As a dog owner, you learn to read your pet’s varied emotions. Of course, your favorite emotion is when your pet is happy and engaged with you and your family, but negative emotions like fear and stress are often less visible than excited tail-wagging.
Dog owners need to recognize signs of stress in their dogs. Learning the signs will better prepare you to help your pet when he or she is in distress, and it will help you protect the safety of other animals and people who interact with your dog.
Here are common stress signals you can look for:
One of the early signs of stress, especially situational stress, is retreating. Your dog, who might normally enjoy being the center of attention, might choose to withdraw from the group and hide in a safe place.
For example, during a Thanksgiving get-together, your sister and her three loud and rambunctious children come to visit. Your dog, who is not used to the noise, feels uncomfortable and hides from the group. He or she might also run away whenever approached by a visitor.
The best way to handle this stress signal is to allow your dog to retreat. You can work on training your dog to be more comfortable around large groups of people gradually. Forcing your dog out of his or her den to interact with people, especially children, can be dangerous. Your dog, while normally gentle, might feel threatened enough to show aggression.
Changes in Eating Habits
A common sign of chronic stress is reduced appetite or increased digestive problems. Dogs, even dogs who are overweight, will still eat regularly when they are healthy. If your dog is suddenly refusing food, it’s a sign of stress.
The stress may not be purely emotional, either. Some dogs refuse food because they are experiencing physical pain or even illness. Other dogs might not eat because they are depressed, especially after a major life change. Sometimes dogs who have isolation anxiety will not eat when their owners are not at home.
If your dog is not eating, you need to talk to your vet to help discover the underlying cause, especially because your dog’s physical health will decline rapidly without proper nutrition.
Too Much Sleep
Dogs can share some of the same stress signals as humans— including getting too much sleep. Dogs can get depressed, and sleeping more is a method of coping. Sleeping more can also be a sign of illness.
You can help keep your dog healthy by committing to a daily exercise routine; the activity can help stimulate positive emotions in your dog, and staying active can help promote alertness. Provide new experiences, like new toys and games, and set up times to play with other dogs.
If it seem like your dog does not perk up even with daily walks and activities, or if he or she is too tired to complete a routine walk, it’s best to consult your veterinarian to rule out illness.
One of the hallmarks of an anxious dog is destruction. Does your dog tear things apart when you’re away from home? When they retreat from company, do they bite and tear things they shouldn’t? Dogs who express their stress with destruction need pet parents who provide them with greater security. You can try the following:
CRATE TRAINING YOUR DOG:
It may seem cruel to leave your dog in his or her crate when you’re not at home, but your dog’s crate is like his den. He may feel safe there. If you will only be gone a short time, crating your dog will spare him the stress of being alone.
SPENDING MORE TIME TOGETHER WITH YOUR DOG:
Take your dog with you when you can. Let them be in the kitchen with you when you cook dinner. Speak to your dog when you’re doing chores at home. Increased interaction will increase your dog’s security.
SETTING FIRM RULES:
Dogs actually find comfort in the dynamic of pack leader/pack follower. Always be a leader, setting clear guidelines for your dog. Keep feeding times the same each day, and be consistent.
Sometimes, destructive behaviors still continue even after your efforts to provide security. Some dogs suffer from anxiety disorders, and it’s worth talking to your vet about whether or not your pet needs medication.
Hard Eyes and Frozen Posture
This acute stress signal is important for owners to recognize and respect. Dogs may go from growling to panting or retreating to silence while tensing their muscles and hardening their eyes. These signs signal that your dog’s stress is at the breaking point. They need to relax before you or any other person approaches.
This is not the time for continuing to force your dog to “face their fears.” Especially when another dog or person is involved, provoking your dog when he or she is under this much stress can lead to violence. Stop your behavior. Allow your dog to retreat, and after the danger has passed, re-establish your connection as leader and follower.