10 Signs Your Dog Is Feeling Stressed Explained By A Wellness Expert
Step 3 of 23 in the Dogly Anxiety Channel
with RannaLynn of HippieHoundz, Wellness Advocate

Dogs can't use words to tell us when they feel stressed. Instead, a stressed dog talks to us through body language.

Here's how to spot dog stress and what to do about it.

Because our anxious dogs can't use words to say how they feel, we must pay close attention to their body language. Here are 10 common dog signs of stress to help you interpret your dog's body language - and your dog's stress, feelings, and behavior in a useful way. 


10 signs your dog is stressed and looking for your help...

Stress Sign #1: Pacing & shaking

You’ve probably seen your dog shake after a bath or go roll in the grass. That whole body shake can be amusing and actually a great sign…unless it’s happening because of a stressful situation.

For example, when in stressful situations like a vet visit, many dogs will commonly “shake it off” when they get off the exam table. Or there's the obvious constant "quiver" that happens when a stressed out dog is sitting and shaking because of the situation they're in. Have you ever seen your dog do this?

This shake is different from the playful, happy-go-lucky wiggle that dogs do when they're ready to play or excited about something.

Okay but tell me more...

Some dogs will also pace by walking or running in a repeated path when they feel anxious. This could be back and forth in a defined space or just aimlessly around the room. Pacing is often combined with other stress behaviors like lip licking, yawning, and shaking.

Try this

Be hyper aware if your dog shakes, either by "shaking it off" or quivering, or paces in any situation or environment. If your dog shows either of these behaviors he/she is stressed and it's your job to help your dog feel better by removing them from or changing the situation.

image-panel**alt=image of a golden dog with paws over face showing signs of stress**text=Is your dog stressed? Follow these 10 signs your dog may be stressed and looking for your help.

Stress Sign #2: Barking or whining

Vocalization is a totally normal behavior but it may be intensified under stress. An anxious dog who is afraid or tense may whine or bark to get your attention, or to self soothe.

Although some breeds are more prone to barking than others, prolonged and unexplained barking can be a sign of stress. Particularly separation anxiety. Other excess vocalizations to watch for are whining, whimpering, growling, and excessive panting. If your dog displays any of these, they are probably experiencing stress.

Try this

Pay attention to your dog's different barks and whines. What does your dog sound like when he/she wants dinner vs when he/she is stressed you left the house without them? Learn to know when your dog is barking because of stress versus for attention, wanting something, etc.


Stress Sign #3: Yawning, lip licking & drooling

Dogs yawn when they are tired or bored, but they also yawn when stressed. A stressful yawn is more prolonged and intense than a sleepy yawn. Dogs may also drool and lick excessively when nervous.

Other kinds of stress indicators include lip licking or recurring licking of one place such as paws, most often noticeable by telltale pinkish brown stains on your dog’s fur from the enzymes in their saliva. This may be due to plain old boredom, which can also be a kind of stress.

Try this

Watch to see when your dog yawns aside from when they just wake up. Make note of the situation it happened in and try to avoid it in the future to help your dog stress less. Also make note if your dog is licking his/her paws obsessively and what's happening in the situation.

Stress Sign #4: Panting

This one is a little bit harder to figure out because dogs can pant when hot, excited or stressed. But it is also how they regulate their body temperature. If your dog is panting even though he/she hasn’t jogged for miles in the heat of summer, your pup could possibly be experiencing stress. 

Try this

Write down when your dog pants. If it's just after exercise, that's fine. If your dog hasn't exercised in a while and is panting, that's when you want to be aware of the stressful situation your dog is in.

Stress Sign #5: Showing gums & teeth

Playful dogs will show teeth, or even give that "cheesy" smile with the lip curl, but your dog could also be warning that he or she is feeling anxious and your dog's stress levels are rising to what could end up looking like aggression.

It’s vital to notice the lip curl before it becomes a snarl, the snarl before a snap, and a snap before a bite. Your dog is giving you clear, gradual messages to jump in and alleviate stress by removing or putting some distance between them and whatever is making your dog stressed and/or fearful.

Try this

Watch your dog in play. You may notice a change between the playful showing of teeth and a more dramatic lip curl. If your dog is curling his/her lip, that's your warning to intervene and remove your dog from the situation before the behavior escalates to aggression. 

Stress Sign #6: Reacting with "off" bodily functions & appetite

Like people, nervous dogs can feel a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. When your dog urinates shortly after meeting a new canine friend, he may be marking territory and reacting to the stress simultaneously.

Not eating and loss of normal bowel function or an upset stomach are also stress indicators. If your dog eats really quickly, particularly if your dog may have gone hungry in the past, he/she may have stress around food scarcity.

A decrease in appetite might also be due to stress, and gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea and constipation can be caused by anxiety. Always check with your vet when your dog has prolonged stomach health problems.

Try this

Watch your dog. If your dog has a good, healthy appetite and normal bowel functions -- woohoo! Your dog most likely isn't stressed in that moment. If your dog is eating really fast, not eating, or having an upset stomach a lot, your dog might be experiencing stress. Take note of the situation this is happening in and consult with your vet if your dog's appetite and stomach doesn't improve.


Stress Sign #7: Eyes & ears

Stressed dogs, like stressed people, may have dilated pupils and blink really quickly. They may open their eyes really wide and show more sclera (white) than usual, giving them a startled look. Showing the whites of their eyes. You may see a crescent shape of white as they look side-to-side. This is often called "whale eye."

In humans, we might call this side eye, but your dog isn’t throwing shade. More likely, your dog is trying to tell you he or she is feeling freaked out about something and calling for your help to get involved and remove or ease the stress.

Okay, but tell me more...

