How can I tell if my dog is stressed?

A dog lying down

Just like humans, dogs can get stressed. It generally happens when dogs are faced with difficult situations. However, it isn’t always the case. While it can sometimes be difficult to decipher what is causing your dog to feel stressed, you can easily recognize some of the symptoms and act accordingly. In this article, we will go over a few signs of stress in dogs and things that you can do to help your dog feel better.

Recognizing when a dog is feeling stressed

Just like us, dogs can feel stressed and behave in certain ways when they are feeling this way.

Identify changes in their habits

Usually, it is rather easy to recognize when a dog is stressed. Base it off of your knowledge of your pet and their habits. Knowing your pet’s personality well allows you to identify situations when your dog isn’t reacting how they normally would. For example, if your dog usually enjoys going for walks but refuses to move, it could be a sign of stress. Other types of behavior include not welcoming you when you return home or refusing to eat.

Dogs and cats like to have routines. If your dog suddenly breaks their routine, it is most likely because something is bothering them. The cause can be internal (wound, digestive issues, etc.) or external (a loud noise, a phobia).

Physical manifestation of stress

You might also notice that your dog is stressed if they are agitated and are having a hard time calming down. They might pant when they are at rest as fast as they would after an exercising session. They might even salivate excessively or become aggressive. Depending on how serious the digestive issues are, these can have consequences on their stress and cause gas and diarrhea.

If your dog loses fur outside of molting periods, it could be a sign that your dog is stressed. To determine whether or not your dog is feeling anxious, you can also verify the position of your dog’s ears. If they are often lying back, your dog is finding themselves in an uncomfortable situation and require your attention. 

Psychological symptoms

In addition to physical issues, a stressed dog can also behave strangely. In some cases, dogs could be less attentive to their owners’ commands and everything around them. Instead, they will be focused on the cause of their anxiety and will not be able to calm themselves. They could also become hyperactive. For example, they might bark for no reason to try to get your attention. Additionally, they could have disproportionate reactions when faced with banal situations. In other words, they might act scared or aggressive when being petted or when someone gets up. 

In the worst cases, they could also hurt themselves. This is notably the case when a dog is anticipating being abandoned and gets stressed. 

You might also like reading this article: Why is my dog hiding?

A dog barking
Your dog could bark for no reason in an effort to get your attention.

Sources of stress

Several things can stress a pet and be the source of tension or anxiety for them. 

A change of environment

Our furry friends are very attached to their way of life and a change in their environment such as a move can greatly destabilize them. Furthermore, noises can also scare your dog if they are too loud (fireworks, a car horn, thunder). It is important to identify the sounds that stress out your dog so that you can be there and protect them. 

A smell that your dog is very little or not at all familiar with can also trigger their anxiety. Even though it might not always be possible to find the cause, it is best to observe your dog to try to understand the origin of their stress.

Verify that you didn’t introduce any new furniture or clothes to your home that could have an unpleasant odor for your dog. 

The departure or arrival of a member of the family

Every dog has their own personality. While some are friendly, forcing an interaction with a dog when they are not in the mood is not the best approach. This can even be a source of stress for them. The arrival of a new pet, a child, or another new person can cause stress if they are not used to it.

The anticipation of a separation with a member of the family can cause a dog to feel particularly stressed. Whether it be for a short or long period of time, this can very often become the cause of stress for dogs. 

Body language or voice

Dogs are used to their owners and know how to perceive changes in your voice or in your behavior. This can make them anxious if they do not know how to react. For example, a command that is said more sharply than usual or aggressive gestures can make them afraid of you.

A pathology or phobia

It is possible for dogs to be stressed on a regular basis. It could be because they belong to a breed that is naturally stressed or afraid. This is often the case for Spanish Water Dogs and Shetland Sheepdogs. A recurrent anxiety can also be a hereditary trait. Notably, if the parents of the dog were also fearful or if they belong to a breed that is anxious by nature. 

Your dog may be suffering from a phobia. Yes, like humans, dogs can develop phobias that can have detrimental effects on them. You will find, for example, the fear of heights, the fear of loud noises like fireworks or gunshots, and even the fear of strangers.

Two dogs hiding under a blanket
Your dog may be suffering from a phobia. 

Help your dog cope with stress

Having a stressed dog is an unpleasant situation. However, it is very possible to solve these issues with a vet, with a behaviorist, with a few changes in your daily life, or with some learning. 

Consult a vet

When your pet is stressed, it should be taken seriously. It deserves your attention since it could result in physical or psychological repercussions. The best choice, if you are not entirely sure what the cause of the anxiety is from, is to consult a vet. They will be able to tell you if your dog is stressed or if the behavior is linked to a wound or another cause. In addition to a treatment, your dog will be able to be followed by a behaviorist veterinarian that will allow you to act on the long term. 

Create a stable environment

Assure yourself that your dog is not missing anything. In order to feel happy and not stressed, your dog need to feels safe and it depends on you to give them what they need. Food, a home, activities, love—all of this is necessary for your dog to feel good. If it is not the case, your dog may suffer and start to show signs of stress, agitation, and in the worst case, depression. 

Do not neglect physical activities. Your dog really needs to play and go out on walks. This will allow them to get rid of the stress that they have accumulated or even prevent it from even appearing. 

Prepare your dog for unexpected situations

Voyages, children, or a move—our lives have many twists and turns. Unfortunately, once dogs become adults, they have a hard time when faced with events that they do not understand. This is especially the case if they were not exposed to them beforehand. If your dog is still young, do not hesitate to confront your dog little by little with this type of situation. This will allow your dog, once they become adults, to be more sociable, to not be sad when you are not home, or to simply not stress when they do not know how to react in exceptional situations. 

If your dog is already an adult, treat the situation as normally as possible. This will show your dog that there is nothing to worry about.