Ways to Recognize Stress in Dogs To Help Them Through a Tough Time

Each of us is affected differently by stress. Some of us can speak too fast, sweat and shake, or snap at our friends or relatives. Others can become more quiet and withdrawn, eat more than normal, or begin to sleep less. Stress affects all of us in a number of different ways, both psychologically and physically, and it can also affect our dogs in a similar way.

Although stress is not a positive emotion, it means that your body is working properly, and all animals will feel stress from time to time. However, if stress levels remain uncontrolled and elevated over an extended period of time, dogs may develop anxiety disorders and, as a result, undesirable behaviours. Furthermore, chronic stress in dogs can weaken the immune system, resulting in a decline in overall health and quality of life.

By learning to recognise stress in dogs, you can not only understand when your dog is nervous, but also recognise and prevent anxiety causes in your pet. Using this awareness, you can employ soothing strategies to combat and eliminate rising stress levels.

Here, at the Pet Embassy, have compiled “Ways to Recognize Stress in Dogs To Help Them Through a Tough Time” to help you identify stress in your dog and how to deal with stress.

Ways to Recognize Stress in Dogs To Help Them Through a Tough Time
Beautiful close up! Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

Common Stress Triggers in Dogs

Stress can be caused by any condition, environment, entity, or being that disrupts the body’s normal state of functioning.

Stress triggers can be divided into three categories:

  • Environmental
  • Social
  • Physical

When dogs are exposed to one or more of the types of stressors, they can feel stress, in the same way that if a human was to be exposed to some stressors they too would feel stress. The following are some of the most common stressors in dogs:

Loud Noises

Noise is one of the most common environmental stressors in dogs. Dogs’ hearing is particularly acute. They have a much broader range of hearing and can sense much louder sounds than humans. As a result, sudden and loud noises can be very disturbing, particularly to a dog hearing them for the first time.

This specific canine stress trigger is heightened if the loud noises continue to be heard over time, as opposed to a single loud blast or bang. This is why fireworks and thunderstorms will make our pets nervous as they are loud and over a long period of time. The length of time can add to the tension, and the level of stress can continue to increase until your dog is so tense that it can take hours, if not days, to recover.

Unfamiliar Scents

Unfamiliar scents are another common source of stress in dogs. Canines have an amazing sense of smell, much as they have incredible hearing. Their incredible noses allow them to detect the scent of a new human or animal in their environment long after the individual or animal has left. This can be disturbing for them because they are territorial creatures.

Dogs can also detect stress pheromones from other animals, including cats and humans, thanks to their keen sense of smell. This can be especially troublesome in a veterinary clinic, where many animals visit and undergo some degree of stress.

New Places

It is often normal for dogs to be stressed when they are introduced to a new environment. Changes in their routine surroundings, such as moving to a new home, visiting a new dog park, or staying at a new boarding facility, can make pets feel anxious. Therefore, we recommend easing them into their new environment or if you are adjusting your routine to not do it too drastically. Car drives fall into this category as well, since the interior of the car may be a new world, and the car is continuously travelling through changing environments with different scents, making it difficult to adapt.

Meeting New People

Meeting new people or animals is a common source of social stress. Some dogs are very friendly and enjoy meeting new people, while others may be more shy or defensive. This is a common occurrence in puppies that were not properly socialised or dogs who were potentially neglected in a previous home.

Separation

Separation from owners or housemates is another common cause of social stress. Dogs are pack animals, and their humans and housemates are members of the pack. Being separated from their perceived pack can cause tension, and the longer the separation continues, the greater the level of anxiety—resulting in a very stressed-out dog.

Physical Discomfort

Hunger, thirst, sickness, and pain are all physical stressors. Social pain, like human discomfort, induces tension in dogs.

Ways to Recognize Stress in Dogs To Help Them Through a Tough Time
A lovely puppy yawns. Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Tips for Recognizing Stress in Dogs

There are several signs and indications that a dog is anxious. Until you start looking for signs of stress in your dog, you should first learn your dog’s usual body language and develop a baseline for comparison.

A relaxed dog has a soft face and body, as well as ears that are half way down their head and forward. They may be panting softly or breathing through their nose. Their tail will be kept at the same level as their body and will be wagging softly. When given tasty sweets, they would gladly embrace them.

However, fear signals in dogs vary. The following are several ways to spot the most common symptoms of a stressed dog:

Vocalization

Whining is a common sign of stress in dogs. When dogs are uncomfortable, they will complain, and many will whine during a stressful event. Barking that is unusual, such as barking at nothing in particular or barking incessantly, is often a sign of stress in dogs.

Panting

Dogs pant to release heat, but they may also pant if they are too excited or nervous, just as humans can hyperventilate if they become overwhelmed. If your dog is panting heavily but hasn’t been running or playing, it’s a sign that they’re stressed.

Shaking

Full-body tremors are an obvious indicator of a stressed-out dog. A stress trigger will activate the body’s “flight or battle” response, causing a dog to shake all over in anticipation.

Pacing

The inability to sit or stand still is a symptom of stress in dogs, just as it is in humans. When left alone, dogs will regularly pace around an exam room while waiting for the doctor or walk in circles around the sofa at home.

Hiding or Escaping

In a tense environment, dogs will often hide behind their owners, slink under a table, or cower behind a chair. To stop the unpleasant situation, some will even try to chew off a leash and escape. Dogs suffering from separation anxiety can attempt to escape by chewing through a door or their kennel in order to rejoin their pack.

