You may have heard of instances where a dog becomes aggressive seemingly out of nowhere. However, dogs rarely bite or fight without reason. Instead, aggressive behavior is likely the result of stress that has been building up for a while.
Like humans, dogs can get stressed. Because our canines can’t tell us how they’re feeling with their words, they rely on us to pick up on cues by understanding their body language. Learning how to understand the warning signs of stress allows us to provide comfort for our dogs, and prevent potentially chaotic encounters with others.
Signs of Stress
Not all dogs experience stress in the same way, and not all stress has the same symptoms. The more familiar you are with your dog’s mannerisms and body language, the easier it will be to pick up on signs that your dog is stressed. Common signs of stress include:
Barking or whining. Barking, which is typical canine behavior, generally happens for a specific reason. If your pup is barking in an uncontrolled, seemingly random way, he may be feeling stressed. Whining or whimpering is generally involuntary, meaning your dog is likely feeling anxious or scared.
Growling. If your dog is feeling threatened or uncomfortable, he may growl at the person or animal in his space. Don’t discourage your dog from growling—this is a crucial warning that he may be gearing up to bite. Instead, think of ways that you could make the situation more comfortable for Fido: calmly walk him away from others; allow him to eat in peace; trade a treat for a toy that you’re trying to take away.
- Abnormal panting. Like barking, panting is completely normal dog behavior. However, abnormal panting could be an indicator that your pooch needs some stress relief.
Body language: tucked tail, raised hackles, alert or pinned back ears, whale eye, and showing the gums are all physical indicators of an anxious or uncomfortable dog. Don’t rely on body language alone, since some signs of stress can be similar to signs of a playful or energetic dog.
Freezing or pacing. If your dog suddenly freezes, it means he’s feeling overwhelmed, and too stressed to handle the situation. Essentially, he is shutting down. Pacing back and forth, while sometimes a sign of excitement, can also be a sign of stress if it happens regularly and for long periods of time.
Licking, yawning, or drooling. A yawn could be a sign of sleepiness or boredom, but it could also be a sign of stress. If the yawn is longer and more intense than normal, your pup may be feeling the opposite of bored. Drooling and excessive licking can also be a sign of stress (unless there’s something really appetizing right in front of Fido’s face).
Loss of appetite. After you, food is probably Fido’s favorite thing. Unless he’s a picky eater, a dog who isn’t showing any interest in eating his usual food could be feeling stressed or anxious.
Digestive issues. Gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation are usually associated with allergies or sickness. However, they can also be signs of a stressed out pooch.
Excessive itching or scratching; seeming agitated and unable to relax in general.
Chewing, scratching, digging, and ultimately destroying things around the house could be a sign of separation anxiety. Acting out in these ways means that your furry friend may need some more physical and mental stimulation to use as an outlet.
- Isolation and avoidance. If your dog prefers to spend excessive amounts of time alone in another room, or if he avoids eye contact and interaction when he is around others, he could be feeling a bit too tense.
You know your dog best. If you notice any significant behavioral changes, it’s likely an indicator that your four-legged friend is trying to tell you something.
What Makes Dogs Stressed?
Stress is a natural instinct, and isn’t always bad. In fact, it helps us and our pups avoid potentially dangerous situations. That being said, we don’t want our furry friends to feel stressed if they could otherwise be relaxed.
Dogs are creatures of habit, and thrive on routine. Switching up the predictability of a pup’s day could cause some anxiety, since Fido likes to be able to know what’s coming next.
Boredom and lack of physical and mental stimulation can also lead to stress. Dogs have a lot of energy that they need to use up! On the other end of the spectrum, though, dogs can also get stressed by too much activity. Too many new people or sounds such as fireworks or sirens can also make a dog’s environment stressful.
Some dogs are more prone to stress and anxiety, simply because of their unique personalities. Others may be more prone to stress because of past traumatic experiences, or mental health issues.
Your dog is also very in tune to your emotions. In fact, he can smell chemical and hormonal changes that you may not even be aware of. If you’re feeling stressed or worked up, your furry best friend may also start to feel stressed in solidarity.
How to Soothe a Stressed Out Dog
If you notice your pup is feeling stressed or tense, the first step is to calmly remove him from the stressful situation if possible. Be sure to stay calm, and don’t overly comfort him—otherwise, he’ll feel that his fears are justified and may continue to feel stressed in similar situations. Provide him with a familiar toy, or spend some time working on familiar commands (such as “sit,” “stay,” “heel,” or “down”) to provide some comfort.
Many dog owners opt for crate training, which creates a readily available safe space for your dog when he needs a calm place to escape to.
Don’t punish stress-related behavior. This could only make the situation worse, and isn’t actually resolving the root of the issue.
In general, keep your routine as consistent as possible, with a predictable schedule. Your pup will feel a lot more at ease if he knows when to expect walks, meals, alone time, and quality time with you.
If your dog is constantly showing signs of stress without an obvious reason, talk to your vet. They will be able to rule out any potential underlying medical conditions, and possibly prescribe medication if needed.
You can also invest in natural supplements to ease anxiety. Pet Honesty’s Hemp Calming Chews use natural ingredients to calm and soothe an anxious dog. Additionally, you can join the waitlist for Pet Honesty’s upcoming Hemp Calming Fresh Sticks, which provide behavioral support to stressed, anxious, hyperactive dogs while promoting healthy teeth and gums.