Stress. We all experience it at some time or another. Whether it’s working long hours, having a heavy workload, taking care of a sick loved one, experiencing traumatic events, or moving to a new home among many other life stressors, we may find ourselves looking for ways to relieve the weight of these burdens. Some of us may even look to our pets for comfort! But have you ever considered what kind of stress your dog may also be experiencing? Just as our behaviors and actions change while we’re feeling stressed, our dogs show signs of stress, too. In order to help give our dogs the best life possible, we should be aware of what signs and behaviors to watch out for to help our dogs feel at ease. Through body language, vocalization and behavioral changes, your dog will likely give signals that can alert you that your beloved pup is having a hard time. Paying attention to these signs and cues can help you learn how to best move forward, removing possible stressors and giving your pup the best chance at a happy, healthy, stress-free life.
12 Signs Your Dog May Be Stressed
1. Panting. Many dogs pant when they’re hot, excited or stressed. If you see your pup panting out of the blue (and not after running or enjoying the heat of summertime – which seems so far away!) then he may be showing signs of stress. Watching your dog’s other body language signals may help you determine which emotions he may be experiencing. A dog experiencing anxiety or stress may also pin back his ears at the same time.
2. Excessive shedding. If you notice your pup shedding more hair than usual, it could be a sign he is feeling anxious. This tends to be most noticeable at your dog’s visits to the veterinarian. Persistent shaking is a common symptom that can also occur along with shedding.
3. Drooling and other body language signals including itching and scratching, licking lips, and even yawning. Dogs often drool and excessively lick their mouth or nose when feeling stressed. Take note of his typical behavior and you’ll be able to determine if he’s doing this because he is feeling stressed or just wants some food! Additionally, you may see your pup yawn involuntarily. Seeing him yawn several times in a row could be your dog’s own way of displacing anxious feelings.
4. Barking or whimpering. While we know our pups bark for various reasons, if you notice that your dog is showing a change in his vocalization by barking more aggressively or excessively, or your dog is whimpering, growling or whining, it could be a sign your beloved pup is experiencing an increase in anxiety.
5. Diarrhea and constipation. Signs of stress in dogs can take on more than just behavioral symptoms. Unfortunately, a dog who is feeling stressed can also experience some uncomfortable digestive issues. It is important to take your dog to the vet in the event he is having bouts of diarrhea or constipation, but if your vet has ruled out any serious medical conditions, then it may be stress-induced.
6. Hiding or isolation. It’s perfectly normal for your dog to go off on his own and have some time away from his humans, however if your dog is spending an abnormally long amount of time isolating himself in another room, perhaps under the bed or behind furniture, he may be experiencing stress. It’s very important to alert your vet in case your dog’s behavior is due to illness, but if that is ruled out, your pet is likely feeling anxious. A stressed-out pup may also try hiding out behind a bush or car when out on a walk, or he may “hide” behind his human to avoid dogs or other people. If your dog “hides” while also tucking his tail, avoiding eye contact and turning away, it is likely that he is uncomfortable and is choosing to avoid the situation.
7. Sleeping more than usual. You’re probably pretty in-tune with when and how often your pup sleeps. If he’s suddenly sleeping more than usual or is lethargic, exhibiting less energy and interest in activities or just simply seems “off,” you should make a call to your veterinarian. However, if your vet rules out any serious health concerns, these symptoms may be a result of an emotional pup going through a period of stress.
8. Changes in eyes or ears. A stressed-out pup may have a more intense stare with excessive blinking, or none at all. He may also avoid eye contact altogether or turn his head away from you or other humans or dogs. Your dog’s ears may give you clues as to how your pup is feeling. A dog who is alert or feeling anxious may pin his ears back against the head versus ears that are relaxed. You know what is “normal” for your pup and their eye and ear movements, so if you see sudden changes, it could signal that your dog is feeling uneasy.
9. Shaking and trembling. Additional body language changes can indicate that your pup is feeling anxious. It can be completely normal for you dog to shake his body, especially after a bath for example, but if there are other signs accompanying the shaking or trembling, it could be a signal that he is experiencing stress.
10. Changes in eating habits. A stressed-out, emotional pup may lose interest in his food, refuse treats, or become pickier about what foods he eats. Or he may be more like many of us humans, and eat more food! (Although this is much less common). If you notice your dog eating less and losing interest in food or treats he once enjoyed, be sure to reach out to your vet. This could be a result of a health condition or illness. Your vet will be able to rule out any other potential causes.