The shapes of dog ears differ, but stress will make any dog’s ears react one of two ways. Sometimes a dog's forward facing ears indicate alertness and engagement, but sometimes dogs ears perk up under stress, appearing rigid. Most dogs will show stress by pulling their ears back and laying flat against the head, looking “pinned back.” Either ear position can indicates stress.

Try this

Pay attention to your dog's eyes and ears. If your dog ever gives you "whale eye" where his/her eyes are really wide so you can see a lot of white around his/her eyes, your dog is stressed.

Same goes for your dog's ears. Learn what your dog does with his/her ears when stressed. Are they pinned back or up and rigid? Make note of the situation giving your dog stress and help your dog.

Stress Sign #8: Shedding

Show dogs who become nervous in the show ring often “blow their coat”. Dogs also shed a lot when in the veterinary clinic. Although less noticeable in outside settings, such as visiting a new park or seeing unfamiliar dogs on the street, shedding increases when a dog is anxious. You may also see other signs of your dog's stress level in your pup's skin & coat such as "stress dandruff."

Try this

Write down situations when your dog sheds more than normal. Including when you see a lot of dandruff. Your dog is stressed and we want to avoid putting him/her in those stressful situations going forward.

Stress Sign #9: Body Posture

Dogs normally bear even weight on all four legs. If a healthy dog with no orthopedic problems shifts his weight to his rear legs or cowers, he may be exhibiting stress.

When scared, dogs may also have a tucked tail or become quite rigid. The old “tail between the legs” trick. This is the sign of stress most dog owners know, but not all dogs will use this particular form of body language. If your dog’s tail isn't in its normal position and takes positions that indicate stress, you can be pretty sure your dog is stressed about something.

Try this

Watch your dog's posture. Does it change in certain situations? Write down when your dog's posture and tail could be showing you signs of stress.

Stress Sign #10: Avoidance and Hiding

When faced with an unwelcome situation, dogs may “escape” by focusing on something else. They may sniff the ground, lick their genitals, or simply turn away. Ignoring, avoidance, and hiding behaviors are signs that dogs feel stress and are doing their best to remove themselves from or avoid anxious situations. These are early signs from your dog to you (and everyone else in the vicinity) that your pup wants space or a way to opt out before the situation escalates.

Try this

If your dog avoids interaction with other dogs or people, don’t force the issue. Respect your pup's choice. Our dogs trust us to be their advocates. Some dogs literally move behind their pet parents to hide. They may even nudge their owners to prompt them to move along. As a means of escape or to send a message that they're no threat, your dog may engage in diversion activities such as digging or circling, or may slink behind a tree or parked car or make themselves appear "small."

Be aware if your dog is giving you these signals with his/her body in any situation and be ready to act accordingly. The more you know and can read your dog, the more you can anticipate and help your dog avoid these stressful situations to begin with!


What to do in a stressful moment...

In any of these situations, your dog is asking you to diffuse the stress by putting distance between them and whatever is the source of fear/stress/anxiety. When your dog is already stressed, these are not teachable moments or times to help your dog "learn to adjust" to their stressors.

You want your dog to learn you can be trusted to always have his or her back. This is the time to get away from the stressors asap so your dog feels safe, and reward your dog like crazy with treats and comforting attention. If it happens during dog walking, for example, and you can break away to a quieter street or path, take it super easy and let your dog sniff every sniff and decompress.

What to do next & going forward...

Knowing your dog's stressors, how to spot the early signs, when they happen, and what are likely triggers gives you a lot of information to work with to help your dog live his or her best life.

What should you do with that information?

Step 1) Work with a certified positive, force-free trainer

Many stresses (leash reactivity, fearfulness, etc) can be managed with the support of a certified positive professional trainer (all Dogly Training Advocates are certified, force-free and have a wealth of information on Dogly for you). You and your dog can learn AFTER the moment of stress with all the input you gleaned alongside an experienced positive trainer.

If you think your dog has Separation Anxiety, you'll want to work with a Certified Separation Anxiety Therapist or a Veterinary Behaviorist who specializes in separation anxiety. Dogly Advocate Melissa Dallier of A Canine Affinity is a CSAT and you can see all the guidance on separation anxiety she has shared on Dogly here in the Anxiety Channel, ask her questions, and work with her one-on-one.

Step 2) Stay connected & build a deeper bond with your dog now & always

Being truly connected with your dog every day and really knowing your dog is what makes everything else work. It's what makes every day of your lives together the best they can be for both of you.

My passion is to share ways for you to do just that. A great and simple starting point is to learn how to massage your dog - for energy connection, bonding, and good health. To learn how to massage your dog, you can see my 4-part series here. Enjoy!

Next up in the Anxiety Channel on Dogly

Now that you've learned the signs of stress in dogs, you're ready to continue on to other guides in the Anxiety Channel. Jump to Separation Anxiety step-by-step guides like how to make coming and going boring and how to set your home environment up for success, or check out other guides like how to teach your dog to stay calm outside of the house.

Hop over to the Anxiety Channel if you'd like to ask any of the Dogly Training Advocates who are all certified dog trainers a question in the Community discussion or start any of the step-by-step guides in Separation Anxiety, Noise Sensitivity, or Understanding Anxiety.

And if you ever need more personalized training help, please reach out to work with me one-on-one here on Dogly!

RannaLynn of HippieHoundz

Wellness Advocate
Dogly loves RannaLynn because she helps us keep our dogs well, connecting us with them on a deeper level in the process.

RannaLynn guides you

Traditional Chinese Medicine - Energy Healing - Massage - Anxiety - Meditation - Reiki

RannaLynn is certified

Certified Canine Massage Practitioner - Certified Animal Naturopath - Healing Touch For Animals Practitioner - Animal Kinesiologist - Usui Animal Reiki Master - And Member of the Veterinary Medical Association of Aromatherapy