Many times, we try to guess what our dogs are thinking and how they might be feeling. As a dog owner, how often have you just sat to the side and watched your dog do his dog things, living in his dog world? Do you wonder what it's like to be a dog and what dog stress is?
We sit down and watch our dogs and wonder what they think because we don't know. We cannot say one hundred percent, for sure, what our dogs are feeling. We cannot because they are animals, and we are humans. They cannot talk to us and let us know how they are feeling.
We can try to guess sometimes. We look at their faces and body language and try to judge for ourselves how they feel. However, it is still tricky to do because sometimes, a dog can be confusing. Ever see a dog yawn? Well, a dog's yawn can mean different things. It can mean tiredness or indifference or stress, or it could just be because you or another dog yawned. Something like this that can mean different things is sometimes complicated to judge, or maybe your dog is experiencing stressful situations.
But sometimes, you can tell exactly what a dog is feeling and know when he is feeling a particular emotion because it is just so clear. One of such clear, unequivocal emotions is stress. Some things your dog does or some ways he acts that let you know that he is stressed.
Are you ready? Then let's dive in! In this detailed article, we will talk about what causes stress in dogs, those cues that tell you when your dog is stressed; and give you pointers on what you should do about them.
Common Sources of Stress in Dogs
Think of what causes you stress: that overwhelming boss, the grueling schedule at the office, that complicated commute, money problems, lack of food, and so on. Well, just like you can get stressed for many reasons, so can your dog. However, some things are known to be common causes of stress in dogs.
When your dog (attached to you, of course) does not have sufficient social interactions, it may become too attached to you. Then whenever you must leave, the dog will experience separation anxiety that may be sometimes debilitating. People feel separation anxiety only happens to humans, but no, dogs also experience separation anxiety.
So, whenever you leave, your dog will begin to experience acute stress or chronic stress, which will usually not subside until you arrive.
Change is hard for anyone. Even other animals. Even for our dogs. Moving can be relocating to a new home or city, bringing a dog home for the first time after you adopt him; rehoming a dog after the dog owners die, traveling to a new place, etc. Whatever it is, it is uncomfortable for almost every dog. For some dogs, the situations we just mentioned can increase their stress levels too high, causing acute or chronic stress.
A dog's ears are incredibly sensitive. In fact, according to Stanley Coren, Ph.D., in a book he wrote, a dog's ears are so sensitive that their hearing is hundreds of times better than ours. A sound that you find loud is almost a pain for them to hear. Sounds like thunder, fireworks, and loud vehicles are probably the sounds that cause the most fear to your dog. A dog's ears are so sensitive that changes in barometric pressure can trigger fearful reactions to thunder long before humans even hear it. Since dogs cannot know that these sounds cannot harm them, they get frightened, which increases their stress or anxiety significantly. In some cases, your dog might have a noise phobia.
Many people say that a dog can feel what its owner feels. Well, that is true. It is scientifically confirmed. Social animals in general exhibit a behavior called emotional contagion, which is where individuals mirror their emotional states. One of the most common emotions that are contagious is stress. Social animals can be affected by stressors similarly, even though they may be different individuals. Dogs and humans are social species, and they have lived together for more than 20,000 years, so this happens between dogs and humans.
The study above showed that a dog mirrored the stress levels of its owner, but not vice versa. So, if you have got a stressful life and are feeling stressed, your dog may feel stressed too, just because you are.
Other things can also raise the stress levels of your dog, including physiological causes like heatstroke. Heatstroke in dogs happens when their body temperature is above 105°F.
Once a dog is stressed, and you notice the symptoms (which we will discuss below), you should begin to find ways to address that stress quickly. Luckily there are many ways to do so, which we will cover in-depth in this article. You could take the dog on a relaxing hike.
One thing that helps is dog calming collars. What are dog calming collars? Dog calming collars are dog collars infused with canine pheromones or essential oils to aid in soothing and relaxing your dog. They work well for some dogs. Use whatever works for your dog to reduce their stress and anxiety.
But let us back it up. What are the things a dog does, what signs do they exhibit that let you know that they are stressed?
Signs Your Dog Is Stressed
If your dog exhibits these signs consistently, then he is stressed. The signs are:
Pacing is a sign of stress in humans. If you see someone pacing up and down, you automatically assume that they're agitated or that something is off with them. Pacing is also a classic indicator of stress in dogs.
When your dog is pacing back and forth, it is a sign that he can't settle down because something is wrong with him.
Now, we must point out that it is not every time that a dog pacing indicates that he is stressed. Sometimes, it's just normal dog behavior. For example, if your dog is pacing during mealtime, it could just be that he is hungry and expecting food.
However, if your dog paces too frequently, it could be a sign of stress, and you should watch the dog closely and try to make him comfortable.
Fun fact: Pacing may be a sign of dementia in an older dog, so if you notice your old dog pacing too much, then you should consult a vet.
A growl may be a bit scary for you to hear because a growl is so visceral. But the primary purpose of a growl is to indicate that a dog is uncomfortable. It's your dog's way of saying, "Hey. I don't like this."
A dog's growl could mean that someone is in their space, that they feel threatened, that something hurts, or that someone or something is intruding. It is not always a sign of anger or aggression. Growling is just a warning that the dog is uncomfortable.
Growling is a valid form of dog communication, and you should not try to discourage your dog from growling. If a dog gets in trouble for growling, it may become more likely to skip future warnings by barking and go straight to a bite. Don't punish your dog for growling. It is very effective communication.
People usually talk of two responses to threats. They say that everything reacts to stress in one of two ways, fight or flight. But they never talk about a third reaction, freeze. Freezing happens when all the body processes shut down due to the stress or shock of the threat.