11. Aggression. You know your dog’s signals better than anyone, so you may be able to tell when your dog is feeling aggressive. You may notice your beloved dog grimacing, growling or snarling. He may also bark or whimper, which can signal that he’s experiencing fear or aggressive behavior. He may also seem to be on edge which may alert you he is going through some serious emotions that need some attention before the behaviors escalate.
12. Change in interactions. A stressed-out pup may lose interest in playing with his toys while also having less interest in interacting with his humans. Or he may have just the opposite reaction and may suddenly demand more attention from you.
You know your beloved dog better than anyone else, so pay attention to your dog’s cues. Each dog is going to exhibit signs of stress in their own way, so it’s important to keep in mind your own dog’s regular behavior. Being familiar and taking note of sudden changes will help you differentiate what may be typical doggy behavior or your dog exhibiting signs of stress and anxiety.
How You Can Help Your Dog
Once you’ve determined that your pup is experiencing stress or anxiety in his environment, it is time to find ways to help your beloved pet. While one of the most important things you can do is to be aware, there are a few things you can do to help prevent future stress and positively impact your dog’s health.
1. Prevention! If you know your dog’s triggers, do what you can to reduce them. Perhaps you’ve learned your dog is afraid of loud noises or large groups of people, so you can find ways to keep your home quieter while also avoiding taking your dog to community events or other gatherings with a lot of people present.
2. Play and exercise with your dog! I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling anxious, a breath of fresh air and a little exercise seem to bring me back to a sense of calm and comfort. While regular exercise is known to help humans with depression and/or anxiety, exercise for your pups is just as important and can have similar effects on his mental and physical well-being. Getting your dog engaged in a game of fetch, a walk around the neighborhood, or an indoor game of hide-and-seek can help reduce stress in your dog (and you, too)!
If you are having trouble finding enough time to give your dog the consistent physical activity he needs, Milwaukee Paws Pet Care has you covered! We are happy to step in when you are unable to provide your beloved dog the cognitive enrichment and exercise he needs. Our staff are committed to providing loving, attentive care to your pets in the comfort of your home. Reach out to Paws Pet Care today!
3. Create a “safe” zone. Does your pet have a safe place to go when he gets stressed or anxious? If he becomes anxious when you host gatherings, for example, it can be helpful for your dog to have a safe place of his own to go to and “escape” when needed. You can keep your dog’s favorite toy nearby to provide extra comfort. If you’re able to, try to check in on your dog and provide reassurance during the “stressful” event so your pet knows he isn’t alone.
4. Don’t force your dog into situations he doesn’t like. It may be a common thought among dog owners to have their dogs “face their fears” just as many of us adults think that will help us get over our own anxieties and stressors. While this might work with you, please don’t do this with your dog. It seems many dog owners feel that they have to make their dog face their fears in order to get over them when, in reality, this will usually make it worse. Forcing your pup into an “uncomfortable” situation that causes him anxiety or stress may make your pup feel so overwhelmed that they may lash out and even bite or attack other dogs or people. If your pup is showing signs of anxiety while in a particular environment, listen to his cues and body language. He will likely “warn” you that he is not interested and is in need of a safe space.
5. Stick to a routine. Does your dog wait for you to re-fill his dog bowl at the same time every day? Sticking to a routine as much as possible can help reduce anxiety in your pet, and will likely help you ensure your own to-do’s are getting done. Missing an expected walk or not feeding your dog at the same time every day can throw him off, possibly causing unexpected stress.
6. Consult a professional canine behaviorist. There are several techniques that can be used to help your dog cope with fear and anxiety-induced stimuli. One such technique is called counter-conditioning, in which your dog’s emotions and anxiety to specific fears or triggers are changed to a positive, enjoyable experience. This complex treatment essentially teaches your dog to change the way he feels about something (usually the trigger/fear) rather than just trying to change his behavior. This treatment works to get rid of the underlying cause of the behavior problem your dog is experiencing, and therefore helps reduce fears and phobias that are causing stress on your pup. Since the techniques are not “simple” by any means, we recommend reaching out to a certified canine behaviorist who can guide you through the training. If you are interested in speaking to a professional canine behaviorist but don’t know where to turn, let us know! We can help refer you to someone who can work with you and your pup to help relieve the stress and anxieties he may be going through while helping you and your beloved pet have more positive, engaging experiences within your home and while out with other pets and people.
All of us at Milwaukee Paws Pet Care understand the important needs and expectations our pets have for us. If you need assistance with caring for your pet while also helping to provide routine and consistency, we are here to help! We can pet-sit in the comfort of your pet’s home while giving them the attention, activity and mental stimulation they need. Reach out today and we can answer any questions you may have!