Feeling stressed, overwhelmed or burnt out? Guess what? You’re probably not alone. While humans and primates seem to show more stress more often than other species, our canine companions are feeling the pressure too.
Stress can affect the emotional, behavioral and physical well-being of our dogs. Seriously. It can even impact the bond we have with our dog. Stress and anxiety is a big deal for dog parents, but because it can present in so many ways, it can be super tricky for pet parents to pinpoint and identify.
Many of us know the obvious signs like hiding or shaking in fear, but dogs have many other silent ways to tell us they’re not so happy. We dove deep into some of the best resources to help identify common signs of stress in dogs. Check out ten big ones below. Some will probably be a big surprise!
1. Is your dog… Doing one thing over and over and over… and over again? Like over-grooming, barking at shadows, tail-chasing and other incessantly-repeated behaviors. Compulsions like these can be rooted in behavior or in an underlying medical condition. If there isn’t a medical condition going on (which is why it’s super important to have your dog checked out by your trusty vet), the behavior could be triggered by stress. Just like with us humans, any repeated behavior that gets in the way of our regular, everyday life and activities can be caused by stress.
2. Being extra active or unable to settle down? Some dogs wander through the house, never getting cozy in their bed or getting comfortable and snuggly with their human. Some even react to the smallest movement or noise they hear—looking to you for comfort, jumping up to see what all the ruckus is about or even running away to duck for cover. Inability to settle can also be a sign of pain, so some more detective work is necessary to understand whether this is mental or physical stress in your pup.
3. Destroying things? From the couch leg to a windowsill and more, stressed dogs have been known to scratch, rip apart and destroy stuff. Some things are easier to replace than others, but for dogs that are triggered by you leaving (even if it’s just to go to work), the American Kennel Society warns us of the type of destruction these dogs can do: “The damage is usually located around entry and exit points, like doorways and windows, but dogs in a state of heightened anxiety are also at risk of harming themselves. Attempts to break out of dog crates, windows, and even doors can result in painful injuries and expensive veterinary treatments.”
4. Showing aggression toward people or other animals? Famed positive-reinforcement dog trainer, Victoria Stilwell of Positively.com says “aggressive behavior such as growling, snapping or biting is another common symptom of stress that is often misunderstood and mistreated.” This sign of stress is often written off a “bad behavior” and, because it’s not understood, these dogs might not be getting the help they need. Often times, lashing out happens because the dog is afraid. It is unbelievably common for aggression to be based on anxiety or fear, according to the Veterinary Centers of America. “Dogs that display aggression are not mean or bad dogs. They are simply afraid/fearful and anxious/nervous about a perceived or anticipated threat or unpleasant outcome.”
5. Peeing or pooping in strange places? When housetrained dogs start peeing and pooping around the house, sometimes we think they’re mad at us. It can be terrible to come home to after a long day at the office, but, truth is, dogs who suffer from anxiety might end up pooping in your favorite pair of shoes or peeing on your most comfortable pillow. They can’t help it and need some support.
6. Yawning, panting, shaking-off or drooling? “Shaking-off” is a common way dogs release stress. You might also notice that your dog is more intensely doing certain other behaviors like deep, long yawning, panting (even though it’s not super hot outside) or lots of drooling.
7. Shedding all of a sudden… A LOT? Know how you can lose hair when you’re going through a stressful phase in life? The same goes for our four-legged friends. A nervous pup can start excessively and suddenly shedding. (Also called “blowing” their coats.) If you find yourself using the vacuum a LOT more around your house, maybe it’s time to investigate what’s up with pup.
8. Displaying a stiff body, dilated pupils, and other small easy-to-miss postures? You know what’s normal body language for your dog, so when he changes anything, you’re more likely to spot it. Being more stiff than usual or having his pupils dilated could signal stress. BUT it’s important you notice the context of the behavior and if it’s usual or unusual for your dog. Not everything means the same thing for all dogs.
9. Experiencing sudden changes in activity, appetite? Eating a whole lot more or a whole lot less is definitely a sign (same for humans, too!). Remember, anything out of the ordinary for your unique, individual dog may be a sign of stress. What looks like over-activity in one dog may be a chill day for another. Gauge where you are in comparison to what is normal for your dog.
10. Seeing YOU stressed out? Studies show that dogs react to their family’s stress levels, which is another reason why self-care is SO IMPORTANT. Long-term stress can synchronize between a dog and their human, according to science. So, chances are that if you’re coming home feeling frantic, your pup may be catching it.
If you’re seeing your dog in this list, don’t worry. We’re here to help. You’ve already recognized one of the hardest things to see—your dog’s stressed out!
- Make sure to check out these Four Proven Methods to Help Your Dog Fear-Bust
- It’s also an important time to consult your veterinarian to rule out any physical causes, like pain or medical conditions, which could be causing stress. Read more about common medical conditions that cause anxiety here.
- If your dog receives a clean bill of health, it’s important to understand what else might be causing your dog’s anxieties. Checking in with a local trainer (especially for aggression problems ) is always a good idea at this point, as they can help you recognize the triggers affecting your dog. Read more about common fears that cause anxiety and separation-related anxiety in dogs.
Stress is so common so you are definitely not alone. With a little help from you, your dog can live the more calm and confident life you both deserve. No worries—you got this.