What to Look for in Detecting and Managing Canine Stress
Just like humans, dogs can experience stress. While they can't use words to tell us how they're feeling, their body language and behavior speak volumes. Each dog has a unique way of communicating with their tutor, but there are some common signs that can indicate your pet’s discomfort. In this article, we’ll guide you through what to look for to detect and manage canine stress.
With the right approach, you can make your best friend feel comfortable again. Understanding and addressing canine stress is not just an act of compassion, but a key aspect of being a responsible pet owner.
Detecting Canine Stress
Since every dog is unique, detecting canine stress involves comparing your dog's current behavior to their typical baseline.
Pay attention to your four-legged friend's body language and behavior, and check for the following signs:
- Tucked tail and ears: A dog’s tail is one of the main ways they communicate their feelings. A tucked tail is a classic sign of fear or stress. A relaxed dog has their tail in a neutral position, which varies depending on the breed (some have a very low neutral position, such as the Italian Greyhound).
Notice the ears as well: If they are usually neutral and are now tucked back against the head, it’s another indicator of stress.
- Whale eye: “Whale eye” occurs when a dog shows more of the white part of the eyes, which usually isn’t shown. This look is a key sign of discomfort and anxiety. You might also notice your dog avoiding eye contact and looking away.
- Yawning, lip licking, and drooling: Yawning is not something to worry about when your dog is tired after a long walk or sleepy, ready for nap time. But frequent, long yawns are indicative that your pup might be anxious. Excessive licking of the lips and drooling can also mean your dog is agitated.
- Panting: Dogs pant when it’s hot or after exercise. However, if your dog is breathing quickly and heavily, at times unrelated to heat or exercise, it may indicate stress. Likewise, if they shiver or tremble when there's no apparent cold or excitement, this can also be a sign of canine anxiety.
- Shaking: Whether your dog just had a nice bath or decided to have a muddy adventure (often in that exact order), you can observe your dog shaking the excess water or mud off. But this shaking behavior can also happen when a dog is dealing with stressful situations, such as a vet visit.
- Pacing: Have you ever felt agitated and caught yourself pacing back and forth, unable to sit still? Well, dogs do the same. When dogs can’t settle down, pacing back and forth, or walking in circles, something might be stressing them out.
Pacing can also happen when they are excited right before a meal, for example. In this context, pacing is a perfectly normal behavior.
- Excessive barking and whining: Barking and whining are normal vocalizations dogs use to express themselves. Some breeds are more vocal than others, such as talkative, high-energy Huskies.
However, if your dog is barking or whining more than usual, it might be a sign of their discomfort. On such occasions, whining and barking can be an automatic response to a stressor.
- Growling: Growling is a classic response in dogs when they are displeased. While it can be a sign of aggressiveness, more often than not, it simply means your friend is feeling uncomfortable, threatened, or in pain.
Because many tutors can confuse this behavior for aggression, they often try to inhibit growling. But don’t punish your dog for growling. Doing so can hinder your dog's ability to communicate their discomfort and may result in seemingly out-of-the-blue aggression.
- Withdrawing or hiding: Some dogs try to escape when stressed. They might freeze or avoid interactions by sniffing the ground, licking themselves, avoiding eye contact and even hiding (behind the tutor or in other sheltered spots). If that’s the case, do not force your dog to interact.
- Changes in eating and going to the bathroom: Just like people, dogs might lose their appetite when nervous. Similarly, accidents inside the house can happen, as they might lose control of their bodily functions when nervous.
- Destructive behavior: Your dog might begin to chew on things it shouldn't (like your favorite shoes), dig, or cause damage when stressed. Similarly, your dog might lick or scratch themselves excessively, sometimes to the point of causing skin wounds.
Now that you know some of the signs of canine stress, remember that you should always consider the context in which these behaviors appear, their frequency, and severity.
Managing Canine Stress
If you think your dog is stressed, try to figure out what's causing it and make them feel more comfortable. Managing canine stress is important for your dog's well-being and safety, which is our role as tutors to provide.
Stress in dogs can result from various factors, including things we might do as owners, changes in their environment, separation anxiety, fear of specific triggers, or medical issues. Here are some strategies to help manage canine stress:
- Identify the source: The first step is to identify what's causing stress in your dog. Common stressors can include loud noises, unfamiliar people or animals, changes in routine, or medical problems. Even itchy mosquito bites can stress out your dog. Once you pinpoint the source, you can work on addressing it.
- Create a safe environment: Ensure your dog has a safe and comfortable space where they can retreat. This could be a crate, a quiet room, or a comfortable bed. Enrich their environment with comfort items like blankets, toys, or clothing that smells like you—this can be especially helpful in cases of separation anxiety.
- Regular exercise: Regular physical exercise is essential for reducing stress. Engage in daily walks, playtime, and activities that match your dog's energy level and breed. Mental stimulation is as important as physical exercise. Puzzle toys, interactive games, and training sessions can keep your dog's mind engaged.
- Maintain a routine: Dogs thrive on routine. Consistent feeding times, exercise schedules, and bedtime routines can help reduce stress by giving your dog a sense of predictability.
- Positive reinforcement training: Training with positive reinforcement methods instead of using punishment can help reduce stress and build your dog's confidence. It's also a great way to establish a strong bond.
If your dog is fearful of specific triggers, such as thunderstorms or fireworks, gradually expose your dog to the trigger in a controlled way and reward calm behavior.
- Socialization: Proper socialization with other dogs and people is essential for reducing fear and anxiety. Gradual and positive exposure to different situations and people can help your dog become more confident.
- Consult a professional: In some cases, the stress source is physical pain or a health condition. This can only be addressed with proper veterinary care and medication.
You Can Help Your Best Friend
During those moments when your pup is feeling stressed, they rely on you more than ever. Managing canine stress demands time, patience, and consistency. Every dog has their own personality, so what helps one might not work for another.
You hold the key to your dog's heart, and with the guidance of a knowledgeable veterinarian, you can pave the way for your four-legged friend to be his happy, playful self once more.