Signs of Stress in Dogs: How to Recognize Them
Ever spent a long, stormy evening wrapped in a blanket with your sweet doggo, trying to get them to relax and calm down? Or perhaps you got your pet ready for a trip to the dog park, only for the drive to make them shiver with nerves a half-hour?
These are signs of stress in dogs. If left unchecked, stress can eat away at our pets and reduce their happiness, making it hard for them to enjoy the things they love. And as dog parents, we want nothing more than for our canine companions to have happy, full lives.
It’s important to remember that stress, and the behaviors that result from it, are often a result of your dog feeling fearful or uncomfortable. Our pets rely on us entirely for their needs, and when they are showing us that they feel insecure, it’s our responsibility to address it and try to remedy the situation.
To better understand your pet, and help them lead a happier life, let’s look at what causes stress in dogs, how to recognize the critical signs of stress in dogs, and what we can do to provide them with relief.
Causes of Stress in Dogs
Some pet owners might be surprised at what causes their dogs to feel stressed out. Many things can cause your pet to experience stress and behave oddly because of it. Triggers for stress in dogs can include noise, strangers, travel, visits to the veterinarian, and any change in their typical routine.
Stress Caused by Noise
Are thunderstorms a dramatic event in your household? This question is a common struggle for many dog parents. Many of us have spent long nights trying to cuddle our best friends into comfort and finding that they can’t calm down.
Loud noises of all kinds can be a source of stress for dogs. This stress category can be inspired by thunderstorms and fireworks, gunfire, a car backfiring, parties, and construction. No matter where you live, your doggo can encounter some of these noises at some point in their lives, so you and your pet need a plan of action for how to handle them.
Strangers or Too Many People
Your dog might show stress signals when someone new enters your home or even when they pass by someone they don’t know on a walk. Dogs can experience the same kind of “stranger danger” reaction that some young human children do. It’s sometimes even a protective mechanism – your sweet doggo might be trying to ensure your safety, as well as his or her own.
It’s also not uncommon for dogs to feel tense or stressed in a large crowd, such as at a festival or the beach. Even if you have a house party with people that your dog has already met, a large number of visitors at one time can have an overwhelming effect on your pooch.
Travel Related Stress
While some puppers are super casual co-pilots with their tongues lolling out the window, other dogs struggle with travel. Even just a short ride to the nearby dog park can be stressful for some pets, which is extra saddening because it’s supposed to be fun!
Trips to the Veterinarian
Dog parents know that their veterinarian is a trustworthy, loving partner in caring for their pet. Unfortunately, we can’t explain that to our dogs.
The environment of the veterinarian’s office can be overwhelming for some dogs. Whether it’s because of the multitude of other pets and smells in there often, or even some bad memories they might have of shots or surgery, the veterinary office causes many dogs to display stress signals. Some pets might even start to get nervous on the way to the office, as they’ve recognized the familiar driving route.
Changes in Routine
This category is a catch-all for many different things that can inspire stress in a dog. Anything out of the ordinary for your pet might be considered a change in routine and might cause them stress. It might include anything from a huge transition – like the loss of a family member or the arrival of a new pet – to something that seems arbitrary to us, like moving around furniture or remodeling the kitchen.
Signs of Stress in Dogs
All dogs are different and might communicate their stress differently, but there are some typical signs of stress shared by most dogs. These behaviors can also be signs of something else, so it’s important to pay attention to your pet’s lifestyle changes to see what might be causing these behaviors:
- Tucked ears and tail: When a dog pins back its ears or pulls down its tail, these are often submissive signs of fear and stress.
- Raised hackles: Hackles are the fur that runs along your dog’s spine, and they instinctively rise at signs of danger, so your dog looks bigger. Raised hackles are an undeniable physical sign of your dog’s discomfort.
- Pacing: Your pet might walk back and forth nervously if feeling stressed.
- Shaking or trembling: This behavior is an obvious sign of dog stress.
- Whining, barking, or growling: Your pet will often “talk” to you when feeling uncomfortable. While it can be tempting to shush our dogs when they whine, bark, or growl – especially if it’s loud and repetitive – it’s important that we listen and try to understand what is triggering them.
- Drooling and licking: Stress can cause excessive saliva production, which can make your dog drool and lick excessively.
- Loss of appetite: If your pet shows less interest in their food, this might be a result of dog stress.
- Sleep trouble: A stressed dog might have trouble falling asleep or winding down for the night. Alternatively, a pooch that is experiencing constant stress might sleep too much.
