Signs Your Canine Companion is Feeling Stressed and How to Help Them Find Relief

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Stress is an all-too-familiar word that encompasses feelings of pressure and strain. Just like humans, dogs can experience stress too. While they may not express it in the same way we do, it’s important to recognize the signs and alleviate their stress. So, how can you tell if your four-legged friend is feeling anxious? Let’s take a closer look at some common indicators and effective ways to help them find relief.

Subtle Signs of Canine Anxiety

Pacing or Shaking

Have you ever noticed your dog shaking after a bath or a romp in the grass? While this can be normal behavior, shaking in stressful situations is a different story. For instance, many dogs shake when visiting the vet. Similarly, pacing is another sign of agitation. If your dog walks in circles or follows a repetitive path in the exam room, stress may be the underlying cause.

Whining or Barking

Just like humans, dogs use vocalization as a form of self-expression. However, when under stress, dogs may intensify their whining or barking to get your attention or self-soothe.

Yawning, Drooling, and Licking

Yawning is not just a sign of tiredness or boredom in dogs; it can also indicate stress. A stress-related yawn is more prolonged and intense than a sleepy yawn. Additionally, dogs may drool and lick excessively when they’re nervous.

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Changes in Eyes and Ears

Stressed dogs, much like stressed humans, may have dilated pupils and blink rapidly. They may also widen their eyes, showing more white than usual, giving them a startled appearance. Look out for ears that are usually relaxed or alert but are pinned back against the head.

Changes in Body Posture

Typically, dogs bear even weight on all four legs. However, a stressed dog may shift their weight to their rear legs or cower. When scared, they might tuck their tails or become rigid.

Shedding

Stressed show dogs often “blow their coat” in the show ring, and dogs tend to shed more when they’re anxious, even in everyday settings like visiting new places or the vet’s office.

Panting

Panting is a normal response in dogs when they’re hot, excited, or stressed. If your dog is panting excessively without having engaged in exercise, it could be a sign of stress.

Changes in Bodily Functions

Similar to humans, nervous dogs may feel a sudden urge to relieve themselves. For example, if your dog urinates shortly after meeting a new canine friend, it could be a combination of marking territory and reacting to the strain. Furthermore, refusal of food and loss of bowel control can also indicate stress.

Avoidance or Displacement Behavior

When faced with an unwelcome situation, dogs may engage in avoidance behavior, focusing on something else. They might sniff the ground, lick their genitals, or simply turn away. While it may seem impolite, this behavior is far better than aggression. If your dog avoids interaction with other dogs or people, respect their choice and do not force the issue.

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Hiding or Escape Behavior

As an extension of avoidance, some tense dogs seek refuge behind their owners. They may nudge their owners to prompt them to move along or engage in diversion activities like digging or circling. Finding a safe place to hide, such as behind a tree or parked car, is another common escape behavior.

Helping Your Dog Navigate Stressful Situations

To effectively differentiate stress signs from normal behavior, it’s crucial to be familiar with your dog’s regular demeanor. This way, you can quickly recognize if they’re exhibiting stress-related behaviors, such as lip-licking due to anxiety or a desire for treats.

When you notice your dog is stressed, the first step is to remove them from the stressor and find a quiet place for them to regroup. While it’s tempting to shower them with excessive comfort, it’s best to make them earn any affection or treats by performing an activity, like sitting. Routine commands like sit, down, and heel can provide a sense of normalcy and comfort to a worried dog.

If your dog consistently experiences stress, it’s advisable to consult a veterinarian. They can rule out any underlying medical issues and may refer you to a trainer or veterinary behaviorist for further assessment. In some cases, anxiety-reducing medications may be prescribed if appropriate.

Exercise is a fantastic stress reducer for both humans and dogs. Engaging in physical activities like walking or playing fetch allows both you and your dog to release tension. Additionally, it’s beneficial to provide your dog with a safe place in your home where they can escape anxious situations. Everyone enjoys a calm retreat, after all.

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Lastly, remember that stress is not always a bad thing. Fear, a stress-related emotion, prompts us to avoid potentially dangerous situations. So, stress can actually serve as a protector. Nonetheless, since stress is a part of everyday life for both us and our furry companions, it’s essential to learn how best to navigate and alleviate it.

Karen's Kollars