In many instances, we hear of a dog biting someone “all of a sudden”. The truth is, dogs rarely bite without a warning. Dogs mainly use body language to communicate. So it’s important for us to understand what they are trying to tell us. Learning this special way of communication can help relieve stress in dogs and prevent potentially dangerous situations from happening.
Stress is a feeling of strain or pressure, and our dogs can become stressed too.
When we are stressed, we talk to a friend, slam the phone, yell, etc. But, dogs do not voice their feelings or show tantrums.
So, how can we identify stress in dogs? What are the indications of a stressed-out dog? How can we calm down such dogs?
In this post, you will find everything you need to know to understand, identify and relieve stress in dogs.
First of all, let’s figure out the reasons of anxiety and pressure in dogs.
What causes stress in dogs ?
Your dog can feel stressed for natural reasons like fear of loud noises, new surroundings and people, large or strange objects, crowded places, or separation.
Other causes of anxiety in dogs can be common real life situations like your own emotional health and stress level.
Yes, dogs can sense your stress.
If you’re stressed-out, it can impact your dog too. Dogs can mirror the stress level of their humans to a great extent.
Additionally, dog behaviourists say that dogs can display anxiety due to confusion and memory loss because of age.
Below are some of the more common situations that may cause stress in dogs.
Sensitive noises – We all know that dogs have much more sensitive hearing than us. A loud sound, such as a horn, is only amplified to them.
Besides, dogs can hear a wide range of sounds with both, high and low frequencies.
Hence, the fear of loud or unexpected sounds triggers a reaction in dogs. This is a natural response – the brain’s mechanism for being aware.
For instance, a sudden loud noise like fireworks.
Shifting or rehoming – Moving to a new house, rehoming a dog after the loss of a loved one, or just bringing home a dog (puppy) for the first time after adoption – all can leave the dog twitchy and restless.
New places can make any dog feel anxious and nervous.
What you might see as pacing around, panting, peeing or pooping in the new home, might just be a dog stressed about their new environment.
Home alone dogs – Even though it’s heart-breaking, there are times we have to leave our dogs at home alone.
Dogs may be left alone at home for extended periods of time. when we’re at work, shopping, facing an emergency health issue and so on.
But for a dog that is used to having company at home may feel lonely and suffer from separation anxiety. It is always good to keep a friend, house-help, or a dog-sitter while leaving your dog home for the first time.
Introducing your dog to new people – While dogs are man’s best friend, not every dog likes being introduced to new people.
Usually, dogs have this behaviour because of mistreatment from past owners or being territorial.
In such cases, the dog may need time to warm up to new people.
The best thing to do is to go slow, give your dog enough time and space to get comfortable with the new person.
Be calm and be gentle during the trial-meets, and remember – do not force it.
Hunger – When we miss a meal or two, we switch from “hungry to hangry” in minutes. Now imagine, you have to fight for a morsel of food in this condition.
Well, this is the life of a stray dog!
With no food they go hungry for days, and soon starvation takes a toll causing aggression and stress in them.
Always be kind to stray dogs, feed them when you can, and the least you can do is not do anything to agitate their stressful situation.
On the other hand, in pet dogs, improper diet and irregular meals can lead to anxiety and stress.
What are the signs of stress in dogs ?
Dogs can have a nerve-wracking experience due to one or many reasons mentioned above. While they experience stress, they display their anxiety by – chewing and destroying objects, showing sudden aggression, behaving restless, peeing or pooping inside the house despite being trained well, etc.
More indicators of stress in dogs include the following.
Growling, Whining or Barking – These dog sounds are quite obvious ways to tell that a dog is uncomfortable. Dogs vocalize to express themselves, but this may be intensified when they are under stress.
When a dog finds a person, thing or situation unpleasant, it will growl as a warning sign, and may also bare its teeth in the process.
Dogs that are nervous, scared or tensed may whine or bark to get your attention, or to just soothe themselves.
Pacing and trembling – Sometimes we see dogs pacing back and forth, running in random directions, or taking circles. These are signs that they can’t settle down due to stress.
You may have also seen your dog shake after a bath, or tremble as soon as he sits in a car.
Pacing and trembling might not be a big deal if it happens for short periods. But notice your dog’s behaviour and watch out for clues, as he may be in a stressful situation.
For example, my dog, Tuffy is commonly stressed when visiting his veterinarian. He does a whole-body-shake when his vet is around, even when he’s not touching him.
He shakes it off when he descends from the examination table and touches down on the ground.
This is because, like us, dogs also feel agitated. Some dogs walk a repeated path when they feel stressed.
Yawning, drooling, and licking – Dogs yawn when they are sleepy, tired or bored. But, they also yawn when tensed.
A stressful yawn is longer and forceful than a sleepy yawn.
Dogs may also drool and lick excessively when nervous, even if they typically don’t drool or lick.
I can easily relate to this one, my Indian Pariah, Selfie, usually doesn’t drool unless she runs for miles. But, during her first ride in the car, she was drooling like a hungry hyena.
I instantly knew she worked up a drool as she was uncomfortable in the car.
Panting – Dogs pant (breathe heavily) when hot, excited, or stressed.
Anxiety in dogs causes increased heart rate and intense breathing.
