I have been asked to write an article on signs of stress in dogs, which I think is wonderful! So, few people actually understand the things their dogs are trying to communicate to them!
I recently had a “date” over. My dog, a Belgian Malinois, remains a little “iffy” with people. But my date wanted to meet my dogs. I communicated with him to go slow and not to bend over my dog. Let him curl into you, and lightly pet him down his back and on his rump. Also, don’t get in his face or stare.
After a few moments of successful curling and what looked like affection from my dog, he noted: “his tail is wagging.” However, it isn’t that easy.
My dog’s tail was HIGH and snake-like, a little agitated. It is very difficult to express to people that a tail wag and a BITE are very common.
And, it seems no matter how many years of experience I have with training puppies and dogs, people still discount my expertise and knowledge (especially family and friends, ha ha).
It is more about what the height and wag of the tail are telling you. To the untrained eye, my dog looks very social. He curls into you and hits your leg with his shoulder, asking to be touched.
But, I see the high tail, the dilated eyes, and the slightly stiff posture. I have mostly gotten to the point that I don’t let people touch him because no one understands direction anymore.
However, in this situation, if I am looking at having a relationship, I need a potential significant other to respect my dog and me. Thankfully, even though I am not sure he believed me, he didn’t bend over my dog or get in his space. He simply petted his back and rump (which is what my boy likes).
So let’s talk about some signs of stress in dogs so that you will be educated about what dogs are trying to communicate.
After all, another dog would see how stiff and standoffish my dog was, despite the tail wag!
Signs of Stress in Dogs
Unless your dog is nauseous, lip licking isn’t normal and is a sign of stress. Dogs don’t lip lick in normal situations that aren’t full of scrumptious foods.
Yes, panting can be normal. But, there are times that dogs pant from stress. I have seen dogs in our vet clinic on cold days that are panting like crazy… this is a sign of stress and probably a very high heart rate.
Dogs don’t yawn when they are tired.
Dogs yawn when they are stressed!
If your dog is yawning, especially in an odd situation, this is a signal that he is stressed!
Get to know your dog’s eyes! Nothing will give you more information than his eyes and his face. Dogs’ eyes dilate when they are nervous or agitated. If his eyes look “hard,” be very mindful and careful!
Normally, your dog’s eyes have no need to dart all over the place! If his eyes are darting back and forth and around the room, he is likely looking for an escape route. This is a sign of stress!
Again, get to know your dog! I am currently pet sitting a French Bulldog and his eyes certainly bulge more than my shepherd’s eyes, just normally! But, when he is stressed, they will bulge more and may become red; this isn’t normal and a sign of stress; as if he is trying to take in everything in his environment.
Whites of Eyes
I will say it again, know your dog’s eyes, tail, and face. If you don’t normally see the whites of your dog’s eyes, then seeing them is a sign of stress. This is one of the first things I notice as a vet tech; if the dogs’ eyes are white all around and darting around, I know he is very stressed and much more likely to bite!
Lips Held Back
Dogs who are in conflict often pull their lips back. It kind of looks like they are nauseous but can be a stress appeasement gesture. In wolf packs, the submissive wolf often pulls his lips back in almost a smile as if to say “Please don’t eat me,” but, if pushed while stressed, this dog could bite.
Here is the opposite. Lips pursed forward and teeth shown also shows stress and aggression. If the lips look abnormally forward, then the dog may be snarling without noise at first, and this should be marked as stress and possible aggression.
Of course, in most instances showing teeth is a sign of aggression. However, some dogs “smile” as again, a sign of appeasement. Even though this is “cute” for us humans, it is still a sign of stress for dogs.
Ears carried as high on the forehead as possible is a sign of overstimulation and possible stress and will likely lead to other behaviors.
Even floppy eared dogs can change the position of their ears.
Think I am kidding? Blow a whistle for your dog and watch his ears go from normal position to very high on his head!
Ears pinned can be a sign of fear and stress. Be cautious of a dog whose ears are pinned!
High tails denote over-excitement and agitation which can also be signs of stress. Be cautious of a dog whose tail is as high on his back as it can be!
Tail tucked is a sign of submission, or fear, or both. If submission is not respected and the dog is pushed, it can likely become aggressive.
Rattlesnake Tail Wag
I call this the rattlesnake tail wag because dogs vigorously wag just the tip of the tail. This IS NOT A GOOD SIGN. A happy tail wag should start at the base and be very relaxed and side to side. If the dog looks like he is rattling a rattle, be very wary! This is a precursor to aggression.
