How to Identify the Critical Signs of Stress in a Dog

How to Identify the Critical Signs of Stress in a Dog

A helpful overview of critical signs of stress in a dog, how to avoid canine stress, and tips for helping your pet to be more calm.

If you are looking for info on how to help a stressed dog, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll help identify some critical signs that a dog is stressed, give you some expert advice on how to calm a stressed dog, and help you get your dog feeling better. It’s OK to be worried, but you can manage this and help your beloved pet.

Yes, dogs get stressed out just like humans do, only they can’t communicate it to you in quite the same way. But being the loving pet parent that you are, you know something is wrong. And we are here to help.

So, roll up your sleeves and get ready to make a few notes for yourself and possibly your dog’s veterinarian. Shore up your empathy and beef up your patience because when a dog is stressed, it can be serious. Let’s get this situation under control and help your dog get back to the tail-wagging happy days they deserve.

A dark brown basset hound lays on a fuzzy rug looking up


What Causes Stress for Dogs?

Canine stress can come from many factors, and some of those may not be under your control.

It may be hard to know that your dog feels stressed or even where the stress is coming from. Dogs cannot express their stress in the same ways humans do. You have to observe them and be aware of the common triggers, behaviors, and mood changes in your dog that may indicate a stress problem.

No one knows your dog better than you, so if you feel their behavior is affected by a certain stimulus, you are probably right. Stay calm and approach it like any other problem in your life: look for workable solutions.

First, let’s talk about what stresses dogs and how they respond to their environment so that you can understand your beloved pet even better.

Common Sources of Canine Stress

Some things are fairly common stressors for our canine friends. Take a look at this list of possible stress stimuli for dogs:

  • Disruptions in routine
  • Loss or gain of a family member or pet
  • Thunder, lightning, or rain
  • Fireworks, gunfire, cars backfiring, or other sudden loud noises
  • Other sources of noise such as loud music, construction, or the television
  • Tense human interactions: Human stress levels in the home, arguments or fights, an influx of visitors, or social engagements in the home
  • Moving to a new home
  • Visits to the veterinarian’s office
  • Riding in the car

Anxieties and Fears Can Cause A Lot of Stress for Dogs

Some dogs have fears or anxieties about certain situations or stimuli. For example, some dogs are very fearful of thunderstorms. If you know your dog has triggers for worry and stress, you can work to relieve those fears with gentle encouragement, giving them a safe space, and reassuring them you are there for them.

A veterinarian can help you to provide a treatment plan for your dog’s fear reactions so that you can help to normalize their responses to what frightens them or makes them uncomfortable.

A black and white greyhound yawns widely against a blue wall

How Can You Tell if Your Dog is Suffering from Stress?

Many signs of stress in a dog mimic normal dog behaviors that ebb and flow in your dog’s personality or daily habits. When a behavior increases or decreases in response to stressors or triggers, it can become a little more noticeable, or the behavior could become a big issue in your home and warrant your full attention. Paying attention to what is and is not normal for your dog is the best way to identify issues and work to resolve them.

Signs of Canine Stress

  • Pacing
  • Shaking
  • Excessive whining or barking
  • Yawning
  • Drooling and licking
  • Shedding
  • Chewing at their skin or hair
  • Refusal of food or loss of appetite
  • Changes in bodily functions, digestive issues
  • Avoidance or hiding
  • Growling or other vocal sounds
  • Tucked ears and tail
  • Raised hackles
  • Going stiff or “freezing”
  • Excessive sleeping or difficulty falling asleep
  • Aggression

A brown mutt with wide eyes lays on a grey couch


Critical Signs of Stress in a Dog

How can you know when it is serious? Stress can cause people a lot of health problems, and you certainly don’t want that for your dog. You don’t want your dog to harm themselves or others either.

Some serious signs of stress include:

  • Refusing to eat
  • Ongoing digestive issues
  • Self-harm (chewing their skin or nails excessively)
  • Biting people
  • Shaking uncontrollably and hiding
  • Chewing and eating things that could harm them

When stress affects your dog so much that it seems to be impairing their health, it is time to go to the veterinarian’s office for a checkup and supportive care. There may be underlying health issues that are causing the changes in behavior, and it is important to rule those possibilities out. You don’t want to pass off a behavior as a stress response if something more serious is going on. It is best to be overly cautious and make sure your dog is healthy.

A jack russell terrier lays on his owners lap as they sit together beneath a thick knit blanket

How to Help a Stressed Dog

As with humans, calming techniques work to ease tensions and make your dog feel more secure. Sometimes, all it takes is spending a little cuddle time with them on the couch to help them feel more relaxed. To calm a stressed dog, you can help bring down your dog’s stress reactions, allow them to relax, and offer distractions to help burn off excessive emotion and energy.

  • Speak to them calmly and offer reassurance. Your dog will respond to your stress, energy levels, and tone of voice.
  • Remove any stressors that may be bothering your dog. Keep the noise level lower, if possible.
  • Provide adequate exercise. Exercise can help to relieve tension and promote hormones like endorphins, which will help to calm them.
  • Give your dog plenty of snuggles, back rubs, and comfort when they are feeling stressed. Nothing makes your dog feel better than quality time with the one they love.
  • Slowly acclimate your dog to any new family members or pets.
  • Play with your dog. Similar to exercises like walking or running, a game of fetch or hide and seek can also reduce stress hormones and make your dog feel more at ease. Having fun can help to distract your dog from things that are bothering them.
  • Teach children to play with your dog appropriately.
  • Create safe zones for your dog, away from the action of your home, complete with their favorite blanket, toy, or a shirt that smells like you.
  • Make sure you feed your dog quality pet food and offer fresh, clean water for your dog to drink. Giving your dog a chew treat can also provide a way to self-soothe.
  • Keep your home visitor-free when your dog is stressed. Move a few activities to other locations or put them off to give your dog some time to settle down. After moving to a new home, take some time for your dog to adjust before throwing that dinner party for your friends. Your dog should feel comfortable in your new home before bringing too many external stresses like noise and visitors.

The entire line of cbd products for pets from cbdmd and paw cbd sit in a line

CBD Oil Products May Help

CBD oil products for pets are becoming more and more popular with pet parents who want their dogs to live a life of happiness and wellness. They come in many forms, so you can find something that works well for your dog and makes it easy to provide calming support. There are daily CBD tincture drops you can put on their food, CBD doggie chews, and delicious peanut butter you can serve up on a spoon or bake into your own homemade dog treats.

If your stressed-out pooch has done a number on their skin, perhaps some CBD Balm for dogs can help soothe their tender skin.

A dark skinned woman pets her black and brown mixed terrier


When Your Dog is Stressed, It’s Time to Take Action

When your dog’s behavior says what they cannot articulate, you can listen to their body language and actions and offer them comfort, security, and some coping mechanisms to help them adjust. If you notice your dog is showing stress, it is time to take action and help them in any way you can. Some critical signs of stress in a dog may warrant a trip or call to your dog’s veterinarian.

As with many other aspects of loving and caring for a pet, your instincts are important too. If you feel something is bothering your dog, take some time to tend to their needs. If you are worried or stressed yourself, practice some calming measures for you as well. After all, your dog is happier when you are happy.

All the best to you and your furry friends – follow our pet blog for more tips on pet parenting with love.