How To Recognize Signs of Stress in Your Dog | PetFirst
Pet Care & Health

How To Recognize Signs of Stress in Your Dog

by PetFirst Pet Insurance
6 months ago

We’ve all experienced stress; tight shoulders, tension headaches, irritability, anxiety, difficulty sleeping.  And as we leave our homes to tackle busy days, with “to do” lists in hand, it is tempting to look at our fur friends and envy their worry-free lives.

What you may not know is that our pets suffer from stress in their daily lives too.  While we can give voice to our feelings, dogs speak primarily with their bodies.

Becoming familiar with canine signs of stress will help you differentiate between your dog’s normal behavior and his behavior in uncomfortable situations.  This will give you a better understanding of your pet and enable you to prevent a potentially dangerous situation.

Indicators of stress in dogs

Our furry friends can’t voice their stress. They can’t slam doors or scream. So what do they do to let us know they are feeling stressed?

The following signs are indicators of stress in dogs:

  • Whining or barking.  Your dog may whine or bark if he is tense or fearful.  This may be an attempt to get your attention.
  • Pacing.  Like humans, dogs will often pace when they are nervous or agitated.
  • Licking.  In some dogs, excessive licking can be a sign of anxiety or an obsessive-compulsive anxiety disorder.
    Some research indicates that the act of licking releases endorphins in the dog’s brain that calm the dog while he is licking.
  • Yawning.  Dogs may yawn when they perceive a situation to be stressful, such as if a stranger or child approaches him.

If you see your dog yawning, consider whether he may be under stress and remove him from the situation.

  • Changes in the eyes.  This is one of the first signs a stressed dog will exhibit. You may notice more of the white of the eyes showing.  The whites of the eyes may become pink or reddish in color.
    The dog’s eyes may be open wider than usual, giving him a frightened or “whale eye” appearance.
  • Changes in ears.  If a dog’s ears are pinned back against the head, this is usually a sign of stress.  When at ease, your dog’s ears are generally relaxed or upright.
  • Changes in body posture.   Dogs will generally distribute their weight on all four legs.  A dog who is distributing body weight toward the ground or away from a stimulus is often indicating avoidance or fear.
    If a dog shifts body weight forward and toward a stimulus, this indicates assertiveness and the possibility of aggression. A rigid tail tucked tightly under the body indicates a high level of anxiety and fear.
  • Panting.  Dogs who are anxious or stressed often display what is called “behavioral panting.”  This is usually seen in combination with other signs of stress such as repetitive yawning, pacing, whining, licking, trembling, and hiding.
  • Increased shedding.  Shedding or losing an excessive amount of fur is a typical response to stress.  This is why you may leave a routine veterinary appointment covered in your furry friend’s coat.
  • Avoidant behavior.  When a dog is placed in an uncomfortable situation, he may do his best to “avoid” the situation by focusing on something else.  Perhaps he will groom himself, sniff the ground, or just turn away.

This is his way of telling you he does not want to be in the situation.  Any of these choices are preferable to an aggressive response and should be respected.

  • Hiding or escape behavior. This is similar to avoidance behavior, but some dogs take it a step further and literally hide behind their owners or nudge their owners to move on to escape from the situation.

How to deal with your dog’s stress

If you notice your dog exhibiting signs of stress remove him from a stressful situation.

For example a crate or dog bed:

Provide him with a safe, quiet place where he can escape stressful situations.

Additional ways to reduce stress include:

  • Exercise.  Just like with humans, dogs can benefit from the stress-reducing effects of physical activity.
  • Routine.  Dogs feel comfortable with a sense of routine.  If you notice signs of stress, try distracting your dog with some routine commands, such as “sit” and “stay.” This will return his focus to the task at hand and provide a sense of normalcy.

How much stress is too much?

If you notice your dog displaying consistent signs of stress, see your veterinarian to rule out any medical cause.

Your vet may also be able to recommend a trainer or dog behaviorist to work with your dog on persistent stress issues.

Socialize your dog when he is young

Stress is a response to fear, so the best thing you can do is socialize your dog beginning when he or she is young.

Exposing him or her to a variety of situations and people from a young age will decrease the chances of them developing fearful behavior.

Whether your dog exhibits signs of stress or he is due for his annual wellness exam, PetFirst Pet Insurance is here for you. We offer Routine Care Coverage which helps with everyday costs related to vet check-ups and other proactive health visits.  

Get a quote today.

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