Aggressive Behavior

When stressed or nervous, even the friendliest dog may become hostile. Usually, they will send a soft growl as a warning, signalling to anyone approaching that they are anxious or threatened. If the growl is ignored, they can attempt to snap or bite in an unusual manner.

Destructive Behavior

Chewing on the sofa, tearing up the furniture, shredding their bedding, or scratching up a door are all common signs of stress in dogs, as chewing can be a self-soothing mechanism and an outlet for nervous dogs. Escape actions may be followed by damage to the interior of doors or windows.

Yawning

Repeated yawning, or yawns that are prolonged or drawn out, may indicate a stressed dog. While it is unknown why a stressed out dog yawns, it is thought to have soothing effects. If a dog yawns without any signs of sleepiness, it is most definitely a stressed-dog yawn.

Drooling or Licking

Another self-soothing method used by dogs is licking. They will escape the situation by licking themselves and focusing their attention elsewhere. When dogs are nervous, they drool excessively. Dogs that salivate rapidly when there is no food nearby have most likely been subjected to a stress stimulus.

Abnormal Eye or Ear Position 

When a dog draws back their eyelids so much that the whites of their eyes are visible, they are clearly stressed or afraid. Another indication that they are threatened or nervous is when they pull their ears back and flat against their head.

Tense Lips

Relaxed dogs have relaxed lips and can even tend to smile, while stressed-out dogs have tight lips that are drawn back. Some nervous dogs will also raise their lips, exposing their teeth, to indicate that they are unhealthy and anxious.

Abnormal Posture

The all-too-common tail tucked between the legs is a dead giveaway that you’re dealing with a stressed-out dog. Puppies who are nervous can also curl tightly into a foetal position or crouch low to the ground. Other dogs can become extremely tense and rigid while remaining upright, a condition known as “fear freezing.”

Diarrhoea 

Diarrhoea is a common symptom of stressed dogs. Often the diarrhoea contains blood or mucous, which may be concerning for pet owners. Veterinarians refer to this as stress colitis. It’s a normal occurrence, but we’re not sure why stress causes large intestine inflammation.

Accidents Inside the House

Although there are various reasons why a potty-trained pet can begin to have accidents in the house, one of the most common is stress. Dogs, like some humans, may be nervous urinators, and under intense stress or fear, they can even lose control of their bowels.

Shedding

Stressed or overly excited dogs will “blow their hair,” or begin shedding excessively. After each patient leaves, veterinary exam rooms are often covered with fur. You could be dealing with a stressed-out dog if you find yourself sweeping or vacuuming more than normal.

Decreased Appetite

Dogs are frequently food-motivated animals, which makes rewards an effective training tool. Refusal of food by a dog who is known to “eat something” may indicate that your dog is stressed.

Of course, there are many other reasons why a pet may reject food, so contact your veterinarian if your dog’s aversion to food persists.

Ways to Recognize Stress in Dogs To Help Them Through a Tough Time
Am I seeing double? Photo by Sebastian Coman Travel from Pexels

How to Help a Dog Deal With Stress

The most important thing to consider when soothing a nervous dog is to stay calm yourself! Dogs may sense your discomfort and can believe that their reaction is justified if you are also stressed.

Aside from remaining calm, here are several suggestions for reducing your dog’s stress:

Remove the Stress Trigger

Begin by removing your pet from the stressor (or vice versa) as soon as you see signs of stress. The earlier the cause of stress is removed, the easier it will be to return your dog to a normal state of calm.

Since stress is an implicit emotion—your dog did not want to be stressed—they might be unable to actively listen to you before their stress levels begin to decrease. Look for a calm, quiet location where your dog can begin to relax.

Don’t Over Comfort

Avoid over-comforting a depressed dog to maintain normal behaviour. Good reinforcement, such as extra petting or rewards, may lead to an improvement in this activity in the future. Instead, help your dog refocus and return to a more conscious state of mind by running over familiar commands like “down” and “down” and rewarding them generously when they obey.

Help Your Dog Get More Exercise

Increasing exercise is a great first step in preventing stress causes from impacting your pet. Pets that are not properly exercised can have pent-up energy and become easily irritated in stressful circumstances. Furthermore, endorphins released during exercise have the same stress-relieving effects as they do in humans.

Try Slow, Controlled Behavior Training

Increasing exercise is an excellent first step in preventing stress from affecting your pet. Pets that are not regularly exercised will accumulate pent-up energy and become easily agitated in stressful situations. Furthermore, endorphins released during exercise have the same stress-relieving properties as do endorphins in humans.

Consider Calming Products

Finally, there are many soothing supplements that can be easily applied to a dog’s diet, as well as calming items that can help pets de-stress if they have a traumatic episode. If you’re looking for soothing supplements or products, talk to your veterinarian. If your dog is especially nervous, your veterinarian can prescribe an anti-anxiety drug to help keep him calm. 

Talk to Your Veterinarian

Working with your veterinarian is, of course, the most important method for assisting a dog that regularly experiences elevated stress levels. Together, you can rule out any medical causes of stress, choose the appropriate soothing supplements and aids, and include any prescription drugs if needed. Stress drugs are not always sedatives, and they are not always appropriate in the long run. Consider them a stopgap measure before your pet responds to a change in the world, such as a new baby or another pet.

Remember that it is difficult to fully eliminate all stress from a dog’s life, but with patience and time, you can easily increase your dog’s quality of life by understanding and handling their stress.

If you found our answers to “Ways to Recognize Stress in Dogs To Help Them Through a Tough Time” helpful please let us know in the comment section below.

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