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12 Clear indicators that your dog is stressed

Sherri Kuhn writes about raising teenagers, the perils of a clean home, wistfulness over babies, and anything else that makes her laugh (or cry) in the years between changing diapers and wearing them. With a son just starting college and...

When anxiety strikes your pooch

Dog owners most likely agree on one thing: Dogs aren't shy about showing their emotions. From the crazy tail-wagging he dishes out when you come home to the dropped head she exhibits when she's done something wrong, we can usually read them loud and clear. But what about when your dog feels stressed?

Sad bulldog

As in humans, personality is a determining factor in how dogs handle stress. More aggressive breeds or personalities may be more likely to take out their stress on you and your home. Dog breeds that tend to be more nervous or shy may turn their stress inward and actually make themselves physically ill. We dug around to see what ways your furry friend might be showing stress — and how you can help him cope.

1

Excessive shedding

All dogs seem to shed, but have you ever noticed how much hair can come off when your dog is stressed? You might see this happen in the veterinarian's office, as you pet your dog in the exam room and the hair covers your hands and the floor.

2

Pinned-back ears

Obviously each breed of dog has different types of ears, whether they hang low, stand at attention or are droopy. But most dogs will draw their ears back and low when under stress. This is an easy-to-recognize sign that something's not right.

3

Licking of the nose and lips

Dogs seem to be constantly licking things anyway, so how can this be a sign of stress? The repetitive licking of nose and/or lips usually accompanies other behaviors such as some of those mentioned below.

4

Yawning

It seems odd that yawning would be considered a sign of stress — wouldn't it just be a sign of tiredness? But the stress yawn is usually in conjunction with other behaviors such as avoidance or pinned ears.

5

Panting

Dogs generally pant to cool themselves down when it's hot or they've been exercising. If your dog is panting for no apparent reason, possibly with her ears pinned back and low, this can be a sign of stress. Be careful if the dogs suddenly stops panting and closes his mouth, as he may be escalating toward biting.

6

Destructive behaviors

Especially in the more aggressive breeds, dogs may try to alleviate stress by chewing or biting furniture (or you!) or even by destructive biting or licking of her own body. Try to examine the circumstances that increase the behaviors, such as being left alone or when other animals are present.

7

Avoidance

There are many reasons your dog may show avoidance, whether it's avoiding other dogs or people. Tail tucked, avoiding eye contact, turning away — these are all ways your dog shows you he is uncomfortable. It's important to remember that if your dog is avoiding a situation that makes him uncomfortable, this is better than showing aggression and it's best to respect this message.

8

Accidents

One of the biggest signs of stress is having accidents in the house. Many dogs who are stressed about being left alone, but have otherwise been house-trained, will backslide in their training. Consider crate training, or confining your dog to a comfortable, closed-off location when you're out, as this may give him a more secure feeling.

9

Excessive sniffing

You might think that your dog is ignoring you when she starts sniffing around and ignoring commands, but it's likely that she's stressed about something. Does it happen at certain times, like during obedience class or at the dog park? See if you can narrow down the cause.

10

Illness

Does your dog exhibit signs of stress with physical symptoms? Loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, skin problems or allergies can all be signs of stress in man's best friend. If any of these physical symptoms don't have an obvious cause, stress should be your prime suspect.

11

Barking

Does your dog howl or bark a lot? Excessive barking, whether inside or outside the house, can be a sign of anxiety. Try and find a pattern to the barking to determine the cause of the anxiety. Does it happen when you're gone? When strangers come to the door?

12

Shaking off — like after a bath

You will see this one at times when there are multiple dogs together, possibly sharing a water dish or a toy.

How to help your dog

Recognizing that your dog is experiencing stress is a step in the right direction — but now you need to find ways to help him cope with his anxiety. Here are some ideas for making your dog's life a bit more stress-free.

  • Keep things as routine as possible: Routine is important for dogs, just like it is for young children. They suffer less stress when they know their routine, from where they sleep to what time of day they go for a walk or eat.
  • Prevent stressful situations: If you know, for example, that your dog doesn't do well in crowded situations, don't walk him on a busy recreation trail. If your dog is stressed when you aren't home, crate training might bring him some comfort.
  • Exercise often: Exercise can be a great stress-reliever for your dog, as long as it's kept fun and relaxing. Repetitive games of fetch at the dog park can actually cause stress in some dogs, so make sure you find the right balance.
  • Spend more time together: If you can, spend more time with your dog to reduce stress. Working out in the garage? Bring your furry friend out there with you. He craves being near you and it's good for his soul (and yours).
  • Rules: Dogs experience less stress when they know what's expected of them. Set your house rules and be firm, yet gentle about any disobedience. Your dog wants to please you, but cannot possibly succeed if the rules keep changing.

By working with your dog and setting clear boundaries, you can usually pinpoint the sources of his stress and work with him to help him live a less anxiety-ridden life.

More on dog behavior

25 Random dog behaviors explained
Why is my dog doing that?
Why is my dog acting out?

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