What is your dog's body language telling you about his stress levels?
PUBLISHED: 10:00 26 April 2016 | UPDATED: 11:23 26 April 2016
Behaviourist Helen Goodall explains the signs that tell you all might not be well
Dogs suffer from stress just as humans do, affecting their ability to have balanced, calm reactions, and causing them to resort to misunderstood flight or fight behaviours. Some elements of stress can be a beneficial part of self preservation and natural learning. Prolonged or frequent periods of stress, however, are not good for your dog, and could eventually affect his health.
Stress can quickly elevate depending on the time spent in a particular environment, or if a dog is faced with a frequent fearful situation.
To monitor your own dog’s stress response, look out for these body signs.
- You might see slight movement and subtle signs that generally indicate low level stress, or more extreme reactions for high level stress.
- Body movement and posture changes – a tense stiff stance with low to no tail movement
- Avoidance to touch or being moved
- Pacing and restlessness
- Ears pinned back and a tense expression
- Licking the nose or yawning
- Vocalisation – whining or barking is used as a signal to communicate distress, also to self-sooth
- Panting – it’s not just a dog becoming hot. Panting is a sign of stress and anxiety and can elevate to excessive panting with a wide flat tongue fully extended
- Sudden excessive hair shedding
- Expression – looking ‘worried’ with an enlarged pupil indicating panic or fear
- Chemical changes in the body as a result of stress, can cause muscle tremors or shaking
- Shaking the body as if wet releases tension in the body, as does yawning
Long term stress indicators may show as compulsive disorders such as:
- Tail chasing
- Self-mutilation such as nibbling skin or excessive licking
- Digging or destruction
- Snapping or other aggressive displays
- Toileting in inappropriate places
- Excessive drinking
- The inability to sleep deeply and have patterns of REM sleep
A negative association from experience feeds a chain response of physical features. These body changes can occur quickly, or might manifest in a constant low level of stress that is ongoing and has become part of daily life.
What prompts your dog’s signs of stress? What can you do to calm your dog and reduce stressful patterns of behaviour? Learn calming signals you can communicate with and how to ‘TTouch’. Dogs pick up on our stress so it is important we relax and create some quiet time with our dogs and lead by example. Make sure his bed or resting area is in a quiet place, covered to deaden sound and feel safe and den-like so he can fully relax after periods of stress.
There are many products on the market to help relieve stress. Ask for help from a behaviourist about the best products to try and for advice on reducing a stress reaction. w