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28 Signs Your Dog Is Stressed or Anxious (and What to Do About It)

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Dog Behavior By Kelsey Snyder 16 min read September 24, 2021

stressed dog symptoms

No one likes feeling anxious — including your dog. But unfortunately, your pooch can’t speak up to tell you when he’s stressed, so he may just have to suffer in silence.

Canine stress and anxiety may seem harmless, but they can cause serious health issues and behavior problems if left unchecked. So, it’s important to treat your stressed out pooch promptly, to ensure he remains healthy and happy.

Discover the signs of canine anxiety with us below and see how you conquer it.

Signs Your Dog Is Stressed: Key Takeaways

  • Stress and anxiety can cause your pooch to feel rotten and lead to serious health concerns.
  • Because dogs can’t tell us when they’re feeling stressed or anxious, owners have to learn to spot some of the telltale signs and symptoms of stress.
  • There are a variety of things you can do to help your stressed pooch feel better, including exercise, more bonding time, and compression garments, among others.

The Importance of Addressing Dog Stress and Anxiety 

Your dog experiences the same highs and lows that you do when he’s stressed or anxious. His heart may race, he might have an upset tummy, or his fight or flight instinct might shoot through the roof.

Leaving this stress unchecked can have serious ramifications, as the body undergoes radical changes during stress or anxiety episodes that you can’t see. 

While your doggo may not look very bothered on the outside, inside it could be a different story, with physical responses such as:

  • Elevated heart and breathing rate
  • Diverting glucose and protein from essential systems to fuel the body’s muscles in preparation for a fight-or-flight response
  • Poor digestion 

These internal changes can cause physical side effects, including:

  • Increased urination and/or defecation (sometimes diarrhea) 
  • Appetite changes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Reduced immunity
  • Shaking
  • Excessive drooling or mouth foaming

Because stress and anxiety can take a serious toll on your pupper, you must learn to spot the signs of stress to prevent long-term discomfort and health issues.

dog suffering anxiety

28 Signs That Your Dog Is Stressed or Anxious 

While your doggo can’t pull up a chair and tell you what’s bothering him, he can hint at how he’s feeling through his body language and behavior. 

Keep an eye out for these signs of dog anxiety: 

1. Inability to Settle and Relax

If your pooch can’t wind down and always seems on edge, he might be stressed out or anxious. Doggos that can’t settle may flinch at every sound or wake frequently from sleep.

Even while lying down, a stressed pooch may have wide, alert eyes and a tense body posture.  

2. Pacing

Anxious dogs may pace the house or yard endlessly, whether they trot aimlessly or check the same points repeatedly.

Your stressed out pooch may also check his favorite window more than usual or wander the perimeter of the house more than he normally does.

dog looking out of the window

3. Shaking

Anxiety and stress can sometimes manifest in the form of shaking or full-body tremors. This can be alarming, but note that dogs tremble from excitement too — any rush of emotion can elicit a shaking reaction.

Because it can be difficult to distinguish excited trembling from anxious trembling, discuss any shaking with your vet to rule out medical issues.

4. Freezing in Place

Sometimes, you may notice your dog walking along without a care, before suddenly freezing solid with a rigid body.

Sudden stillness is a sign that your dog feels the need to be overly cautious, which can indicate stress or anxiety. If your dog suddenly stops walking and won’t move, he’s probably not being stubborn or dramatic – he might just be really freaked out! This is your dog cluing you in that he doesn’t feel safe or confident.

5. Unusual Posturing 

Similar to freezing, an anxious pupper may sit or move with a hunched or awkward posture. He might look tense or contorted, as some dogs try to shrink down in a defensive posture.

nervous dog posturing

Strange posturing can also be a sign of injury or illness, so keep an eye out for signs of pain like yelping or limping.

6. Showing His Gums

Often described as snarling or even smiling by some, stressed dogs might curl their lips up to reveal their gums and teeth. This is also a precursor to nipping or biting, so give your dog plenty of space if he exhibits this behavior.

dog snarling

Just note that dogs may also reveal their teeth while happily wagging their tail, too (which usually isn’t a sign of stress).

7. Flattened or Rigid Ears

Body language is a powerful tool at learning how your dog is feeling, and ears are like turn signals that can indicate your dog’s mood.