- Tummy trouble: If your canine companion starts having digestive issues, these can be related to stress.
- Hiding: Dogs will often try to escape what is causing him or her stress by hiding under furniture, cowering in a corner, or trying to run away. (This, combined with the widespread nature of noise aversion in dogs, is why more pets go missing around the Fourth of July than any other day of the year.)
Your pet likely won’t show all of these signs of stress, not all at once. You will have to look at your dog’s behavior and the surrounding environment to decide what your pooch is trying to communicate and how you can help.
Critical Signs of Stress in Dogs
The above list includes signs of stress that are worrying but might not require immediate action. But if your dog starts to show critical signs of stress – meaning serious symptoms that need to be addressed immediately – you should call your veterinarian ASAP. If allowed to continue for too long, these critical signs of stress in dogs can contribute to long-term health problems:
- Aggression: If your dog graduates to snarling and biting people or other dogs, this is a critical sign of stress and requires prompt attention.
- Refusal to eat: While an occasionally diminished appetite isn’t a reason for panic, it should be very concerning if your pet starts to refuse food or nourishment altogether.
- Excessive shedding: Most dogs shed, but a sudden or extreme loss of fur can result from extended stress.
- Chewing skin or fur: While this might sometimes present itself as a mild stress signal, chewing when it causes harm (such as bleeding) should be considered a critical sign of stress in dogs.
These behaviors can also indicate that something more serious is going on, rather than just situational stress. Don’t take any chances; see your veterinarian right away to rule out any underlying health issues.
How to Calm a Stressed Dog
Seeing your beloved best friend upset and distressed can be extremely difficult and frustrating for any dog parent. No matter the cause of their stress or how it’s manifesting in their behavior, you want them to feel better.
Dog stress relief doesn’t have to be complicated. There are some easy and simple ways to improve your dog’s quality of life if they show signs of stress:
- Use a calm voice: Your voice is a source of comfort for your pet. If you notice your dog becoming nervous or stressed, speak in a firm, steady, calm tone and provide verbal encouragement to soothe them.
- Provide physical comfort: Pats, rubs, and snuggles can be a wonderful way to calm your dog. Physical reassurance makes your pet feel safe and loved.
- Find and eliminate the cause of stress: Once you’ve identified what is causing your dog’s stress signal, try to reduce or eliminate it. This might mean leaving the busy park, turning down overly loud music, or moving your dog to a quiet, safe space during your party. Sometimes it will be difficult to eliminate the source of stress, but do so if possible.
- Give your dog time to adapt: Changes are part of life, so there will be times that your dog is going to experience them. Try to find a way to introduce changes gradually. Give your dog a chance to sniff out the new place before you officially move in or introduce a new family member in brief meetings before letting them be together full time.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Your dog’s overall wellness is a component of reducing stress in their life – this means keeping an exercise routine and an appropriate amount of high-quality dog food, along with the occasional tasty, healthy dog treat!
- Offer play and distraction: If your dog starts to show signs of stress, sometimes you can snap them out of their discomfort with a little game and distraction. Pull out a favorite toy for some tug-of-war or fetch – your pet might forget they were starting to feel nervous!
- Give your dog space: Many dogs find security in having their little corner of the house. It might be a mudroom with a blanket or a fluffy dog bed by their water bowl. Wherever this space might be, make sure your pet can retreat to it if they start to feel stressed. If possible, try to design your dog’s space so it can be closed off from the rest of the house if they need some quiet, private time to relax.
- Educate others about your dog’s triggers: When you have new folks over to your home, or even when you encounter people on a walk, be honest about your pet’s discomfort. Don’t be afraid to say no when someone asks to pet or approach your dog.
Consider CBD Calming Tincture for Dogs
When you’re thinking about how to calm a stressed dog, CBD oil for dogs can be part of a complete, healthy routine to keep your pet feeling great. Particularly if your dog needs some help taking it easy, our CBD calming oil for dogs features the mellowing properties of herbs like valerian root and melatonin. And our CBD calming chews for dogs, which include chamomile and L-tryptophan, can be a useful addition to a daily wellness plan.
Stress Signals Are Your Pet’s Way of Communicating
While critical signs of stress in dogs should be taken very seriously, you have many tools at your disposal as a loving pet owner when it comes to providing your dog with stress relief. If you understand what to look for and can identify what’s causing your pet’s concerning behaviors, you can likely figure out how to calm a stressed dog and get your best friend’s tail wagging again!