Some dogs are very expressive. They’re great communicators who are quick to tell you exactly how they’re feeling and what they want in terms you can understand. Other dogs don’t quite have strong communicative abilities, and their behavior leaves their owners confused about what might be going on.
If your dog’s behavior has been unusual lately, they may be exhibiting signs of stress. Stress affects humans and animals in similar ways and is often remedied through similar means. The biggest difference is in the way the signs present themselves.
Here’s how to tell if your dog may be dealing with stress.
Signs of Stress in Dogs
Stressed dogs often behave very differently from calm or excited dogs. If you know your dog very well, you’ll easily notice these changes in their behavior. If you’ve recently adopted a dog and you’re not sure how to interpret their behavior, here’s what you should look out for.
Changes in Facial Expressions
Dogs rarely show the whites of their eyes, but their eyes may widen when they’re stressed out or overstimulated. When this happens, they open their eyes the same way a person might when they’re trying to non-verbally signal for help. The whites of your dog’s eyes will become visible.
Dogs also rarely show their gums. Sometimes, showing their gums is a way to demonstrate aggression. If your dog’s gums are showing and they aren’t acting aggressively or playing rough, this may indicate stress.
A stressed dog’s ears may tuck back or point straight up. If this lasts for more than a few seconds in response to a stimulating event (like the doorbell ringing or a neighbor’s dog barking), it can be a sign of stress.
Licking can be a form of self-soothing. If your dog is obsessively grooming themselves or licking the carpet, this could be an attempt to self pacify through a stressful situation.
Some dogs may put their tail between their legs when they’re stressed or upset. This isn’t true for all dogs, though — it’s most likely to present in dogs with very soft temperaments. Other dogs may stiffen their posture due to increased muscle tension and stand very rigidly.
Some dogs are big talkers. They’ll bark, whine, or sing to communicate with their owners. If your dog isn’t usually very “talkative” but is suddenly barking or whining unexpectedly with no apparent trigger, they could be venting their stress and asking for your help.
Shaking, Shivering, or Trembling
If your dog is shaking or trembling and has no reason to feel cold, this is often a sign that something is amiss. This behavior can indicate a multitude of concerns, with stress merely being one concern on a very long list of concerns. Check your dog for a fever and monitor for other symptoms.
Call a vet if this behavior persists for more than a few minutes or occurs in conjunction with other symptoms such as lethargy or trouble breathing that may indicate a neurological issue, pain, or illness.
Common Causes of Stress in Dogs
Your dog is very sensitive to their environment. They’re very perceptive animals, and they have preferences for the way they like things. If something isn’t right, your dog will be quick to realize and respond.
Your Dog Picks Up on Your Mood
Your dog can tell when you’re stressed. You exhibit signs of stress that your dog can easily recognize. Body language, tone, and the volume of your voice can transcend language barriers between species. Not to mention, changes in your biochemistry may result in the release of certain scents, like adrenaline making you sweat, and your pup may pick up on this as their parent’s “stress” scent. If your dog can see that you’re stressed, your dog may be influenced by your mood.
Your Dog is Physically Uncomfortable
Although dogs are usually very good at masking discomfort, they’re also usually stressed out when they don’t feel well. If you believe your dog may be injured or ill, you should immediately seek help from your vet.
Your Dog’s Routine Has Changed
It takes dogs a long time to get used to something new. If you’ve moved, invited a new pet into the house, recently welcomed a baby, or drastically changed your personal schedule, your dog will take some time to get used to new dynamics. Try to maintain as much sameness as possible to reduce the stress load on your dog.
Your Dog Is Overstimulated
If your dog is confronted by new people, new animals, or a new place, they may not know how to react. There’s a lot to process, and attempting to sift through new information may be a stressful experience for your dog.
Your Dog Is Bored or Antsy
Dogs need to expend a lot of energy to stay healthy. They also need mental stimulation to be happy. If they don’t know what to do with themselves and feel cooped up most of the time, stress is a natural result of their circumstances.
Your Dog Doesn’t Like Loud Noises
Many dogs experience environmental distress as a result of loud noises. Sometimes, you can control these noises. Turning down the TV or the music can help. You can’t turn down a thunderstorm or ask your neighborhood to stop lighting off fireworks on Independence Day or New Year’s Eve. These loud disruptions can cause temporary stress for your dog.
You Adopted a Dog with Trauma
Dogs can develop post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD isn’t uncommon in former working dogs and military dogs. They’ve likely been exposed to a lot of traumatic events, and they carry those experiences even after they’ve retired. Certain things may remind them of traumatic situations.
Dogs with post-traumatic stress disorder require the care of a specialist. Since dogs can’t use techniques like meditation or talk therapy and they’re unable to control their own environments, the help of a specialist is often necessary to help your dog learn to feel calm and understand that they’re safe.
How To Help a Stressed Dog
If your dog is stressed out, finding a solution should be close to the top of your priority list. Frequent stress is bad for your dog’s health, both mentally and physically.
First, Consult With a Vet
If it isn’t obvious what’s causing your dog’s stress and you can’t easily pacify your dog within a few minutes, you need to take your dog to the vet. If the stress is recurrent despite the short-term success of your attempts to soothe your dog, this also warrants a trip to the vet.
Make Your Home a Happy Place
Make sure your dog has plenty of toys and room to exercise. Give your dog time to slowly adapt to any changes you make to your household routine, and make introductions to new people and pets slowly.
Make sure your dog knows you’re always there to give them comfort and attention. Your dog may be missing you through the day. Play with your dog, cuddle with your dog, and take them for plenty of walks. This bonding time can help your dog build trust with you and see you as a source of happiness and security, not to mention giving them an outlet for pent-up energy.
Provide Your Dog with Holistic Support
CBD works to soothe pets. VETCBD Hemp’s American-grown hemp-derived CBD tincture can help to ease symptoms of environmental distress. If temporary routine changes or natural events like thunderstorms are hard for your dog to cope with, CBD can help to keep them calm until things get back to normal.
Yes, dogs can 'catch' their owners' emotions | National Geographic
How to get your dog into a routine | Dogs Trust
Dogs and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) | American Kennel Club