Freezing happens in dogs too. Whenever your dog freezes or gets stiff, they are stressed about something they see. Many people talk about this as submission, but the truth is that freezing means that the dog is shutting down.
Freezing is dangerous, and it is a sign that your dog is so stressed that he can no longer handle the situation calmly. He may resort to a bite next.
Dogs are known for barking. It is the most famous sound they make. Barking is a natural reaction for dogs. Dogs can bark for many reasons, and most times, they may not even be able to control it.
Barking may be a sign that the dog is stressed.
However, because barking is so ubiquitous to dogs and dogs may bark for any reason, you should look at the context before judging a dog's bark. If it is a potentially stressful situation, the barks your dog is letting out are probably stress.
Whining is also a stress signal sometimes. But, like barking, whining is not a specific behavior. Dogs can whine for many reasons, so context is essential in deciding whether the whines the dog is giving are a sign of stress.
A dog's shake is such an amusing thing to witness, and it can be a sign that things are every day. A dog can give a shake after rolling around in the grass.
But shaking can also signify the dog is stressed and trying to calm himself by 'shaking it off.
Yawning is also a way to tell if a dog is stressed. However, a dog can yawn for any number of reasons. So, context is essential when trying to judge if a dog's yawns mean that he is stressed. If the situation seems stressful, then the dog is most likely stressed.
Dogs pant everywhere and every time. Look at a picture of a dog. It is probably panting in the photos. Dogs pant when they are hot, when they are excited, or when stressed. So if your dog is panting, even though it has not exercised, it may be experiencing stress, and you have to do something about it.
Shedding hair at an alarming rate is a sign that your dog has faced a stressful situation for a prolonged period.
Some dogs will seek to hide or escape when faced with a stressful situation. Suppose your dog moves behind you to hide from something or engage in diversion activities such as digging, circling, or slinking behind a tree or parked car. In that case, your dog may find the situation stressful, and you should consider removing him from the situation.
When a dog faces a stressful situation, it may deal with it by focusing on something else. The dog may sniff the ground, lick its genitals, or turn away. In essence, they will ignore the issue or avoid interaction with other dogs or people if they find it stressful.
Dogs usually bear their weight evenly on all four legs. If a healthy dog with no problems shifts its weight to its rear legs, tucks its tail, or cowers, it may be exhibiting stress.
A stressed dog may begin to urinate or poop without reason when stressed.
If a dog begins to lick his lips excessively, he may be stressed. Please find a way to make him comfortable.
Dogs communicate a lot through their eyes and ears. Their eyes may be wide and show more white than usual. Ears that are usually relaxed or alert are pinned back against the head. In this situation, the dog may be stressed. A stressed dog may have dilated pupils and blink rapidly.
The Importance of Addressing Your Dog's Stress
Stress causes a lot of harmful effects in dogs. It makes them more likely to bite indiscriminately; it makes them more susceptible to illnesses; their behavior gets more erratic; and so on.
So it is essential to address your dog's stress. It also brings some different benefits:
Your dog will be easier to handle if he is not stressed. They will be less aggressive, less likely to attack and injure people, and more receptive to touching or petting.
Stress interacts with physical health. Scientists have confirmed it. Events causing stress can impact susceptibility to disease. Making dogs less stressed is crucial for combating, treating, and managing physical illness and injury.
Reducing stress in your dog improves his welfare, and gives you, the owner, a better experience with him. Reducing stress can also reduce the risk that your dog will learn and exhibit negative behavior and avoid the development of aggression.
In essence, helping your dogs overcome stress can significantly positively impact their health and well-being.
How to Help and Calm Down Your Stressed Dog
Once you notice that your dog is exhibiting some signs of being stressed, your urgent order of business is to find a way to calm him down.
Here are some pointers:
Quickly remove your dog from the stressor whenever you notice him exhibiting signs of stress. For example, if your dog is showing signs of stress because he is meeting a new person, don't force the dog to meet. Take him away from there. Find a quiet place for him to regroup. Please resist the urge to comfort him at first. If you will offer him a treat, make him perform an activity, like sitting, before presenting the treat. The activity will distract the dog, and the treat will comfort him.
For humans, exercise produces beneficial endorphins that relieve stress and anxiety. It's the same for dogs. Something as simple as a walk can do a lot to alleviate your dog's stress or anxiety.
Calming products can help relieve a dog's stress. Examples include calming coats and t-shirts, which apply mild, constant pressure to a dog's torso, swaddling it like a baby. Calming chews are also great calming products.
Giving your dog a time out when he is acting out can be a beneficial way to relieve stress in your dog and give you some much-needed respite.
Pet owners isolating their pets in a safe and quiet space can help calm their frayed nerves. Crate training is an excellent example of this as it represents a safe space for the dog to be alone, sort of like a playpen for a baby. This article has some great pointers in terms of crate training your dog.
Massages are a neat way of relaxing and calming even the most stressed human, and it works astoundingly well on dogs. Stress and anxiety often make the muscles tense, and massage therapy is one way to alleviate tension.
It's easy to do. Just start at the neck and work downward with long strokes. Try to keep one hand on the dog while the other works to massage. A warning, though: Don't do it if your dog is uncomfortable with it.
This article is most of what you should know about stress or maybe anxiety in dogs as a dog owner. Until next time, be safe.
Well, you need to remember that stress isn't always bad. Fear is an emotion related to stress that makes us avoid likely dangerous instances. So, stress might be a protector. Stress is simply a part of our daily life and the life of our dogs, so we need to learn how we can best deal with it. And now you need to start paying attention to your dog's body language so you can read its signals and help with the dog's anxiety in no time.