Updated: May 11
There are plenty of situations that can stress out a dog. One of the most common ones occurs when the dog is left alone for long periods of time. Dogs are social beings and they require company so if they spend too much time alone, not only do they feel lonely, they also feel scared.
Change of residence is another common stress trigger. Whether you’re moving to another place or simply putting the dog in a kennel, a strange new place will make the dog feel quite uneasy. Another big change for a dog is when a member of its ‘pack’ leaves or a new one shows up. A dog recognises your family as their pack, so a death of a family member can be very stressful for a dog.
Other situations which can cause stress in dogs include traveling in a car, unless the dog is used to it from a young age, as well as loud sounds and music seeing as their hearing is rather sensitive.
How can I tell? There are plenty of clear signs of stress such as panting, pinned ears, whining and howling, sweaty paws and even diarrhea, constipation, excessive shedding and/or drooling, decrease in appetite and increased sleep.
Pacing or shaking. You’ve seen your dog shake after a bath or a roll in the grass. That whole body shake can be amusing and is quite normal…unless it’s a result of a stressful situation. For example, dogs are commonly stressed out when visiting the veterinarian, much like their owners are when going to a human medical doctor. Many dogs “shake it off” when they descend from the exam table and touch down on terra firma. Dogs, like people, also pace when agitated. Some dogs walk a repeated path around the exam room while waiting for the doctor.
Whining or barking. Vocalization is normal canine self-expression, but may be intensified under duress. Dogs that are afraid or tense may whine or bark to get your attention, or to self soothe.
Yawning, drooling and licking. Dogs yawn when they are tired or bored, but did you know that they also yawn when stressed? A stressful yawn is more prolonged and intense than a sleepy yawn. Dogs may also drool and lick excessively when nervous.
Changes in eyes and ears. Stressed dogs, like stressed people, may have dilated pupils and blink rapidly. They may open their eyes really wide and show more white than usual, giving them a startled appearance. Ears that are usually relaxed or alert are pinned back against the head.
Changes in body posture. Dogs normally bear even weight on all four legs. If a healthy dog with no orthopedic problems shifts his weight to his rear legs or cowers, he may be exhibiting stress. When scared, dogs may also tuck their tails or become quite rigid.
Shedding. Show dogs that become nervous in the show ring often “blow their coat”. Dogs also shed a lot when in the veterinary clinic. Although less noticeable in outside settings, such as visiting a new dog park, shedding increases when a dog is anxious.
Panting. Dogs pant when hot, excited or stressed. So, if your dog is panting even though she hasn’t jogged 10 miles in the heat of summer, she may be frazzled.
Changes in bodily functions. Like people, nervous dogs can feel a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. When your dog urinates shortly after meeting a new canine friend, he may be marking territory and reacting to the strain simultaneously. Refusal of food and loss of bowel function are also stress indicators.
Avoidance or displacement behavior. When faced with an unwelcome situation, dogs may “escape” by focusing on something else. They may sniff the ground, lick their genitals, or simply turn away. Ignoring someone may not be polite, but it’s surely better than being aggressive. If your dog avoids interaction with other dogs or people, don’t force the issue. Respect his choice.
Hiding or Escape behavior. An extension of avoidance, some tense dogs literally move behind their owners to hide. They may even nudge their owners to prompt them to move along. As a means of escape, they may engage in diversion activities such as digging or circling, or may slink behind a tree or parked car.
How to fix this
In order to differentiate stress signs from normal behavior, you must be familiar with your dog’s regular demeanor. Then you can tell if he’s licking his lips because he’s anxious or because he wants a treat!
When relaxed, he/she will have semi-erect or forward facing ears, a soft mouth, and round eyes. He will distribute his weight evenly on all four paws. Distinguishing normal behavior from stress signs will help you quickly and effectively diffuse an uncomfortable situation.
Exercise As with humans, exercise can be a great stress reducer. Physical activities like walking or playing fetch help both you and your dog release tension. It’s also good to provide your dog with a safe place in the home where he can escape anxious situations. Everybody enjoys a calm place to retreat.
Create a calm environment
Provide your dog with a calm and quiet environment in the home. Access to the outside can ensure your dog also has the opportunity to play and burn off energy.
Calming Spray: Calming spray's are a great natural way to calm your dog. Spray's are a great first step that can be used on your dog's bedding to aid them to calm down and sleep easily. Hooper Ruff have a range specifically designed for anticancer anxiety characteristics. Check out the range here. Also note, diffusers are particularly strong for dogs as they are meant for human use.
Discourage neediness and reduce dog stress in the long term by gradually promoting independence:
Put a food toy such as a Kong by your feet while you are watching TV, and gradually place it further away from you over the space of a few weeks. This will teach your dog to settle down and engage in activities without you. During this time you should still go in and out of the room as normal.
Install baby gates throughout the house so you can move from room to room without your dog always being able to follow. This will train your dog to remain calm when you are not nearby.
Give your dog reassuring attention before you leave the house to reduce separation anxiety.
Professional help: If your dog becomes consistently stressed, see your veterinarian. After ensuring that your dog’s behavior does not have a medical basis, your dog’s doctor may refer you to a trainer or veterinary behaviorist to evaluate stress-related issues.
Finally, remember that stress isn’t always bad. Fear is a stress-related emotion that prompts us to avoid potentially dangerous situations. So, stress may actually be a protector. Regardless, stress is part of everyday life for us and our dogs, so we should learn how best to deal with it.