If your pooch has his ears straight back, he may be trying to tell you he’s stressed or upset. 

dog with flattened ears

8. Hiding

Hiding under furniture or bedding can be a telltale sign of anxiety. This is a self-preservation method where your dog is hiding from a perceived threat.

Hiding can also be a sign of illness or injury, so pay close attention to your dog’s overall condition, as it may be time for a vet appointment.

dog hiding under bed

9. Sweaty Paws

Dogs don’t sweat much, but they do sweat from their feet. And when stressed, they may sweat much more than normal.  If you notice your pooch leaving sweat tracks around the house on a cool day, he might be stressed.

Sweaty paws can also be a sign of an increased body temperature, however, so you may want to take his temperature and contact your vet to rule out illness.

stress causes sweaty paws

10. Strange or Frequent Vocalizations

Nuisance barking is prevalent with canines suffering from separation anxiety, but whining, growling, and howling can also indicate that your dog is feeling stressed.

It may be hard on the ears, but this is how your dog is voicing his displeasure to the world, and he’s counting on you to listen.  

11. Tucked Tail

Your pooch’s tail tells you a lot about how he’s feeling. A tucked tail is a sign that your dog is scared or uncertain. If your dog has a tucked tail, proceed with caution, and keep a pleasant tone to help soothe him.

dog with tucked tail

12. Destructive Chewing

Dogs suffering from separation anxiety often express it through destructive behavior like chewing. This is your dog expressing his frustration and relieving the built-up stress.

destructive chewing

Destructive chewing is not only pricey in terms of the repairs you’ll face, but it can also be dangerous if your pup gets his mouth on something harmful. Some crate training and a tough chew toy can help keep your dog (and home) safe.

13. Scratching

A stressed-out pooch may scratch at himself even if he’s not itchy. It might sound odd, but like chewing, scratching releases some of the trapped stress that’s driving him bonkers.

Excessive scratching can lead to hair loss and skin irritation, and it may also be a sign of skin issues, so giving your vet a call isn’t a bad idea.

14. Seeking Attention

When you’re feeling down, you want a little extra love, and your dog is no different. A stressed out pooch may start jumping into your lap or leaning against you constantly. This is his way of seeking comfort.

15. Hypervigilance 

A stressed-out or anxious dog might be on watch 24-7 with no explanation. He may repeatedly patrol the house or bark at every noise as if he’s on guard.

Not only can this make living with your pupper policeman tricky, but it can also overly stress your doggo due to the toll hypervigilance takes on him.

16. Drooling

An anxious dog may produce excess saliva, resulting in drooling or foaming at the corners of his mouth. Not only is this a sticky situation around the house, but it can also be a grooming issue with long-haired pooches that may develop mats or hot spots from the excess moisture.

Drooling can also be a sign of several health conditions, making a vet appointment a must if it appears at random. 

17. Self-Calming Behaviors

A stressed out dog will try to soothe himself however he can. This includes excessive yawning, lip licking, or sneezing.

It might look a little funny to us, but these calming signals are your dog’s way of telling a perceived threat that he’s harmless, therefore making himself feel more in control. 

18. Intense Displacement Behaviors

Displacement behaviors are normal behaviors that occur at odd or unusual times. For example, an anxious dog may incessantly groom himself when he’d normally be playing.

Like destructive chewing around the home, displacement behaviors are your dog’s way of redirecting his stress. 

19. Bathroom Issues

One of the messiest (and most frustrating) signs of stress can be potty problems. This can include inappropriate urinating or defecating in the house. A stressed-out dog may also suffer from bouts of unexplained diarrhea.

Bathroom issues warrant a trip to the vet, especially if diarrhea is involved, as you want to rule out health problems.

20. Sudden Shedding

While all dogs shed, a change in shedding habits may be a hint that your pup is stressed. A sudden onset may occur apart from his usual shedding season or may include a random uptick in tumbleweeds around the house.

stress causes shedding

An increase in shedding is also a sign of several health conditions, making a vet appointment a good idea.

21. Vomiting

Like the topsy-turvy feeling you might get in your belly before a big event, your dog may suffer from nausea and vomiting because of stress. This messy situation might occur during a change in routine like a car ride or vet trip, while other dogs may toss their cookies if their environment is changed.

Because vomiting can lead to dehydration, and it can indicate an underlying health problem, contact your vet if it’s more than an infrequent event.

22. Learned Helplessness

Repeated exposure to a negative situation can cause a condition known as learned helplessness.

