What do you do when you get back home one day, and your dog is not as excited to see you? What do you do when he or she won’t play with you, eat or act healthy? Dealing with a stressed dog is one of the worst feelings because you have no idea what is bothering your four-legged friend.
Since we also experience stress, you can relate to the kind of emotions your pet could be experiencing. Some of the behaviors they adapt to reflect stress also mirror some of the things we also experience. As a result, many dog stress symptoms can be easy to identify.
It’s kind of like babies; sometimes you have no idea why they constantly cry and most times you don't know what to do.
Just like humans, dogs are affected by anxiety or stress. Sometimes it could be as a result of seasonal activities and all the fireworks, crowded parties, and sometimes if you are stressed out the stress is passed down to the dog. So how do you know when your dog is stressed?
What Are the Signs Your Dog is Stressed?
If you watch your dog carefully, you might be able to decode your dog’s language. Paying attention to their change in behavior will allow you to help out your dog before they get overwhelmed.
Here are 12 signs your dog is stressed out:
1. Diminished Appetite
Unlike us, dogs don't randomly decide to go on diets or fasts. If your dog suddenly loses interest in food or starts to eat small meals only, consider visiting a veterinarian. Diminished appetites in dogs is a sign of an underlying health condition or a sign of stress.
If your dog develops anorexia, it will cause them to refuse eating which could result in drastic weight loss or cause nutritional deficiencies very quickly. It is important not to delay the visit. The sooner you visit the veterinary clinic, the better.
2. Avoidance or Displacement Behavior
Dogs tend to escape when faced with unpleasant situations by focusing on something else. Some lick their genitals, sniff the ground or only turn away. Some dogs just like some alone time.
However, if your dog suddenly begins to isolate itself from other people and animals, it could be as a result of anxiety and stress. Take caution and visit the veterinarian, and they'll be able to identify why the dog is behaving strangely.
3. Ears Pinned Back
The position of your dog’s ears can help you determine if they're dealing with stress or anxiety. A stressed dog pins his or her ears back. Unfortunately, if your dog has floppy ears, observing any different movements or positions can be difficult.
4. Change in Physical Activity
Different breeds of dogs react differently to stressful conditions. Some go into a state of avoidance, and others become hyperactive. If you notice your dog acting defensively or being hyperactive, look for other signs of stress to be sure your dog is anxious.
If your dog is sleeping more than his or her usual sleeping schedule or seems overly lethargic, speak with the vet. Lethargy is the first symptom that your dog is either injured, sick or traumatized.
6. Excessive Panting
When your dog is excited, hot or energetic, the typical response is panting. However, if your dog has not been in a vigorous exercise, then it should not be panting.
Dogs use panting as a cooling-off mechanism if they have chronic illnesses like breathing disorders or heart failure. If they were involved in an accident, they could be breathing heavily from the injury.
7. Lip Licking, Drooling, and Yawning
When they are bored or tired, dogs yawn. They also yawn when they are stressed. Stressed yawns are more intense and prolonged than a sleepy yawn. If there is no food involved, lip licking and drooling are also a sign of stress.
Dogs tend to lick their lips when they feel threatened around someone or something, or when they feel uncomfortable. It’s an attempt to prevent their aggression from swelling up. If you notice any of these signs, look around and identify the source of stress and get rid of it immediately.
8. Change in Body Posture
Dogs should bear even weight on all four legs. If you notice your dog is shifting weight to his or her rear legs or is cowering and it has no orthopedic problems, they could be exhibiting signs of stress. When dogs are afraid or anxious, they also tuck their tails or become rigid.
9. Whale Eyes
A dog often makes whale eyes when they're being hugged too much or too hard by a child or when it’s uncomfortable being touched. This could be a sign that your dog is worried or stressed about an overly-affectionate child. In cases like this, just divert the child’s attention from the dog.
10. Changes in Body Function
Dogs also get a sudden urge to go to the bathroom when they are nervous. Don't confuse this with them marking their territory. If your dog urinates every time after meeting a new canine friend, it could be to mark their territories or a reaction to the strain. They may also reduce food intake or lose bowel function which are also stress indicators.
