dog licking lips

Stress and Anxiety can have a very profound effect on your dog and it’s behaviour, and if you don’t know how to spot stress in dogs, you could be making his behaviour worse.  What many owners perceive to be their dog behaving badly, can in fact be their dog’s response to a situation because of stress, fear or anxiety, which requires very different handling from a dog that is simply ‘acting up’.

Some Symptoms of Stress in dogs

Do you remember seeing your dog do any of these? Spend some time watching him, especially in potentially stressful situations such as training classes, meeting another dog for the first time, strangers visiting the house, seeing another dog on the street and many other situations that we perceive as normal, but our dogs actually find stressful at times.

  • Panting (especially if it’s not hot)
  • Lip Licking
  • Yawning
  • Shaking (as if shaking off water)
  • Nervousness – easily startled
  • Restlessness – unable to calm down
  • Pulling on the lead
  • Destructive behaviours – especially when alone
  • Excessive barking
  • Over-eating – pica (eating inedible things)
  • Loss of Appetite and/or refusal to take treats
  • Skin problems – Allergies
  • Biting on the lead
  • Poor concentration

Stress and anxiety is common among pet dogs, and is most often the root cause of behavioural problems.  If we as owners can take a little time to learn to recognise when our dogs are feeling anxious, we would be able to make sure our responses to their behaviours are appropriate for how they are feeling, meaning not only a much happier, more relaxed dog, but also the prevention of further behavioural problems because of our incorrect handling of a stressed dog.


dog reacting stress in dogs

From The DOG’s Point of View: 
You have a dog that reacts to other dogs when he’s out walking, by barking and maybe lunging on the lead, your response to this is to pull him back, shout at him to be quiet, tell him off, maybe even smack him? Many dogs bark and react to other dogs when they are outside because they are AFRAID, it’s a stress response to a situation they feel uncomfortable in.  Their two instinctive options when feeling threatened are fight or flight. They are on a lead, so they know they can’t run away, therefore their only option is to ‘scare’ the other dog away, so a fight doesn’t take place, and they do this by barking at it.

So if your response to your dog’s behaviour is to tell him off, from the dog’s point of view, when he see’s another dog, unpleasant things happen to him, so now he’s even more afraid of this situation which makes him want to make the other dog go away even more! The only way he knows how to make the other dog go away, is to bark even MORE ferociously at it, so it doesn’t come near him, and make unpleasant things happen.

Your dog’s association with seeing another dog = unpleasant things happen to him, from you.

So you can see clearly from this example, how an owner’s inappropriate response to their dog’s behaviour not only fails to solve the problem, but in fact makes it worse.

Stress, fear and anxiety are all common among dogs, as they are among humans, and how we  recognise the stress and deal with it, will determine how well we are able to prevent,  manage or resolve reactions to situations.  Stress occurs when a dog is placed in any situation which he feels unable to cope with.  This discomfort is relative to each individual dog, some dogs cope well in a training class for example, but for others it sends their stress levels through the roof to be in such close proximity to a number of other strange dogs.

Acceptable levels of stress are present in a dog’s life all the time and are necessary to stimulate and encourage growth, but when these challenges become constant or unbearable, that’s when stress becomes a problem and the body reacts in a way that makes it difficult for the animal to cope with his experience.  Stress is also something that builds, and overlaps into other area’s. So for instance, pulling on a lead is a stress inducing behaviour which raises a dog’s reactivity level by default, this will automatically make him more likely to react badly to any strange situation or strange dog that he feels uncomfortable with.

As with humans, each dog will react to stress in different ways and at different levels.  Something that may cause one dog to become stressed would not necessarily another, they each have their own stress threshold in every individual situation.


dog yawning stress in dogs

Possible Situations that Can Cause Stress in Dogs

Possible causes of stress in dogs can be many and varied, and as previously mentioned, are individual to each dog, some examples are:

  • Aggressive handling or training
  • Training Classes
  • Confusion (Owners not being consistent with boundaries)
  • Being left alone for too long, or too often
  • An over stimulating environment
  • Strange situations the dog is not familiar with
  • Strange people the dog is not familiar with
  • Strange objects close to them
  • Loud noises both in or outside the home
  • Travelling in the car
  • Visiting the vets

Scientific studies in human physiology have proven that stress leads to health problems, makes us unbalanced, irritable and aggressive, and so it is for our dogs.  Behaviours such as Aggression, Destruction, Excessive Barking, Over Attachment and Hyperactivity are all likely to have stress as a large part of their root cause and these dogs are merely reacting to a situation in which they feel unable to cope.  When we are able to recognise the symptoms of stress, we are able to work with behaviour problems at a core level increasing chances of success.