Essentially, learned helplessness occurs when your dog feels unable to control the outcome of a situation, so he “shut downs” and refuses to perform a command or skill.

This is a fear reaction and may be the result of abuse or harsh correction tactics. 

23. Aggression

It can be alarming for your pooch to get snappy or growly with you, but it may be because he’s feeling anxious.

Fear aggression arises when a dog loses confidence, which anxiety and stress can compound exponentially.

If you notice a sudden change in your dog’s temperament, it’s important to remain calm (to avoid being bitten) and make a vet appointment to rule out a medical cause.

24. Eye Changes

Just like ears, eyes are a major indicator to how your pooch is feeling, and whale eyes go hand-in-hand with anxiety and stress.

whale eyes

Whale eyeing is a term to describe when the whites of your dog’s eyes are visible, caused by your dog tilting his head but keeping his eye fixed on an item.

Whale eyeing is a warning that your dog is fearful, so proceed with caution to avoid a bite.

25. Change in Sleep Habits

A stressed dog can experience significant changes in his sleep pattern. He may sleep more often or have trouble sleeping. Since sleep is an essential part of your doggo’s routine, the change can be debilitating.

sleeping dog

Excessive sleeping can lead to stiffness, obesity, and depression, while a lack of sleep can worsen anxiety. You should contact your vet if you notice your pooch suddenly sleeping too much or too little.

26. Low Energy

If your pup seems to be bowing out early during play or walks, he may be dealing with underlying anxiety. Dogs expel energy internally when stressed, which can leave him feeling fatigued quicker than normal. 

27. Withdrawal from Interaction

Similar to depression, stress and anxiety can result in a pooch who resists interaction with family and other pets, including his canine friends.

For example, your pooch may suddenly stop greeting you at the door or sitting with you on the couch. Your pup might be less interested in his favorite belly rubs and play sessions, too.

28. Lack of Appetite

Dogs experiencing stress or anxiety may suddenly lose interest in food and even turn their nose up to their favorite treats when offered. This reduced appetite may be gradual, with a sudden pickiness, or rapid, with your dog completely refusing food.

Since food refusal can also be a sign of medical issues, contact your veterinarian.

dog loss of appetite

Common Sources of Stress in Dogs

To treat your dog’s stress and anxiety, you’ll need to first identify the cause. Many things can trigger your pup’s stress, including: 

  • Loud Noises — A thunderstorm, fireworks, or construction can wreak havoc on your dog’s nerves. Thankfully, you can implement a few at-home changes to help your pooch remain calm when surrounded by excessive noise.
  • Living Situation Changes — Moving can understandably be hard on your four-legged friend, but so can smaller changes like rearranging your home or buying new furniture. 
  • Change in Family Composition — A new baby, pet, or spouse can throw off your household’s rhythm and make your dog feel uncertain in his role in the pack.
family changes stress dog
  • Punishment Using harsh correction can not only lead to canine stress and anxiety but result in behavior regression. As frustrating as your pooch can be at times (like when he tinkled on your favorite rug), it’s important to maintain a positive attitude. A firm verbal correction is fine, but never strike or shout at your dog.
  • New Things — Tied into living situation changes, a new item around the house can stoke fear or anxiety in a sensitive pupperoni. You may love it, but your pup may feel overwhelmed with the look and smell of your new living room set.
  • SeparationBeing left alone can cause stress for many dogs. It doesn’t need to be a long period of time, either. Some pups feel the need to follow their pawrent from room to room or they feel anxious.
  • No Outlet for Standard Breed Behaviors — Dogs need to be allowed to be dogs. Breeds are designed for certain tasks and preventing them from doing them can lead to stress. For instance, a dachshund is a digger at heart and needs to release that instinct somewhere. It may not be your flowerbed, but a sandbox is a great idea.
  • Invasion of Personal Space — Not every dog is happy to share their space with humans or other canines. If your dog feels like his domain is being encroached on, he might start exhibiting signs of stress.
  • Changes in Routine — Working a new shift or adding more errands to your day-to-day life can be hard on your pup too. Since you are his whole world, a shift in meal or walk times can be stressful.
  • Relationship Conflicts — Spats between dogs can lead to anxiety, as can a rocky relationship with someone in the house. If your pooch is afraid of men, for example, he may be anxious around the males in the household. Your pooch can also absorb your relationship stress if you and someone in the household are arguing. 

