5 Signs Your Dog is Stressed and How You Can Help
Tennis balls to chase, bellies to be rubbed, unlimited naps — from a human perspective, a dog’s day looks fairly stress-free. But our canine friends do experience anxiety, and unlike people, they don’t have a clear way of communicating that to us.
From normal activities gone a bit awry, to outright nuisance behaviors, the signs of stress in each dog can vary. Here are five common signals, and some ways you can help.
1. Yawning, Licking His Lips or Drooling
Yawning in dogs seldom indicates that they need to catch up on their zzz’s. It’s more often a sign that they’re feeling anxious, and it may be a way to calm themselves.
An isolated yawn or two is nothing to worry about. But if your pup keeps yawning repeatedly, and especially if he’s doing so in conjunction with similar signs of stress — such as licking his chops excessively, or drooling — it could mean he’s feeling overwhelmed.
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Panting is a common behavior dogs, but it’s usually associated with a cause. On a warm day, or after exertion, it helps to cool his body temperature. Dogs may pant when they’re excited, such as when a loved one’s car pulls up the driveway. But pain, illness or discomfort is another issue that may make your dog pant more than usual.
Anxiety can also cause panting — if your dog’s bout of panting seems to have no apparent cause, he could be feeling worried.
3. Barking, Yipping or Howling
Once you’ve gotten to know your dog, you’re probably accustomed to his vocalization habits. But if you discover (or your neighbor reports) that your dog is barking, howling, or whining more than usual, it’s possible he’s on edge.
4. Lapses in Potty Training
For a puppy or senior dog, the occasional household accident is to be expected. But for an otherwise dependable adult canine, potty accidents are usually rare. Every dog may have an isolated mishap, but if it occurs with any regularity, it could be a sign of stress.
5. Inappropriate Chewing
A shredded shoe or gnawed-up remote isn’t unusual if you have a puppy in the house. But if an adult dog that’s already mastered appropriate chewing suddenly begins destroying property, it could be a sign of anxiety. Many experts feel that the act of chewing can be calming to your dog.
So How Can You Help Your Anxious Dog?
Examine His Health
You should always run any questionable behavior by your trusted veterinarian. Most of the symptoms of stress can also be triggered by a medical condition. For example, a urinary tract infection could cause potty training mishaps, or an infected tooth could cause drooling, panting and overall discomfort. After ruling out any physical causes, your vet may suggest some changes you can try at home or recommend a behaviorist.
Do Some Sleuthing
If anxiety seems to be the problem, see if you can identify the cause. Take a fresh look at the different parts of his environment:
- Human family: Has anyone recently moved out of the house? Any family illnesses? A new baby or pregnancy? Has there been unusual quarreling or tension in the house?
- Animal world: Has your household added, or lost, a pet? Any new dogs in the neighborhood or at his favorite park?
- Daily business: Has his food changed? Is the family at home, or away from home, more than usual? Is he getting his usual walks or outings?
If nothing comes to mind, try keeping a log of the days, times and activities when your dog seems uncomfortable. You may spot a common thread. For example, problems are centered around trash pickup day.
Seek Out Stress Relievers
Here are some steps you can take to help calm your pup:
- Extra exercise: Extending his daily walks, or changing up his outings, can help relieve tension as well as avoid boredom.
- Do some training: Brushing up on his skills can boost his confidence and divert his attention.
- Establish routine: He’ll feel more secure if feeding time, exercise and bedtime occurs on a fairly predictable schedule.
- Offer love and reassurance: Extra attention may reassure your dog, but take care that you don’t go overboard — hovering or nervously reassuring him may reinforce his alarm.
- Drown out chaos: Keep a fan, or other source of white noise, running.
- Look into holistic products: There are many non-prescription stress-relieving products on the market, such as effective dietary supplements, aromatherapy, music designed to soothe pets or an anti-anxiety vest.
Dogs are normally so happy and carefree, so it’s upsetting to see them stressed. But doing some research into the problem, and taking the proper steps to calm him, will soon have you both focusing on more pleasant activities.
Debbie Swanson is a freelance writer, published in numerous national and local outlets. An avid vegetarian, animal lover and reader, she loves learning about healthy eating and finding natural cures for everyday ailments.