Signs of stress in dogs should prompt owners to take action. But first you need to know what those signs of stress are!
Importantly, every dog is different. So while the symptoms of anxiety in dogs are similar for all of them, you’ll learn to understand how serious it is for your particular dog. Sometimes a ‘sign of stress’ actually indicates something else (for example, lip-licking could be fear or ‘I’ve just eaten something).
Signs of stress in dogs
Growling or whimpering
Your dog may make specific sounds when he's stressed. For example, he may bark at things. And when the barking gets higher-pitched, it may be that his nervousness is increasing.
Growling and snarling are signs that he feels threatened. Howling is like a distress signal he’s sending to the ‘pack.’ Whining, whimpering, and yelping are also signs of stress.
Nervous behaviour includes repetitively circling or spinning, or following you around. He might also hide behind your legs or behind furniture.
Lunging, biting, or approaching and retreating from someone or something also suggest that he feels attacked. Leaning away or lifting his paw without prompting are more submissive responses to a situation where he feels threatened.
Stress-related body language
Dogs may put their tail between their legs and/or bow their head when they are nervous and want to act submissively. However, if they stand up stiff when putting their tail between their legs, or their hackles rise at the same time, they are being a bit more defensive.
Dogs may also crouch when they're afraid.
If your dog is excessively destructive in your home (e.g. chewing furniture, toileting inappropriately), something may be making him feel nervous. These behaviours are even more common for dogs suffering from separation anxiety.
However, stress can also manifest itself through a decrease in appetite, or through excessive grooming behaviours such as licking or gnawing.
Panting, yawning, and other strange faces
If your dog looks tense, with his brow held back and his lips held tight, he probably is tense. Wide-eyes, avoiding eye-contact, or ears held back against his head may be part of this.
And of course he may wrinkle his nose, snarl, or bare his teeth in a weird kind of smile if he feels physically threatened.
But it’s also about what he does with his mouth: yawning repeatedly or lip-licking with no obvious ‘food’ situation at hand could be signs that he is nervous.
Though panting is normal for dogs, especially on a hot day or after exercise, excessive panting can be another sign that your dog is suffering from anxiety.
Signs of stress in dogs: what to do
If you've ruled out the possibility that your dog is suffering from a medical condition, then the first thing is to work out what’s stressing him. Then you can deal with the problem. It might require training, or behavioural work. Give him plenty of treats and compliments when he does the right thing, and don’t punish him when he’s wrong. This will make him more confident.
Or it might simply be about avoiding the stressful stimuli completely! If your dog is afraid of umbrellas, get wet! If your dog is afraid of public transport, take him in the car instead!
Additionally, make sure your dog has a 'safe zone' to retreat to in the house, a calm and quiet place where he won't be disturbed.
Consider the fact that your dog may be stressed because he is under-stimulated (physically and/or mentally). Make sure he's getting the exercise he needs with lots of physical activity and keep him entertained with plenty of training!
Nobody wants their dog to be stressed. But with a bit of work, you can help them feel more secure and happy!