Barking can also be stress. Dogs bark for many reasons, but one is to communicate their stress and discomfort to us. If your dog is barking, take this information that his level of stress could be high and don’t ignore or discount it!
Although this is a sure sign of aggression, this can also be stress.
Again, no matter how friendly you think he is, if he is growling, barking and lunging, take in this information that he is giving you and take heed!
There are many signs of stress in dogs!
Part of the key is knowing your dog’s normal behaviors and noticing a change.
Change of behavior indicates feeling and information.
Your dog doesn’t speak English. Sometimes, his only way to communicate his stress level to you is to change his normal behavior and hope that you will see the signs and take note!
How do you help your dog cope with stress?
There are many ways in which you can help lessen the effects of stress on your dog. This is really important since a stressed out dog can either snap at another person or they may develop an ailment with their exposure to constant stress.
First and foremost, don’t punish your dog. If your dog is acting out in ways that you don’t like such as howling or being inattentive, the best that you can do is to not scold your pet. Shouting at your dog or subjecting him to punishment such as putting them on a crate will only worsen the situation as it will stress them out more
Keep them close. One of the ways in which you can help ease a dog’s stress is by touching them. Cuddling them and giving them a massage will help soothe and calm them down. Aside from that, it will also help calm you down as well. Your touch will help your dog to relax since they are familiar and comfortable with you. This is also good advice if you are spending a lot of time leaving your pet at home.
Try to establish a bond with your dog by spending as much time as you can with them. You can also try fitting a t-shirt snugly on them or leaving a shirt or a piece of clothing with your scent on it to help them relax.
Calm yourself down. Since dogs are very sensitive to their owner’s emotions, they can easily pick up on how you are feeling. So if you are getting anxious about how other dogs would react to your dog, your pet will be anxious as well. If you want your dog to be relaxed, then you should not be worried as well.
Desensitize your dog to whatever is causing him stress. It is not a good idea for your dog to remain stressed about something that is not really harmful. For example, if they are fearful of going to the dog park and meeting other dogs, then you should slowly introduce another dog to him. Teach them that they do not have to fear these dogs since they can actually be friends with them. If they are fearful of car rides, then slowly get him to love the ride by giving him treats inside the car and taking him for short rides to let him get used to it. Our list on the top treats for dogs will give you more options on what to give your furry friend.
Give your pet enough exercise. Stress which is due to inactivity can often be relieved by engaging in physical activities. Going for a walk and exploring new areas will help them expend their stored up energy and release some “feel good” hormones which will help them calm down. Do not over-exercise your dog however, as this can lead to physical stress.
Provide a den or a quiet place where they can retreat when stressed. Dogs love the feel of having their own place where they can just lay and feel safe from any intrusion or attack. Hence, you should be able to provide them with a quiet area in your home where they can retreat when you are having guests in your home. Make sure that this place is not exposed to any loud noise or music which can be coming from your neighbors or from your own home. You can even create a special bed for your dog, read all about it in our previous article on DIY projects for your pets.
Use some calming music. Although this is not a very common advice, there had been studies in which dogs were observed to calm down after hearing classical music. There are certain types of music though that caused them to be more anxious so try to avoid these: rock, heavy metal, and jazz.
Use pheromones. Pheromones are naturally produces by mother dogs and it helps puppies to feel calm. There are synthetic types of pheromones today which are being used to produce the same effect on older dogs. These often come in dog collars so they can easily reach the dog’s nose when emitted.
Use herbal essences. Just like in humans, dogs can relax when they smell or drink herbal extracts or essences. Some of the most popular ones are chamomile and lavender. Soak a handkerchief on a solution with these herbs and then use it as a collar for your pet.
Get the help of your vet. When all else fails, the best thing is to consult your vet about your pet’s stress problems. He or she will be able to identify if the stress is related to some illness that your dog already has or they could recommend a good behavioral trainer for your pet who will teach them how to cope with stressors. Aside from this, they can also provide the proper stress medication that your dog needs.
Stress can do a lot of things to your dog and it can either be good or bad depending on how your dog copes with it. A dog can become stressed for a variety of reasons including meeting new people, traveling, illness and being transferred to a new home.
It is up to you as a pet owner to help him go through the stressful situation. You can hold him, desensitize him to the stressor, or you can provide him with a quiet place where he can retire whenever he feels stressed. Whatever you do, however, make sure that you have him checked up by your vet to make sure that his health does not deteriorate because of stress.