Many of our dogs live without worry, with no responsibilities other than sleeping, eating, and playing all day. But this idyllic lifestyle doesn’t mean that dogs are immune to stress and anxiety. Dogs can experience stress whenever they encounter situations that are outside of their normal routine or are otherwise frightening to them.
Most dogs are able to shake off this stress quickly, but if your pet is experiencing constant stress and anxiety, it can have serious repercussions on their mental and physical health. Dogs can’t speak up for themselves to tell their owners what they’re worried about. It falls to owners to be able to spot the signs of a stressed dog.
Thankfully, dogs communicate mainly through body language, so there can be some pretty clear indications that your dog is stressed. However, some of the signs can be very subtle, so knowing about them is key to keeping your dog happy and healthy.
What Can Cause Stress in Dogs?
Dogs are individuals and respond to situations in a wide variety of ways. Some dogs are more easygoing than others and will be better able to handle unexpected or stressful situations. Most of the dogs that you can get from the best dog breeders will be even-tempered and able to handle stress on their own.
There are, however, some things that will almost always cause some degree of stress in dogs.
- Disruption in the daily routine
- Boredom and lack of mental stimulation
- Loud noises
- Past traumatic events
We must also not forget the effect that the owner’s mood can have on their dog. Dogs are social animals and are always concerned with how their family members are doing. Experts have found that dogs tend to mirror their owner’s stress levels. So if you’re feeling stressed, it’s likely that your dog has picked up on this and is feeling stressed for you.
Signs That Your Dog Is Stressed
Pacing and shaking
We said before that dogs could shake off stress, and they actually do so regularly. Shaking is usually one way for a dog to relieve stress – just watch your dog when they go to the vet or the groomer. Even if they’re usually scared while on the examination or grooming table, they’ll shake themselves once they’re put back down on the ground.
But excessive shaking and restless pacing can be a sign that your dog has been stressed for an extended time. The pacing usually indicates that the dog is looking for an escape or relief from the stress they’re experiencing.
When dogs experience something unexpected or frightening, they’ll usually freeze in place as they assess the situation. This is a natural instinct for many animals when they feel the need to be cautious. If you and your dog are just going about your day and they suddenly freeze, they probably aren’t just being stubborn. Something has freaked them out!
Excessive whining or barking
Many dogs vocalize on a regular basis, but there’s typically a clear reason why. If your dog is whining to themselves or barking non-stop, they could be feeling stressed. Whining and barking this way can be a self-soothing action, or they might be trying to get your attention because they need help.
Dogs that are stressed can sometimes try to focus on self-soothing actions or simply ignore the thing that is causing them stress. This is their way of getting away from an unpleasant situation and returning to a sense of normalcy. Your dog may try to lick or groom itself or may turn away and look at something else.
This is usually their way of managing their own reaction before they start to get upset. It’s normal for dogs to do this, but there is usually a cause for the stress. Don’t try to force the issue on dogs that are showing signs of displacement behavior or avoidance. It’s best to leave them be or take them away from the stressful situation.
Dogs that are excited to play will usually show their teeth. However, when their lips curl and they show their gums, that’s a sign that they’re starting to get agitated. This is a clear sign in dog body language – “back off before I get mad.” It’s important to notice this precursor to aggression because it can happen quickly. The lip curl can become a snarl, and that means the dog is ready to snap if it’s bothered again.
Chewing is a self-soothing behavior that most dogs display. Almost every dog has their own favorite chew toy or bone, and that’s what they use to calm themselves down and relax. But when the chewing starts happening to items that are typically off-limits, then your dog has started destructive chewing.
This behavior is usually linked to frustration and boredom, as the dog is looking for an outlet for these feelings and their usual chew toy just isn’t enough. Dogs that experience separation anxiety tends to go through bouts of destructive chewing.
Lack of appetite
Dogs thrive on routine, and that includes their feeding schedule. It’s normal for dogs to eat within 5 to 10% of their average food intake every day, so when they suddenly lose their appetite, it can be a cause for concern. Dogs that are stressed can avoid eating even their favorite treats.
It may be that your dog is suffering from an upset stomach if they’re simply eating less. However, food refusal can be a serious medical issue, so contact your vet if you see sudden big changes in your dog’s appetite.