Just like us humans, dogs are not immune to stress. They can feel stress in all sorts of situations, positive or negative. When a situation is positive, we will often say that the dog is excited; but in a negative situation, we say that the dog is anxious. Whichever it might be, the feeling is still “stress”. However, long-term stress is never healthy for the body, therefore we might as well be able recognize signs of stress in our dog in order to act properly based on the situation.
Let’s put the good aside and let’s talk about the bad stress. First of all, here are a few situations that might trigger stress:
- An imminent danger
- A traumatic event
- A new and unknown situation
- A negative association
- An uneasiness or frustration
Now, here are the signs that the most easy to notice:
- Shaking: quite visible in small dogs, but bigger dogs can also do the same.
- Vocalization: howling, crying or barking.
- Rapid breathing: panting, we think the dog is hungry or thirsty, but it doesn’t drink.
- “The Joker smile”: when there are at corner of its chops, the dog is not smiling: the dog is stressed.
- Hypersalivation: the dog is drooling all the time to the point where it’s not really fun (in the car).
- Agitation: the dog is always moving and cannot stay still. The paws don’t seem to reach the ground completely, and the dog seems to hop.
- Residual behavior: the dog urinates, defecates or destroys anything it sees.
- A dog can also develop a compulsive behaviour such as spinning or constantly licking.
Other signs of stress are more difficult to notice, but just as indicative of the dog’s state of mind:
- Paw sweating: the dog leaves traces as it walks
- Dandruff: when our hand goes through its fur, dandruff comes out instantly.
- Dilated pupils: not easy to see if the dog is constantly moving.
- Rigid body: the muscles are tense and stiff.
When we realize that our dog shows signs of stress, the best thing to do is to find the cause of the stress. Once we know what it is, we deal with the environment; we move the animal and we try to make it have a change of setting. Stress is a perfectly natural reaction that allows the dog to survive in case of a dangerous situation. For example, a poorly handled stress can be very unhealthy for the dog and can often lead to anxiety and unwanted behaviors. It is best to pay close attention to these signs and act quickly to have a dog comfortable on its own “paws”.
Catherine Gouillard, BSc Biology
Certified Animal Behaviour specialist