When we're feeling stressed, it's pretty obvious to us because we're the ones feeling it. It's way more challenging to tell the signs of when your dog is stressed. Luckily, there are a few physical signs that could help tell you whether or not your dog is feeling stressed.
These physical signs in and of themselves are not an indicator of stress. They only indicate stress if they deviate from your dog's baseline disposition. You know your dog best, so if you have noticed changes on any of these dimensions then it might be a sign your dog is experiencing stress. Use these physical signs to compare against their usual behavior, and at the end, we'll offer some tips on how to ease your dog's stress.
Here are some physical signs to watch out for:
- Ear positioning - This one is quick to notice, but if your dog's ears are pinned back or completely flat against their head, there's a decent chance your dog is under stress.
- Unfocused whining or barking - Your dog might already be a barker, but if he is barking more than usual, for longer than usual or totally out of the blue, his barking and whining could be a way to alert you to his anxiety and stress.
- Aggression - When your dog is feeling stressed, he might become more agitated with other dogs or with humans. If he's pulling on his leash more, being more aggressive in the dog park or struggling in social situations, he might be lashing out of stress. Also, if you notice him scratching at furniture out of nowhere or becoming more destructive around the house, that's another indicator.
- Pacing - You might have a high energy dog to begin with, but if you notice she's having a harder time resting when indoors, it might be a sign she's stressed. If your dog is pacing back and forth, it's probably a signal that she can't settle down due to stress.
- Changes in appetite - You know your dog's exact meal time, portions and how excited (or not excited) they typically get about their meals. If you see a loss of appetite though, either less excitement or not eating all together, it's a decent indicator that your dog is feeling stressed or anxious.
- Tucked tail - The tucked tail is a classic, obvious sign of stress (typically anxiety). Additionally, if your dog's tail is sticking straight up , it could also be a sign of stress due to a social challenge or a sign of aggression.
- Excessive panting, sweating, drooling - When a dog is stressed, he will sometimes pant continuously and produce excess saliva. If you haven't just brought her back in from a bunch of exercise or if it's not an unusually hot day, then it's probably a sign of stress and her body temperature is increasing as she's getting stressed causing her to pant.
- Tense muscles - If you notice your dog getting stiff or freezing up, he's feeling stressed. It might be a response to a particular stressor in the moment, but it is typically a sign that he's shutting down mentally and can't handle the situation.
- Clinging - There are times when your dog is stressed and she just wants reassurance, so she might become overly clingy and seek to stay by your side. This is common during things like thunderstorms and fireworks, but excessive clinginess could also be a sign of chronic stress.
- Yawning - You'll want to look out for repeated yawns in a very short period of time. That's often a sign that your dog is feeling uncomfortable (it's something you sometimes see happen a lot at the vet's office)
So how can you help your dog if she is stressed?
Interestingly enough, a lot of the recommendations for easing your dog's stress focus on methods that are similar to how we practice self-care for ourselves. Our dogs are living beings who have a lot of the same basic needs that we do when they're feeling stressed. Here are some of our favorite methods for helping our dogs wade through stressful times:
Exercise - Just like us, dogs need regular, daily physical exercise to keep their minds and bodies clear. If your dog is more stressed than usual, maybe invest in more active playtime outdoors and commit to longer walks. She'll stop feeling so cooped up, get some air, stretch her legs and get quality time with you.
Create a safe space - We've talked a lot about the benefits of a safe space in the house that's entirely your dog's. The concept is reinforced here too. It's an amazingly easy way to create a sense of security and tranquility for your dog. Whether that's a corner of the house or a crate or his bed, you can reinforce this spot through training and your dog will start to associate this spot with calm and safety. Fill it with his favorite toys or blanket and make it super cozy and comfortable. That way, when he's stressed, he has a space in the house to anchor to.
Maintain calm energy - Your dog can pick up on how you're feeling, so if you're also stressed, he'll know it right away. Keep it cool, keep it calm, and show him that everything's okay and that you have his back. If you get upset along with him, it will just reaffirm that he should be stressed as well.
Try and figure out the source of the stress if you can - Was there a particular big event like a move or a breakup that could have triggered your dog's stress? Is she bored because she's spending more time alone indoors? Is she feeling frustrated? Trying to identify what's changed in your routine together and in her environment can help you better help her. You can then tailor your approach accordingly.
Talk to your vet - If signs of stress persist for several days, you'll want to talk to your vet to rule out any serious underlying health conditions that could be happening inside your dog causing him to stress out.