How to Tell If Your Dog Is Anxious or Stressed

Dalmatian cowering and hiding
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Signs of an anxious dog can include lowered ears; freezing in place; and vocalizations like a bark, whine, whimper or growl. Plus, the whites of his eyes may be more pronounced.

Is your dog feeling anxious? Stressed? Worried? You may think he can’t tell you if he is, but he can — and he will. Your dog communicates his emotional state through body language and behavior. Decoding his cues is mostly a matter of knowing what to look for.

It is important to notice the signs of stress in their early stages; this gives you an opportunity to remove your dog from a situation before his reaction escalates and becomes potentially aggressive or dangerous. Other anxiety intervention tactics, like training, are also more successful if started as soon as possible, before your dog has a chance to become chronically stressed.

As you attempt to decode your dog’s body language, take the situation he is in into account. In one context, a dog licking his lips may be expressing fear or anxiety; in another context, the same dog may lick his lips in anticipation of a treat. And some dogs lick their lips when they feel nauseous. Consider your dog’s overall behavior, not just one motion or gesture, when you assess his stress level. Be particularly aware of behavior that seems out of character for your dog.

If your dog exhibits signs that could be signaling stress or anxiety, start with a visit to the veterinarian. Your vet can investigate medical issues that may be contributing to changes in your dog’s behavior.

How Your Dog Looks When He’s Relaxed

In order to recognize when your dog is anxious, it is important to be familiar with how he behaves when he’s relaxed. In my experience, dogs who are relaxed and comfortable tend to show this in their behavior and posture.

When your dog is relaxed, you can see it in his face. His eyes will be soft and rounded or possibly slightly squinted. The coloring of his eyes will be easily seen. He will hold his ears semierect and forward (unless he has floppy ears). When he interacts with a person, his ears may go back slightly, in a polite social gesture. His mouth will be relaxed — in fact, it may look like he’s smiling.

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