As our daily lives demand so much from us, stress is something that we deal with on a daily basis. Blurred boundaries between work and home, virtual fatigue from tons of online meetings, and the pandemic that doesn’t seem to see an end in sight — it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and burdened by these things. We then crave comfort, support, and an escape. We want all of these things to help us relax, and to just snuggle with our fur friends after a long, exhausting day.
But while our pets seem to not do anything the whole time except feed, sleep, and poop, did you know that dogs also feel stress, and its symptoms manifest in different ways?
Dogs communicate with us through body language, and so it’s critical to pay close attention to their cues to figure out if they’re under a lot of stress or not. As a dog parent, it is also important to know what you can do to improve their disposition and their environment at the same time. So what are these signs of stress or sickness in dogs and how can we, as their primary caretakers, help them get through these?
Sign 1: Your dog is barking or whining
If it’s unusual for your dog to whine and bark excessively, it might mean that they are feeling anxious. Continuous whining is actually an automatic stress response for many dogs and they might have difficulty controlling these. They bark or whine when they feel tense and need help relaxing, and that doesn’t always necessarily mean that they are showing aggression or asking for more treats. Assessing your dog’s mannerisms helps — the more you get to know how your dog acts on a day-to-day basis, the easier you can read these forms of body language.
Sign 2: Your dog growls
You’ll know a dog’s growl when you hear one — it’s often because they are uncomfortable, threatened, or are in pain. Similar to barking and whining, your dog growling doesn’t always mean that they’re angry. The rule of thumb is to not scold your dog for growling as this may indeed make them aggressive. Instead, figure out a different approach while still respecting their space.
Sign 3: Your dog shakes or freezes
Shaking or stiffening up is actually instinctive of dogs every time they sense that they might be in danger or that something is wrong. In worse cases, it can mean that your dog is shutting down from stress and if they are not helped to relax, might injure you or people around you.
These mannerisms are obvious when they walk repeated routes or shake immensely while waiting for their turn at the vet. To minimize constant pooch anxiety, a combination of exercise, massage, and music therapy is often recommended.
Sign 4: Your dog sheds an insane amount of fur
Much like us humans who may lose hair due to stress, dogs may shed their fur for the same reason. Shedding increases when a dog is put in situations that are distressing for them, such as participating in competitions, hearing the explosion of fireworks, or paying a visit to the vet or groomer.
Shedding can be reduced by having the right diet (specifically by consuming more fatty acids), using the right fur brushes, and vacuuming.
Sign 5: Your dog constantly paces around
Have you ever experienced almost getting dizzy from watching your dog frantically pace around your home or in the yard? This might mean that they are overstimulated and need a minute for grounding and calming down. If it’s not persistent and happens only for a brief period, then there’s nothing to worry about. But if your dog paces around all the time and it gets triggered easily, you might want to get into the root of what may be stressing them out.
Sign 6: Your dog’s body posture changes
A sudden change in your dog’s body posture may be an indicator of the immense stress they’re currently experiencing. While they may normally stand on all fours with their weight evenly distributed across their legs, a distressed dog usually shifts their full weight to their rear legs. If they’re feeling scared, their body also becomes rigid.
Apart from behavioral issues, unusual changes in body posture might be a sign of an underlying orthopedic illness. Have your dog immediately checked by a doctor to be sure.
Sign 7: Your dog’s bodily functions get altered
When dogs feel nervous, they feel the urge to pee more often, much like us hoomans when we are in a nerve-wracking or exciting situation. As we know, our dogs peeing when meeting a new dog or being around other canines is a sign of being territorial — but in fact, it’s also a reaction to the anxiety this introduction has caused.
Sign 8: Your dog avoids you
Dogs often feel relaxed, confident, and safe when they are in a welcoming environment. The moment a pooch feels uncomfortable, it starts to avoid people and starts focusing on other things (again, there’s no need to force your dog to interact if they don’t want to as this may put them under further stress). A common sign of stress: our pups may start licking themselves excessively or sniff objects randomly when they are stressed out.
But some dogs do the exact opposite when they’re feeling anxious — they tend to hide behind their owners in an attempt to flee a situation. This explains why many dogs dig at the most random spots in your backyard or conceal themselves behind areas bigger than them such as trees or parked cars.
Helping Your Dog Deal with Stress
The first thing you need to do to alleviate your dog’s stress is to take him out of the stressful environment they’re in, or try to trace what is particularly making them upset. By doing this, you’re eliminating the source of their anxiety, making it easier for you both to respond to each other’s cues. Of course, to do this, you should also be aware of what’s normal and what’s not as far as your dog’s behavior is concerned.
If you’ve already taken the time to help your dog deal with stress but you’re not seeing any improvement, then it’s time to see your dog’s health provider so you could determine other conditions your dog might be having. Your doctor may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist or trainer to help you get to the bottom of what’s causing your dog’s anxiety, and prescribe medication to your dog if necessary.
Stress is a normal part of life, but that doesn’t mean we, or even our dogs, have to go through it alone. The dog stress symptoms we’ve listed above are just some of the common ones most dogs experience — at the end of the day, it is you who knows your fur baby best and don’t hesitate to seek professional assistance for them to help them beat the blues.