11. Excessive Barking
Dogs bark during or after a loud noise, and it becomes difficult to calm them. It’s a sign that they are scared or feeling anxious.
Just like humans, dogs can start shedding when they're stressed or anxious. It is less noticeable in extreme settings like visiting a new park or the veterinary clinic.
How to Calm A Stressed Dog
Once you learn some of these signs, it becomes easy to tell if your dog is stressed. Once you identify some of the dog stress symptoms, you can help calm it down.
Here are nine ways to calm a stressed dog:
1. Minimize the Source of Stress and Anxiety
If a particular person is making the dog anxious, take the dog into another room. If there are fireworks outside, turn up the music to mask the sound of the fireworks and close the blinds. If there is a frightening sound, cover the dog with a light blanket to help muffle the sound.
Depending on what is frightening your dog, create a safe space for them. With time, your dog will develop their own "safe place" in your home to go to when they're stressed out.
2. Pet Your Dog
Dogs enjoy different kinds of petting. Some dogs like smooth and gentle strokes, others prefer hardy squeezes and pats. The most common type of petting is the gentle sweep of the back. Slowly follow the dog’s spine to its hips from the top of the head. Repeat it to calm the dog.
3. Distract Your Dog
It helps to give your dog something to focus on. Distract your dog from negative stimuli by giving them a playful one like a fun toy. Looks for toys specifically made for mental stimulation like this ball on a rope. It's specifically made for dogs with separation anxiety but can be great for stressed dogs as well.
Dog stress toys will allow your dog to associate the stressful situations with a fun experience. When they get used it, they won’t be affected by the negative stimuli.
4. Use a Dog Anxiety Vest
The anxiety vest is worn over the dog’s torso. It applies pleasure when the dog gets anxious or nervous. Just like the baby interprets swaddling, the dog also interprets the pressure the same way.
It has proven to be very comforting for dogs. It also helps minimize the dog’s involuntary shivering and assist the dog feel calmer. Check out our roundup of the best anxiety vests for dogs for more suggestions.
5. Play Classic Music
Playing classical music quietly will soothe your dog.
7. Mask Your Reactions
Dogs mimic our own emotions. They see themselves as a member of your pack. If you are anxious, fearful or stressed, the dog senses it, and it gets passed down to them. Dogs adopt the same emotional state as their owners.
The best thing is not to let the emotions show. Take deep breaths, counting and exhaling slowly and deliberately. If you react every time you hear loud noises or thunder, your dog will think it’s something to fear.
8. Zylkene Supplement
Zylkene is a supplement that contains a protein that is extracted from milk that acts as a calming agent. It is prescribed to be given twice daily, and it has shown to calm dogs during trips to the vet, during a thunderstorm or stays at the kennel.
If your dog gets particularly stressed or anxious and your vet recommends it, consider giving Zylkene a try. You can order it on Amazon.
9. Pheromone Diffusers
These are chemical messengers given off by the dog’s mother when it’s nursing to reassure the puppy of safety and security.
There are synthetic versions of the chemical known as Dog Appeasing Pheromones. They are available at pet stores or online. Attach them to the dog’s collar or plug them into the wall and they will calm your dog.
Diagnosis of Stress in Dogs
Taking your dog to the veterinarian allows him or her to rule out other conditions that might be causing such behaviors, like thyroid or brain disease, which can be caused by exposure to toxic substances like lead. Blood tests rule out such possibilities.
The veterinarian can prescribe medication for anxiety, phobia or simple fears. The vet will also make recommendations that will suit your dog depending on the triggers and types of behavioral techniques that you can use to alleviate your dog’s stress and anxieties.
You know your dog better than anyone else does. Over time, you can distinguish your dog’s change of behavior just by learning their demeanor. Know what triggers some of these signs in your dog.
If need be, get a behavior consultant, not a dog trainer, who will work both for you and your dog. Finding the right person to assist will help you be more relaxed. A trained consultant will assess your dog and give you in depth alternatives that will help alleviate your dog’s stress.