Some stress signs may be difficult to see, while others are very noticeable. Some signs relate to an increase in activity, as in acute stress - body and mind go into "red alert" status. Others relate to a decrease in activity or shutting down - in response to chronic stress. These differences are due to chemical changes taking place in the dog's brain.

Please note that some of the signs listed below may also be caused by health-related problems. Consultation with a veterinarian may be advised.

Stress Signs:

  • Backing away
  • Growling when approached to be handled
  • Crouching or slinking posture
  • Cowering
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yawning (Unless your dog is about to take a nap, yawning is fairly indicative of stress.)
  • Panting (Panting is normal for dogs who are hot, but the dog looks relaxed. If panting is related to stress, often the tongue will be cupped at the tip as opposed to laying limp and relaxed.)
  • Drooling
  • Pacing
  • Excessive shedding
  • Diarrhea/ bowel movements
  • Vomiting
  • Inappropriate or increased urination (when the body is stressed, fluids are forced from the body)
  • Licking the lips
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Dilated pupils and/or red around the eyes
  • Trembling or shivering (take in context - dog may be cold)
  • Shaking (as if the animal were shaking off water)
  • Whining, excessive vocalizing (barking)
  • Freezing in place
  • Nipping
  • Sweaty paws (leaving sweaty paw prints on the floor)
  • Increased activity (may look frantic or 'hyperactive')
  • Excessive scratching or licking repeatedly
  • "Spacing out" by turning away or avoiding eye contact
  • Hiding behind the handler
  • Hiding under furniture
  • Decreased activity
  • Refusing to interact with family; previously playful dog not wanting to play
  • Confusion (may also be a medical emergency such as seizure or diabetic problem)
  • Skin disorders (may need medical or dietary attention in addition to stress management)
Possible causes of stress:
  • Unusual noises
  • Unknown places
  • Confusing or inconsistent training or handling
  • People exhibiting strange or unusual behavior (can include baby who is beginning to crawl)
  • Unpredictable or rough handling
  • Unusual odors
  • Being crowded by people or other animals
  • A person being nervous or acting in a strange way from the animals perspective
  • Inadequate socialization to new people and experiences
  • Extreme indoor and outdoor temperatures
  • Housing or resting area in an inappropriate place, not able to get adequate rest as a result
  • Visiting company - dog not getting adequate rest in safe area
  • Inadequate exercise or mental stimulation
  • Inadequate diet
  • Humans "anthropomorphizing" animal behavior thus causing behavior problems
  • Inappropriate or excessive feeding of animals
  • Any unusual event
  • Genetic predisposition
Stress Reducers:
  • Remove dog to a different area
  • Block visually so dog cannot see the trigger
  • Let dog have 'down time' in a safe quiet place
  • Redirect dog to suitable chew toy
  • Calming massage (be careful not to reward fearful behavior)
  • Check for physical problem (take to veterinarian).
  • Socialize dog to new experiences. You must make it pleasant for the dog, never force the dog.
  • Establish leadership so dog looks to owner for guidance
  • Counter-conditioning and desensitization (seek assistance from humane trainer or behaviorist)

Pat Scott is a CPDT "Certified Pet Dog Trainer" and a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

Pat first got interested in dog training back in 1985. Over the years she has been involved in several types of dog activities including den trials, lure coursing, tracking, training a service dog and a hearing dog.

Currently her main dog hobby has been training for and entering obedience trials. Her dogs have earned many titles, ribbons and awards. She also teaches classes focused toward pet owners. Her goals in teaching are to solve or prevent behavior problems, and to help build a strong mutually respectful relationship between owner and dog, using dog-friendly methods. She does not teach competition classes but she can refer interested people. 

Pat can be contacted vie e-mail at

You may also visit her web site.

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