Barking. Vocalization is normal self-expression for dogs but may intensify when in distress. Dogs that are afraid may whine or bark to get your attention, or to self soothe.
Yawning, Drooling & Licking. Dogs yawn when they are tired or bored, they also yawn when stressed. A stressful yawn is more prolonged and intense than a sleepy yawn. Dogs may also drool and lick excessively when nervous or anxious.
Changes in Eyes & Ears. Stressed dogs, like stressed people, may have dilated pupils. They may open their eyes really wide and show more sclera (white) than usual, giving them a startled appearance. Ears that are usually relaxed can become more alert or pinned back against the head.
Changes in Body Posture. Dogs normally hold their weight on all four legs. If a healthy dog with no orthopedic problems shifts their weight to his rear legs (or cowers), may may be exhibiting signs of stress. When scared, dogs may also tuck their tails or become quite rigid.
Shedding. Show dogs that become nervous in the show ring often blow their coat. Dogs also shed a lot when in the veterinary clinic. Although less noticeable in outside settings (such as visiting a new dog park), shedding increases when a dog is anxious.
Panting. Dogs pant when hot, excited, or stressed. If your dog is panting even though he has not exercised, they may be stressed.
Changes in Bodily Functions. Like people, nervous dogs can feel a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. When your dog urinates shortly after meeting a new friend, they may be marking territory or reacting to the strain.
Avoidance or Displacement Behavior. When faced with an unwelcome situation, dogs may “escape” by focusing on something else. They may sniff the ground, lick their genitals, or simply turn away. Ignoring someone may not be polite, but it may be better than the alternative (aggressive behavior). If your dog avoids interaction with other dogs or people, do not force the issue. Respect their choice.
Hiding or Escape Behavior. An extension of avoidance, some tense dogs literally move behind their humans to hide (or hid in another room during thunderstorms or when guests visit their home). They may even nudge their humans to prompt them to move along. As a means of escape, they may engage in diversion activities such as digging or circling.
HOW CAN I HELP MY DOG?
In order to differentiate stress from normal behavior, you must be familiar with your dog’s regular demeanor. Then, you know if your dog is licking his lips because he is anxious or because he wants a treat. When relaxed, your pooch will have semi-erect or forward-facing ears, a soft mouth, and round eyes. He will distribute his weight evenly on all four paws. Distinguishing normal behavior from stress will help you quickly and effectively diffuse an uncomfortable situation.
If your dog is stressed remove them from the stressor, then find a quiet place for them to regroup. Resist the urge to overly comfort your pup. If you want to pamper your dog with petting or treats, make them earn them by performing an activity or tricks (e.g., sitting). Responding to routine commands distracts your dog and provides a sense of normalcy. It's amazing how comforting sit, down, heel can be to a worried dog.
If your dog is consistently stressed, see your veterinarian. After ensuring that your dog’s behavior does not have a medical basis, your veterinarian may refer you to a trainer or veterinary behaviorist to evaluate stress-related issues.
As with humans, exercise can be a great stress reducer. Physical activities like walking or playing helps both you and your dog release tension. It's also good to provide your dog with a safe place in the home where he can escape anxious situations. Everybody enjoys a calm place of their own to retreat.
CBD can help manage the symptoms of situational anxiety such as fireworks, thunderstorms, car rides, grooming + veterinarian appointments, and separation anxiety. When given time to work, they have positive results for dogs.
And, finally, remember that stress is not always bad. Fear is a stress-related emotion that prompts us to avoid a potentially dangerous situations. Stress may actually be a protector. Regardless, stress is part of everyday life for us and our dogs, so we should learn how best to manage it.