How to Reduce Your Dog’s Stress or Anxiety

Reducing your pupper’s stress and minimizing triggers isn’t as difficult as you’d think. To give your doggo a stress break, you can try a number of things, like: 

  • Visit Your Vet — An underlying medical condition can cause anxiety and stress. Checking in with your vet to rule these out is a good first step. 
  • Desensitization — If the anxiety is caused by a permanent change to the household, such as a new member, you need to look into adjusting your dog to the situation by working on desensitization. By working with your dog to overcome his fear, you’re slowly instilling confidence. Slowly introducing your dog to the trigger helps make it less scary, therefore defeating anxiety and stress. This is a gradual process and a professional trainer may be your best bet if your dog’s aversion is severe.
  • Counter Conditioning Tied to desensitization is counter conditioning — the act of reprogramming how your dog reacts to a situation. Using treats is a good way to flip the anxiety of a trigger with a reward. For example, if your dog experiences anxiety surrounding vet appointments, bring along treats for the car ride, waiting room, and exam to help associate the once-negative experience with a positive one. 
  • Journal to Identify Stressors — Pinning down what exactly has your four-footer bothered can be tricky, but keeping track of behaviors is a great way to figure out what’s going on with him. Noting the behavior, time, and previous actions or movements help narrow down the possibilities. For instance, it might be the landscaper’s visit that triggers it, while other pooches might freak out over the mailman.
Journal to Figure Out Dog's Stressor
  • Massage A worked up pooch is likely tense from head to toe. Help him relax by gently rubbing along his back, shoulders, or hips. The act of touch can be incredibly soothing, especially if your dog is having a hard time settling. That said, if your dog is experiencing a bout of aggression, this is not the proper remedy.
  • Bonding Time — Spending more one-on-one time with your pooch not only strengthens your bond, but it also helps him feel more confident. For dogs struggling with a change in your routine, this time is critical. Try incorporating an extra daily walk or sign up for a dog sport you both might enjoy.
  • Brushing (If Your Dog Likes It) — Like massaging, brushing can help your dog relax since it mimics his favorite rubs and scratches. It’s important to not force grooming on a dog that dislikes it, however, as it would worsen his anxiety. 
  • Appeasing Pheromone — Generally offered in a plug-in diffuser, dog appeasing pheromones are chemicals that mimic the way dogs speak to one another through scent. The scents can have a calming effect for your fur friend.
  • Crating Dogs with separation anxiety especially benefit from having their own crate sanctuary. Not only does providing a crate give your anxious pooch a place of his own to relax, but it also keeps him safe (and out of trouble) when you’re not around. 
  • Mental Stimulation — Boredom can cause heaps of problems like barking, destruction, and anxiety. Giving your dog brain-engaging interactive toys and anxiety dog toys can ward off these problems by keeping him busy.
  • Exercise Built-up energy needs an outlet, especially in active breeds like border collies and shepherds. Regularly exercising your dog can alleviate stress. Beefing up your dog’s exercise regimen is easier than you’d think and helps relieve some of his frustration. 
exercise helps canine stress
  • Remote Interaction Breaking up the day and checking in on your pup is possible with today’s technology, where devices include pet cameras with voice interaction and on-demand treat dispensers. This sense of “you” in the home even when you’re not there can be a calming presence for your dog.
  • Compression Garments A tight-fitting shirt can ease stress. These garments fit snugly on the body (not neck!!!) and give your doggo a sense of comfort. Commonly referred to as Thundershirts because of their use during storms, you can easily make your own Thundershirt at home. 
  • Medication Some dogs may require medicine to soothe their anxiety. Anxiety medications include prescription and over-the-counter options and should be discussed with your vet before use. 
  • Background Noise — Softly playing music or leaving the television on can help block out stress-causing noises like construction or other barking dogs. The sound can mimic people being home too, making him feel more secure.

***

Do you use any of these methods to help your doggo relax? Have any other tricks up your sleeve? Let us know in the comments. 

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Written by

Kelsey Snyder

Kelsey is a K9 of Mine contributor who has worked with dogs as a shift runner and office manager of a boarding kennel. When she’s not writing, she can be found throwing a ball or losing at tug of war. An animal lover to the max, she lives in South Jersey with her husband, her five dogs Boomer, Taj, Batman, Maya, and Moxie, some kitties, and two grumpy turtles.

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