10 Ways Your Dog is Telling You He's Stressed

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It’s apparent that humans and canines have different ways of communicating with each other, and it’s completely obvious that we sometimes have trouble crossing that communication barrier. As a pet parent, it’s our obligation to learn how our dogs communicate so we can provide the best possible home for them.

You probably already know what your dog begging for a treat looks like, and what your dog does when they want to go for a walk, but are you familiar with the signs your dog gives you when they are scared, nervous, anxious, and stressed? Check out these 10 behaviors that can signal stress in your dog.

1. Ears Pinned Back

All dogs have different ears according to their different breeds, and they choose to hold them in different ways at different times, but if they are pinned back it can be a sign of stress, especially if you also see other signs of stress such as lip licking, furrowed brow, or excessive panting.

This dog is presenting ears pinned back, stressful panting, tension around his mouth and brow, and you can see the whites of his eyes.

2. Lip Licking

This isn’t your typical “mmm, that was yummy” after a good meal. A stressful lip lick is a small lick, outside the context of eating, accompanied by other signs of stress.

       

**The dog in the photos above is nervous and expressing it initially through lip licking, then, as tension progresses, he begins to turn away from the stressor.**

3. Yawning

While dogs, like humans, do yawn when they're tired, they are more likely to yawn when they're stressed.

The dog pictured appears to be slowly moving away from a stressful situation. Signs he is stressed include stiffness in his stance, low carriage of his tail, yawning, pinned ears, and tension on his face.

4. Panting

If it’s cool and your dog hasn’t been doing much physical activity, they shouldn’t be panting, and this is considered a sign of stress. Be aware of all signs of stress so you can help your dog through a tough situation, or remove them from it altogether.

5. Shaking Off

Another action that can signify stress is shaking off. Dogs shake off for many reasons, including when they first get up from lying down a while, but a stressful shaking off usually happens directly after they encounter an unpleasant situation such as toe nail clipping or an exam by a veterinarian.

6. Tension in the Face

If a dog is holding their mouth tightly pulled back, has a furrowed brow, or shows tension around the eyes while also displaying other signs of stress such as pinning their ears back, they’re telling you they’re anxious.

This dog is apprehensive and is showing his nervousness through pinned ears, the whale eye, and slightly turning his head to the side.

7. Cowering


If your dog is crouched low to the ground, if her tail is hanging low and only the tip is wagging, or if she's holding her head down low, these are signs of stress and anxiety.

Observe this dog's posture. There is tension in her entire body, she is holding herself low, averting her head slightly to the side, and holding her ears back.

8. Avoidance

Avoidance can look like many different things including being stubborn, but you need to be able to differentiate between being stubborn and nervous avoidance. It can save you a lot of pain and suffering later if the situation escalates. Slight head turn, backing away, sniffing the ground, and lack of focus can be avoidance. If you’re getting what’s called a whale eye (the dog’s head is turned away from you, or the subject causing him stress, and his eyes are still looking at the stressful subject) he’s telling you he doesn’t like the situation. If the dog turns his head or whole body away from you, or backs away slowly instead of coming when called, respect that choice and don’t interact with him. He’s telling you to leave him alone in the most polite way possible.

9. Refusing Food

If your dog usually acts as the garbage disposal eating everything offered to him, but chooses to say no to a treat in a certain situation, he's probably stressed. Look for other signs of stress and determine what's causing his refusal to eat and remove him from the situation. If there are no other signs of stress, watch your dog closely as something else could be wrong and you’ll need to take him to a veterinarian.

10. Stiffness and Freezing

If your dog has decided to freeze, with stiff muscles not moving his body, this is a sign of major stress and fear and could possibly be the last warning he will give. Aggression could be the next thing that happens. Don’t let this progress into dog violence that will be seen on TV with the quote, “He just attacked out of nowhere!” No, he gave you plenty of warning signs, and you didn’t respect his efforts to communicate with you.

There are several things happening in this photo. The three dogs on the left are all presenting lip licks, while the dog on the far right is panting while showing the whites of her eyes. Knowing these dogs, and their love of party hats, I observed that the stress these dogs were probably feeling is the length of time spent taking photos. Multiple times one or more dogs got off the couch and we placed back in position for the photo. They had had enough and were ready to go about their day. If I didn't know these dogs, I would suggest that the party hats were part of the stress. It's important to KNOW YOUR DOG.

 

Stress is a normal part of life for everyone, including your dog, but the advantage you have is that you’ve had the chance to learn to cope with stressors. Your dog needs the opportunity to learn to be OK with different stressful situations, too, and it’s your job to know when they need your help, or maybe just some time. None of these signs alone guarantee that your dog is under stress, but when you observe your dog’s behavior and see multiple signs, or anything out of the ordinary, it’s time to listen to your dog.

Sometimes he might be just avoiding you for one reason or another. Sometimes he’s distracted by the scent on the ground, or maybe sometimes he’s actually tired and the yawns aren’t stress related. It’s your job to know your dog.

It’s your responsibility as a dog owner to watch for these signs. If he’s letting you know he’s anxious, scared, nervous, etc. it’s your job to get him out of the situation, or step back and work him through it in a positive way.

What behaviors/signals do you observe in this photo? Comment below...



Helo has his ears pinned back and is displaying slight avoidance to express that he doesn't like the camera in his face.

And I'll leave you with a happy dog...a TRULY happy dog! :)

This dog is happy and relaxed. You can see his mouth is open, his lips are relaxed, his eyes are bright and focused, and his ears are forward and perky.

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