A anxious dog is being comforted by it's owner
A anxious dog is being comforted by it's owner

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Signs of Stress in Dogs and How to Help Relieve Them

Though we may think of dogs as our happy-go-lucky companions, they can experience stress for many different reasons, just like us. Fortunately, there are ways we can recognize their anxiety and help relieve and manage it moving forward. But before we get there, let’s start at the root of the problem: the stressors themselves.

 

Common Causes of Stress in Dogs

Dogs can get stressed for a number of reasons or in a number of situations. The four most common causes are related to: 

  • Fear: Meeting a new person, hearing a loud noise, being in some environments or situations, walking on certain surfaces or even being near specific objects are just a few circumstances that can cause fear-based anxiety in dogs.   
  • Separation: Separation anxiety is the most common type of stress in dogs, affecting almost 15% of dogs. It is caused by being away from their family members for either a short or long period of time, and it can also be caused by a change in the family. 
  • Aging: As dogs get older, they can experience a decline in cognitive functions like memory, learning, perception and awareness. Understandably so, the confusion they experience can make for an anxious dog.  
  • Change: Some dogs experience stress when their routine changes, if they move to a new home, if they’re adopted by new pet parents, or even if there’s a change in their family members’ emotional health or stress levels.   

Dogs won’t necessarily get stressed over all (or any!) of these factors. Some dogs are simply more prone to stress and anxiety than others. For example, highly social breeds like Labrador retrievers will rarely become stressed when meeting a new person, but are more likely to experience separation anxiety when left alone.  

 

A stressed out dog is burying her nose into leaves
 

 

Signs Your Dog May Be Stressed

So how do you know you have a stressed dog on your hands? They’ll tell you! Look for these physical, vocal or behavioral stress signs.

 

Physical Indications of Stress

  • Pacing 

  • Shaking 

  • Yawning

  • Drooling 

  • Licking 

  • Dilated pupils  

  • Rapid blinking

  • Pinned back ears 

  • Wide eyes 

  • Cowering 

  • Tucked tail 

  • Shedding 

  • Stress colitis (stress diarrhea) 

Vocal Indications of Stress

Behavioral Indications of Stress

  • Not eating 

  • Avoidance 

  • Hiding or escaping

  • Indoor accidents 

  • Attachment  

  • Chewing 

  • Damaging the house 

As you can tell, some of these signs of stress mimic normal dog behaviors. Each time a dog yawns, barks or has an accident doesn’t necessarily indicate that they’re stressed. It's important to pay attention to your dog’s behavior on a regular basis, not just when they’re stressed. That will help you establish a baseline of which behaviors are normal for them and which ones may be a sign that they need a little extra help managing anxiety.  

 

A dog is outdoors wearing a vest
 

How to Relieve or Manage Your Dog’s Anxiety

If your dog starts acting out of the ordinary and you believe they are experiencing a stressful situation, your first course of action should be to remove them from the stressor. From there, find a quiet place for your anxious dog to regroup. You can show them some love to calm them down, but avoid too much affection. Instead, try practicing some tricks or playing. It will distract them and give them a sense of normalcy.  

 

The best way to prevent stress is to avoid stressful situations. If your dog does not like loud noises, do not take them to the fireworks show. If they’re wary of large groups of people, avoid throwing big parties at your house. But it’s not always that easy. To help manage or prevent stressful situations, try some of these tips: 

 

  • Exercise them regularly: Make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise, particularly before an event that may be stressful for them. Regular exercise can also improve their mood generally and make them less susceptible to stressors in the future. 
  • Keep your routine consistent: Try sticking to a consistent routine as much as possible so your dog knows what to expect throughout the day.  
  • Make staying home fun: If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, make being home alone more enjoyable by hiding treats around the house or leaving out their favorite toys. 
  • Reward calm behavior: When you are home with your dog, reward them for calm behavior with a gentle pet or their favorite treat. Dogs love to make you happy, so reinforcing calm behavior can encourage similar conduct in stressful situations. 
  • Feed them a balanced diet: A well-fed dog is a happy dog! Recipes like IAMS™ Minichunks Lamb & Rice or IAMS™ Healthy Weight will give them the essential nutrients they need to help them take on any situation. 
  • Establish a safe space: A quiet, cozy place for your dog to escape to when they are stressed can do wonders. It gives them a place to calm down on their own. Start by keeping a bed or comfortable crate in a secluded room and see if they like the space. 
  • Take care of yourself: Since dogs frequently feed on our energy, your stress can become their stress. So be sure to manage your own stress levels and emotional health — for both of your sakes! 

If your dog is still experiencing stress-related problems, your vet can prescribe anti-anxiety medications, identify any underlying conditions that may be causing stress, or connect you with a trainer to help reverse any unwanted behavior your dog may be exhibiting. 

 

We’re also always here to help! Click the chat button at the bottom of your screen to talk with a pet care professional.  

A anxious dog is being comforted by it's owner
A anxious dog is being comforted by it's owner
A anxious dog is being comforted by it's owner
A anxious dog is being comforted by it's owner
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