Just like people, dogs can be stressed. Perhaps you've noticed behavioral changes in your dog lately or your dog just doesn't seem to be feeling so well? Perhaps they are unusually tense, affectionate or just more distant than usual. The cause of this could be stress.
Ideally, you would ask your dog what is going on, but unfortunately... Dogs communicate primarily through body language, so it is important that we as humans learn how to understand this body language so we know what they are trying to tell us. There are several signals you should look for to see if your dog is stressed.
How do you recognize stress in your dog?
There are many different behaviors that can mean your dog is stressed.
- Whining or barking - Barking is a normal form of self-expression for dogs. However, when a dog is experiencing stress it may start barking more and more. When dogs are scared or stressed they may whine or whine to get your attention or reassure themselves, for example.
- Trembling or pacing - This is something you will quickly see in a veterinary office. The dog feels insecure and gets stressed from the unknown. For example, the dog may start to pace or tremble tremendously.
- Hiding or escaping behavior - Does your dog often hide behind you? Or do you see your dog doing a lot of unnecessary digging for distraction or hiding? This may indicate that your dog is stressed.
- Body language - When your dog stiffens up completely or cringes completely, you can assume that he or she is feeling stressed. Do you also see that the tail disappears between the legs? Then it could be that your dog is also scared.
- Panting - When dogs are hot or excited they can start panting. Also when a dog is stressed they may start panting, so if your dog has not been running and it is not hot, it could mean that your dog is experiencing stress.
The above symptoms of stress are not a 100% guarantee that your dog is really stressed. First of all, it is important that you know your dog well and can determine when the behavior is abnormal and when it is normal. In this way you will know whether you should take action or not. In general, you can recognize a relaxed and happy dog by this:
- Relaxed ears, not standing up or flat back
- Soft gaze and no fixed gaze
- He distributes his weight over all four legs
- A tail that is up (not stiff) or a wagging tail
- Rolling over on his back and showing his belly
What are the causes of stress?
The cause of stress can vary greatly from dog to dog, but there are some important things to look out for. Some stress triggers are obvious, but there will also be things you may not have considered at all.
Dogs like routine, so a disrupted routine can make dogs extremely nervous. This can happen, for example, when you feed your dog later than usual or when you don't go for a walk with them at the same time.
- Boredom is another major cause of stress. So make sure your dog gets plenty of mental stimulation through going outside, a toy or something else.
- Meeting new people can be stressful for a dog, but remember that all dogs are different. Children, busy situations or strange hands petting them can definitely make your dog stressed. So again, it's important to know your dog well and whether he or she can handle and enjoy this.
- Driving a car can also stress a dog, so always use a car seat for the dog so he or she can look out the window and sit in his or her own familiar bed. This can also counteract car sickness.
- Past trauma can also have a huge impact on your dog. Perhaps you have adopted your dog and he or she was previously mistreated or neglected, this will have left a deep impression on the dog. In these cases it may sometimes be necessary to contact a behaviorist.
How do you get your dog to relax again?
The first thing you will have to do is remove your dog from the situation that is stressing him. It is important that you will not cuddle your dog while he is still in the stressful situation, in this way you reward him for this behavior and that wants you exactly not do. Find a quiet place with your dog and let him execute commands such as sit, lie or give a paw. This distracts the dog and creates a normal, quiet and predictable situation for the dog.
You may not always have the opportunity to remove your dog from the stressful situation, perhaps you are on the road in the car or at a busy birthday party. Then it can be difficult to actually remove your dog from the stressful situation. For example, on a busy birthday, you may choose not to bring your dog next time and arrange for babysitters. If this is not an option, then it is important that you keep an eye on whether your dog is comfortable with all those strange people petting him. You know your dog best.
- There are a number of things you can do to help your dog relax while driving. For example, a booster car seat for your dog can take a huge amount of stress away. It allows the dog to look out the window and this therefore provides an immediate distraction. In addition, an elevated car cage also ensures that your dog really has his or her own spot. Let your dog get acquainted with the basket at home, so that the car basket feels familiar to the dog.
- Does your dog get stressed at the sight of a car? Then it is wise to build up the driving step by step. Drive small distances and reward your dog when he has remained calm and also keep talking to your dog. Read more about this topic here.
- Going on vacation? Then make sure you have enough breaks in which there is also room for your dog to run and sniff around. So the dog can lose his or her energy for a while. Both for people and for dogs applies, exercise provides relaxation and is a way to unwind.
If all these tips and insights do not help and remains your dog very stressed eyes then contact your veterinarian. If there is nothing medical going on, the vet can refer you to a trainer or behaviorist.
And finally, remember that stress is not always bad. Fear is a stress-related emotion that causes us to avoid potential danger. So stress is not only negative, but also a protector. Either way, stress is part of everyday life for us and our dogs. So it's important that we learn how to best deal with it.
Signs Your Dog is Stressed and How to Relieve It (s.d.). Accessed June 8, 2021, from https://vcahospitals.com/
How To Tell If Your Dog Is Stressed (s.d.). Accessed June 8, 2021, from https://www.akc.org/
Beerda, B., Schilder, M.B.H., van Hooff, J.A.R.A.M. and de Vries, H.W. (1998). Manifestations of chronic and acute stress in dogs. Accessed June 8, 2021, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/