If your dog is panting even though he has not exercised or played recently, he may be experiencing stress.
Eye-whites and drooped ears – When dogs feel stressed, they open their eyes wider than usual, exposing the white parts of their eyes, giving a frightened look.
It’s somewhat similar to how we humans react to fear, we keep our eyes stiff and real big.
Likewise, when dogs display whale eyes, you may also notice nervousness in their face, and a closed mouth. Stressed dogs may also blink rapidly.
A dog’s ears are usually relaxed or alert. But, when they experience anxiety or fear, their ears are pinned back against the head.
Body posture – Dogs normally walk on four legs, distributing their weight evenly on all the legs.
If a healthy dog with no problems shifts his weight to his rear legs, bends, squats or cowers, he may be exhibiting stress.
Scared dogs may also put their tails between their back legs.
Additionally, when your dog freezes or gets stiff, he is often stressed about something around him. It’s like he is shutting down.
Frequent urination – Certain people feel a sudden urge to use the loo, when nervous. In the same way, when dogs are tensed, they pee more than they normally do.
One can find a dog urinating shortly after meeting a new canine friend. He may be placing territorial stamps claiming the area and reacting to the stress simultaneously.
Changes in food habits – Dogs normally refuse to eat when they are bothered.
Dogs may also find it hard to poop when they are nervous.
Rejecting food and loss of bowel function are also stress indicators in dogs.
Displacement and fleeing behaviour – When distressed, your dog may find it hard to obey your commands. The best trained dog too may not pay attention and ignore its owner when it is stressed.
Ignoring or avoiding someone may not be polite, but it is surely better than being aggressive. So, respect your dog’s choice.
Additionally, your dog may also try to escape by focusing on something else. He may sniff the ground, lick his genitals, or simply dodge the situation while trying to hide.
In extreme cases of stress and tension, some dogs literally push behind their owners to hide. They may stick up to their owners and even nudge them to move along.
Fleeing dogs may engage in activities like digging or circling or may sneak behind a tree or under a parked car.
Note: Many of these behaviors depend on the context of the situation. So, if you notice your dog acting in a way that could be a stress-related sign, first consider your dog’s unique personality and situation, as well as your own emotional state. Speak to your veterinarian if the situation lasts for a long time. Do not yell or scold your dog, as scolding may only add to their stress and make the situation harder for both of you.
#Pro Tip- “If you see your dog in stress, first remove him from the stressor.”
How to relax and help your dog in stress ?
Everything has a source, so does stress. So, if you see signs of stress in your dog, first remove him from the source of the stress and find him a quiet place to calm down.
Clearly, warning signs show that the dog is so nervous that they can’t handle the situation, and the next step may be a bite. So, one must be able to recognize these signs, and more importantly, know how to prevent their dog from becoming stressed in future.
There are a number of ways you can help prevent your dog’s anxiety and help calm an already stressed-out dog:
Address self-behaviour – Dog owners and caregivers should also reflect on their own behavior to see how they might be contributing to trigger stress in their dog.
If you are nervous and full of anxiety, your dog will mirror your behaviour in no time.
As a dog owner you might make your dog stressed by not giving clear commands, staring directly at him, punishing or yelling at him unnecessarily.
Practice patience and self-care, because your mental health affects your dog’s.
Ensure that you’re able to deal with the stressors in your own life so you can be fully present for your fur baby.
Avoid bringing them into stressful situations – Some dogs find certain situations too overwhelming to handle.
For instance, if you know loud noises bother your dog, or you have lately adopted a pup, don’t bring them anywhere where loud music will be playing and remember to keep music at a comfortable volume at home.
This way, you can help your dog keep their cool and gradually adapt.
However, if the situation is unavoidable, do everything you can to calm the situation. In a case where a terrified dog is whining at the vet, try giving it a favorite toy or a chew-stick to ease the dog’s stress levels.
Healthy meals & regular exercise – Feed your dog a balanced diet and keep the meal timings the same each day.
Engage him in a lot of walking and playing, both of which are critical to your dog’s mental health.
Your furry companion totally depends on you for his mental and physical well-being. So, it is you who has to make sure he gets plenty of exercise and playtime, and the right amount of quality food every single day.
Consistent Training – There must be proper communication between you and your dog, and good training sets a platform for this.
Without adequate training, your dog will always be confused about your expectations, and there will be uncertainty in his mind. This will soon create stress in your dog.
Stress is a normal part of everyday life for us and our dogs. Hence, we must look out for each other and learn how to deal with it.
The best way to calm your dog down is to identify the source of stress, and then diffuse the situation ASAP. Often it is easier than you think, especially, when you know your dog well.
Sometimes it’s as simple as blocking off an area where your dog can eat while no one bothers him.
Or, teaching children how to respect dogs and not bully them, especially the stray dogs.
If you know your dog freaks out at specific events, like a car ride or fireworks during festivals, there are some specific ways to ease that anxiety.
Alternatively, if needed, work with a certified dog behaviour expert or consult your dog’s veterinarian to reduce the reaction to the triggers and stressors.
The bottom line is – start observing your dog’s body language and you’ll be able to read his stress signals and relieve his anxiety in no time.
Share this very informative blog post with all the dog parents out there.