Today’s guest writer is Robbi Hess, Story Editor at Positively Woof. Robbi is writing about how to recognize the signs of stress in your dog and how to help.
Is your dog stressed? As a pet parent you are in tune with your dog’s moods and the way in which she behaves. You can tell if he’s nervous, anxious, happy or scared. When you leave your dog with a pet sitter we’ll bet you explain, “If he hides behind the couch or keeps licking his lips, that means he’s nervous and you should do XYZ to make him more comfortable.”
Stress and anxiety is more common in dogs than many people think. It’s not even because pet parents treat their dogs as “children” either – it’s because dogs experience highs and lows in their moods, much of it based on the emotions of their pet parent and their environment.
Let’s face it: Pet parents can “read” their dogs and they have steps they take to both alleviate stress and to partake in the joy our dogs are experiencing. If you’re a new dog parent or if you’ve adopted a new dog whose body language you don’t understand yet, here are some signs to look for that can tell you if your dog is relaxed or stressed out.
What does your dog look, and act, like when he’s relaxed?
To recognize when your dog is stressed you will need to understand his body language when he’s relaxed. Is your dog stretched out, snoring, showing his belly, or resting his head in your lap? Those are relaxed poses.
Is your dog looking at you with what appears to be a “smile” on his face? Are his ears perked up? Is he acting “goofy”? Is he bouncing around, playing with toys and wagging his tail?
Is he looking at you over his shoulder, urging you to chase him? These are some of the many signs you recognize when your dog is relaxed and happy.
What to look out for if you think your dog may be stressed or anxious
Does your dog appear “stiff” and are his steps measured and slow? Can you see the whites of his eyes? You may notice he is avoiding eye contact and turning away from you. Is he staring intensely at you or at the object causing his stress?
Is your dog’s mouth tightly closed? Are his lips pulled back in a grimace? Is he growling, whimpering or whining? Is your dog panting “unnecessarily”? This means he is panting more than would be normal for the weather, the heat level or his level of physical exertion.
Tail wagging isn’t a great indicator of relaxation or stress because dogs will wag their tails if they’re happy or nervous – this is truly a pet parent skill to recognize which signal your dog is sending you with a tail wag.
There are other, physical signs a dog is experiencing stress. Keep in mind that if you notice changes in your dog’s behavior you will want to make an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out underlying health issues. Your vet can also offer insight and advice on how to alleviate your dog’s stress.
Here are some other signs of stress and anxiety in dogs:
- Decreased appetite. Most dogs won’t skip meals unless there is something wrong.
- Is she having digestive issues like constipation or diarrhea? This usually occurs because of a disease or food intolerance, but some dogs experience issues because of stress.
- Hiding and isolation. If your normally gregarious and people-loving dog avoids human contact and isolates himself, it could be because of an illness or stress.
- Is he sleeping more than usual? Is he lethargic? Lethargy can be a sign of an illness or stress or anxiety.
- Is he aggressive toward people or pets in the household? If aggression is not your dog’s normal behavior, it could be a manifestation of fear or anxiety.
- Your dog may urinate or defecate in the house. Once an underlying health issue has been ruled out, you will need to look for ways to alleviate his stress to prevent this.
- Uncontrollable barking. Your neighbors may tell you that your dog barks all day long while you’re gone and this could be a sign of separation anxiety. Read below how DOGTV can enrich your dog’s environment and alleviate separation anxiety.
- Your dog may lick himself. You may notice him licking his leg or even the furniture. If this is something he hasn’t done in the past, it could be he’s doing this because he is anxious.
How can you help out a stressed or anxious dog?
Once your veterinarian has ruled out underlying health issues with your dog and you’re both convinced he is under stress, there are ways in which you can alleviate your dog’s anxiety.
Here are a few options for relieving your dogs’ anxiety
Make sure he has a safe zone. Your dog’s safe zone could be his crate, under your bed, on the couch or in his favorite chair. Let him know he is welcome to take refuge in those areas during high anxiety-inducing events like a thunderstorm or when you’re having a party. Leave your dog’s favorite blanket and toy in his safe zone. Visit him frequently when he’s there and pet him and talk calmly to him. Dogs will self-soothe just as humans do.
Exercise, walk, and play. A tired dog is a happy dog. Physical activities that your dog enjoys – a walk, run, swim, rousing game of fetch, or other activities he loves are ideal stress reducers for your dog. If he gets anxious when you’re leaving for work and he will be home alone, physical activity may tire him out enough that he will relax and simply lie around while you’re gone.
Provide canine enrichment. Just as our surroundings can bring us calm or stress, the same occurs for our dogs. Many people leave a radio on for their dogs so they aren’t in a silent house. Turning on scientifically-developed canine enrichment television programming that DOGTV provides will bring your dog more stress relief than his listening to disembodied voices on the radio.
Get your dog accustomed to “watching” DOGTV by turning it on when the two of you are home and can relax and watch the programming together. Your dog will associate the programming with calm interaction and this may alleviate his stress when he’s home alone.
Feed him well. If your dog is eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. If your dog isn’t eating food that is healthful for the stage of life and her health it could lead to physical ailments that could lead to anxiety.
Dogs communicate with us through body language and by changes in behavior. Pay attention to your dog and do what you can to remove him from situations that make him anxious or enrich his environment in a way that makes him calm, relaxed, and stress-free.
If your dog is displaying symptoms of anxiety or stress, sign up for a free fourteen day trial of DOGTV to help him be calmer and more relaxed while you’re away. Enrich your dog’s environment to alleviate his stress and separation anxiety.