Recognizing Stress in Dogs: Understanding Your Pet's Body Language and Behavior
There are certain things all responsible dog owners should know, including how to groom them, basic training, and proper feeding. Another important one is being in tune with your dog’s body language and behaviors to be able to recognize when something’s not right, so you can get them the care or relief they need as soon as possible.
Stress can be caused by a number of reasons, such as a medical issue, changes in the environment, or perceived threats. Here are the common signs of stress in dogs.
Simple body language cues
Ears back: Dogs are very expressive with their facial cues. When they pin their ears back against their head, it is a sign of unease.
Tucked tail: A tail tucked between the legs can be a sign of fear, anxiety, or aggression.
Hiding: Especially if your dog is newly adopted, seeking a safe place to hide is a common behavior for a stressed or anxious pup. If your dog is usually relaxed and comfortable and you notice he has gone into hiding, it’s likely due to stress. (Did someone say “bath time”?)
Reactions and responses
Yawning: When a dog is in an awkward or uncomfortable situation, they may yawn as a way of distracting themselves from the discomfort in an effort to alleviate these feelings. If you see yawning and you know your dog isn’t sleepy, it’s likely that he’s feeling a little uncomfortable.
Excessive drooling, panting: In the same way humans can get flushed, hot and sweaty during stressful situations, dogs can also experience a rise in body temperature caused by stress. You might see panting and possibly extra drooling.
Excessive shedding: If your dog is fearful of vet visits, you may have noticed extra shedding at your annual appointments.
Destructive behavior: Highly stressed dogs, such as those experiencing separation anxiety while home alone, may engage in destructive behaviors like scratching at the door, digging at the carpet, or chewing on furniture (or even their own paws).
Aggression: Rather than hiding, some dogs react to stressful situations (like going to the vet or groomer) with aggressive behaviors. This can include growling, snarling, and snapping.
Accidents in the house: For a dog that has been reliably potty trained, accidents in the house are signs of either being left home too long without a potty break, a medical condition, or stress.
Tummy troubles: Stressful situations can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. However, don’t always assume these problems are due to stress because they are often signs of other medical issues as well.
Relieving your dog’s stress
What’s stressing your dog may be obvious, such as fireworks or loud neighbors, going to the vet, or riding in the car. If you know what is stressing your dog, try your best to make him as comfortable as you can by reducing/removing the stressor or creating a safe space.
If you’re not sure what is causing your dog to be stressed, it’s a good idea to see your veterinarian as soon as you can, in case of an underlying medical condition. Your vet may also have good advice on how to alleviate your dog’s stress, such as medication for specific situations like the Fourth of July.
Being able to recognize signs of stress will help you quickly relieve your dog’s discomfort as soon as possible.