For dog lovers the world over, petting a pooch is a surefire stress buster. But canines have their own cares, and sometimes they need their pack leader – that’s you – to help them chill. So how can you spot the signs of a stressed dog, what are the causes, and what can you do to help your hound relax? We’ve got all the answers below!
Signs Of A Stressed Dog
Dogs are great communicators – but they don’t speak the same language as humans. To grasp what they’re trying to say, you need to learn a little dog-speak.
Note that some of these symptoms can be signs of health conditions other than stress, so be sure to speak to your vet if you’re concerned.
- Yawning. This is one that humans frequently misinterpret, as to us, it signifies tiredness. But for dogs, it’s a type of stress-buster. Of course, it can also indicate fatigue – but if you notice your pooch yawning a lot at times when it doesn’t seem to be tired, you should take heed.
- Lip-licking. Again, this sign could be untroubling: it might simply mean your dog’s ready for dinner. So take a look at the rest of your pet’s body language to get more context.
- Leaning or backing away. This one’s easier to decode: your pup is trying to distance itself physically from something alarming.
- Tucked tail. This is a sign of fear or submission – your pooch is trying to make itself smaller in the hope that an aggressor will choose to ignore it.
- Tense body. Just as with humans, if your dog is holding itself in a rigid, alert manner, it could be fearful or happily excited, depending on the context.
- Panting. We all recognize this as a sign that your dog is worn out. But it might also mean its heart rate is rising due to anxiety or fear.
- Pacing. If your dog just can’t settle, then it’s got something on its mind.
- Loss of appetite. Know that feeling of knots in your stomach? Your dog gets it, too.
- Diarrhea or increased bowel movements. Just as in humans, it couldn’t be they've eaten something that disagrees with them but this is often a sign of fear or anxiety.
- Trembling or shivering. It could just be cold, but it could also indicate your dog is in distress.
Some behaviors are defensive, and could quickly spill over into aggression. You need to take action if you spot these critical signs of distress in dogs.
- Ears flattened. Dogs may pull back their ears against their heads for a variety of reasons, one of which is anxiety or fear.
- Teeth bared in a smile shape. Again, dog stress symptoms like this could easily turn nasty: your pooch is weighing up whether to go for fight or flight.
- Snarling or growling while staring, crouching, or leaning forward. Your dog’s stress is nearing boiling point, and you need to take urgent action to avoid a blowout.
Each animal is different. It’s important that you build a bond with your own individual hound so you understand what each other is saying. That’s one of the keys to a cool canine.
Why Do Dogs Get Stressed?
Dogs are humans’ best friends, and share many of our emotions. Just like us, they can become stressed through fear, anxiety, sadness, or even boredom.
However, there are also some doggy worries that you might not decipher right away. Here’s our non-exhaustive list of canine concerns.
- Separation anxiety. This is a biggie. Dogs are pack animals, and many hate to be left alone for long periods of time.
- New arrivals. Adding a baby, kitten or puppy to your household can cause your pup alarm.
- Departures. Dogs are loyal, loving creatures. If a member of your household leaves or, sadly, dies, then your dog may wonder why. They can grieve, too.
- Changes in routine. Your canine is a creature of habit. Any alterations to the household schedule can leave them bewildered and worried.
- Fireworks / thunderstorms / loud bangs. Your poor pooch hasn’t a clue what’s happening – but it knows it doesn’t like it!
- Scary dogs. If yours is a timid pup, then the appearance of a giant canine on the scene is likely to be pretty terrifying.
How To Help A Stressed Dog
For short-term stress in a usually happy-go-lucky hound, there are immediate actions you can take to nip the problem in the bud.
- Act calm around your pup. It’s likely to pick up cues from your demeanor.
- Give your dog space. If its nerves are jangling, it might just need a bit of alone-time.
- Remove your pet from the scary situation. If you’re at the park and another dog is behaving aggressively, it’s time to go elsewhere.
- Pet your pooch. It might just need a little reassurance. Equally, though, it might prefer some time on its own, so proceed with caution.
- Distract your dog. Play with it or give it a puzzle toy to occupy its mind.
For longer term stress, you’ll need to work on canine calming strategies.
- Socialize your puppy. Between 0-16 weeks is a crucial time to get your pooch accustomed to all the sights and sounds of everyday life. But even older dogs can learn too.
- Introduce it gradually to changes. You can limit separation anxiety or help your pup get used to a new cat in the home, for example, by taking things very slowly.
- Give it plenty of exercise. A tired dog is, generally, a content dog.
- Create a calm, comfy bed. In a busy home, find a quiet corner that your dog can make its own.
- Train your dog. This deepens the trust your pup has in you, so you can reassure it when times get tense.
- Teach your children how to be around pets. Many canines love kids but even best friends need a break once in a while.
If you’re still worried about your pet’s stress levels or demeanor, your vet can give you advice, or refer you to a dog behavior expert. We wish you many happy, carefree times with your canine!