If you would like to know more about the stress signals dogs display and see some of them in action, you can CLICK THIS LINK to watch a video on our youtube channel.

Spend some time watching your dog, paying close attention to the subtle signals he gives about how he is feeling. If you think your dog’s problem behaviour could be caused by stress, fear or anxiety, enlist the services of a professional to help you deal with the root cause of the problem, which in turn will lessen or even eliminate the problem behaviours your dog is displaying.

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Comments (2)

  1. Mattie Parsons

    This is how stress was explained to me and I now explain it to others.

    Stress levels

    Hopefully this will explain a dog’s stress levels easier, we can only teach our dogs if their stress levels are well down, once they start to go up a dog will find it very difficult if not impossible to learn.

    You walk your dog every day, starting off with stress levels being well down at zero, this is what happens.

    Day one – Your dog’s stress levels are at 0, you are having a lovely, relaxing walk when you come across another dog that races up to your nervous dog. Your dog’s stress levels jump up to 6.
    Day two – After a night’s sleep your dog’s stress levels have now dropped to 4, so your dog is still stressed from the loose dog you met yesterday. Your walk is a little stressful because your dog is not as relaxed as he should be. You meet another loose dog, your dog’s stress levels then goes up to 10, you now have a very stressed dog.

    Day three – As your dog was really stressed yesterday his stress levels have only dropped to 8 over night, still a very stressed dog. Meet another off lead dog and his stress levels go off the scale, he can’t cope and shuts down, when a dog shuts down many owners think their dogs have got used to off lead dogs and think their dog is now fine, in fact, in this shut down state your dog is very dangerous.

    Day four – Your dog hasn’t relaxed over night, he is still very stressed and racing round with stress, you don’t know what to do with him or to help him so you take him for another walk, thankfully you don’t meet a loose dog and to your dog the walk was a lot better, his stress levels haven’t gone up, he hasn’t shut down and the walk has helped your dog because it was stress free even though your dog was very stressed anyway.

    Day five – After the lovely walk you had yesterday you are looking forward to another today, your dog’s stress levels are now down to 10, much better although still far too high. You meet another dog, again he shuts down because he can’t cope.

    Day six – You are now getting desperate, you don’t understand what is happening with your dog, one day he is fine the next he wants to kill every dog he sees so you are also very stressed and many owners give up and stop walking their dogs. You go for a walk and don’t meet any dogs.

    Day seven – Your dog’s stress levels are now down to 10 because he didn’t meet another dog yesterday and doesn’t today, 2 good days.

    Day eight – Your dog’s stress levels are now down to 8, so much better even though he is still very stressed, you don’t meet another dog again.

    Day nine – Your dog’s stress levels are now down to 6, you have a much calmer dog although still stressed, he meets another off lead dog and he jumps back up to 10.As his stress levels are now back to 10, including today, it will take your dog 6 days for his stress levels to go to 0 if he doesn’t meet another off lead dog.

    That is put very simply, it does help us understand stress in our dogs, how it happens and how long it takes for the stress to get back down again. Depending on how long a dog has been stressed will affect how long it takes for the levels to come down again. My foster dog was a very stressed dog when he came, it took him nearly 6 weeks to become relaxed and to be the dog he should be.

    • Hi Mattie
      Thank you for your comment, it is very true, many dog owners have no idea how stress builds up for their dogs and how it can lead to different reactions toward different things at different times! It can make the job of getting to the root cause of a problem much more difficult, especially as many owners have no idea that there are quite a lot of things that stress dogs out. Stress stacking & Trigger stacking are a very real component to dealing with, managing and reducing problem behaviours in dogs, definitely something that needs to be looked into if you are experiencing problems with your dog. Great comment thank you.

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