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5 signs of stress in dogs

White and orange shiba inu advice
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In a dream world, every dog is the untroubled bundle of joy that is described on the box he came in. But sadly, some of our beloved fluffy ones become stressed more easily than others

By G. John Cole

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 pupper. 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

Your dog will probably exhibit more than one sign of stress at a time. If you notice any of these most common stress signals in your dog, you should follow the advice below.

Growling or whimpering

There are many different vocal sounds your fluffy one may make when he’s stressed. Some of them he might make for other reasons, so try to learn to interpret his feelings.

If his barking becomes higher- or lower-pitched, it suggests that he’s really getting serious about whatever he was barking about in the first place. Or if he barks automatically at any new stimulus. He is on guard for some reason.

Growling and snarling are other 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.

Uncomfortable movements

Dogs have many different physical movements that they use when they nervous. Some are defensive and some are submissive.

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.

Anxious body posture

‘His tail’s between his legs’ is a metaphor that we use in daily lives, which comes from the behaviour of dogs. He may bow his head at the same time. It’s a kind of apology or submission to your authority.

“In wolves, juveniles first begin to display the apology bow as they begin their social integration,” says Nathan H. Lents, Ph.D., author of author of Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, in Country Living. “Dogs have inherited this behaviour and they will use it after any kind of infraction that results in being punished.”

But if he stands up stiff and puts his tail between his legs, or his hackles rise at the same time, he is being a bit more defensive. He may also crouch when he’s afraid. This is that weird thing dogs do where they look like they’re lying on the floor but hovering above it at the same time.

Neurotic behaviour while you’re away

Dogs don’t especially like to be alone, but he should be able to cope with it for a few hours. If his behaviour while you’re away is odd or destructive, your absence could be making him nervous.

If he barks, whines, or howls when you’re not there, he may be scared or lonely. Destructive behaviour or toileting indoors are other symptoms that all is not well when you’re not around.

Strange faces

Your dog’s face is pretty expressive. Perhaps that’s why we attribute a few too many human traits to our canine chums! But it is certainly possible to read his mood from the way he looks.

If he 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.

Signs of stress in dogs: what to do

It’s great that you’ve learned to recognise your dog is stressed. It’s important that you develop trust with your dog from an early stage so that you can work with him when he’s nervous. But what should you do to calm a stressed dog?

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 adding or removing an element from your home or routine. If he seems a nervous character in general, you can make your home a calmer place by giving him a space away from the bustle of family life. That way he can come and go as he pleases, without feeling trapped by noisy toddlers and all their sudden movements! You might also keep him away from loud noises such as cars or fireworks.

Nobody wants their precious doggo to be stressed. But just like people, with a bit of work you can bring him back down to Earth so you can all take it easy.