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What is the Body Language of a Stressed-Out Dog?

Dogs are truly remarkable creatures when it comes to expressing themselves through body language. As dog owners, it's important for us to grasp the nuances of their body language, especially when they're feeling stressed or frightened.



Various factors such as changes in their surroundings, separation anxiety, and even specific triggers, can easily lead to stress in dogs.


So, let's dive into the telltale signs of a stressed-out dog, discover how to spot when they're seeking our assistance, and explore effective methods for helping them find their inner calm.


What is Emotional Distress in a Dog?


Like people, dogs are capable of feeling a variety of emotions, such as stress, anxiety, and dread. Emotional distress in dogs is a condition that can greatly affect their overall well-being and quality of life.


Therefore, it's crucial for dogs to be understood and treated for emotional discomfort for their overall mental and physical well-being.


Some common indicators of emotional distress include:

  • Excessive barking or whining

  • Pacing or restlessness

  • Shaking or trembling

  • Excessive panting or drooling

  • Loss of appetite

  • Urinating or defecating in the house

  • Destructive behavior, such as chewing or digging

  • Aggression or biting

  • Hiding or avoiding social interaction

These are some of the symptoms to look out for, but what might be causing these behaviors?


One of the things that can really throw our furry friends off balance is a sudden change in their environment.


Dogs thrive on routine and familiarity, so anything out of the ordinary—like moving to a new house, welcoming a new family member, or even just rearranging the furniture—can send them into a tailspin of stress. It's no wonder, really.


These changes disrupt their sense of security and can leave them feeling uncertain and anxious. Additionally, dogs who have experienced past trauma, such as abuse or neglect, may carry emotional scars that can surface as distressing symptoms.


Let's talk about separation anxiety, another biggie when it comes to emotional distress in dogs. Our canine pals are social creatures, and they form incredibly strong bonds with their human companions.


So, when they're left alone for long periods of time, they can't help but feel isolated and uneasy. This intense separation anxiety can lead to some rather unfortunate behaviors, such as destructive chewing, excessive barking, or even self-harm as they desperately try to cope with their overwhelming anxiety.



Fear of certain stimuli can also contribute to emotional distress in dogs. We’ve all seen how our pups can freak out during thunderstorms. Loud noises like fireworks, unfamiliar objects, or encounters with aggressive dogs can all trigger fear responses in dogs.


These situations can cause them to become highly stressed, manifesting as shaking, panting, and attempting to hide or escape.


Once emotional distress is identified in a dog, steps can be taken to address the issue and help them feel more comfortable. But how do we identify these signs?


Signs Your Dog is Crying for Help


Our four-legged pals have their own unique way of communicating since words aren't exactly their forte. Instead, they express themselves through their body language, giving us important clues about their emotional state.


When our dogs feel stressed or anxious, they rely on a repertoire of physical and behavioral signs to let us know that they're in need of assistance. It's crucial to pay attention to these signs, as they could be indicative of a deeper underlying issue that warrants our attention and care.


Let's review some common signs that your dog is crying for help.


When dogs are feeling anxious or uneasy, one way they might show it is by avoiding eye contact. You'll notice them deliberately looking away or diverting their gaze, which could be a sign that they're feeling a bit uneasy or on edge. It's their way of maintaining some distance or avoiding potential stressors.


Now, when dogs are feeling scared or overwhelmed, they tend to seek solace in hiding spots or adopt a cowering posture. You might find them taking refuge under furniture, in cozy closets, or behind objects to create their own little safe havens.


Pay attention to the position of your dog's tail as well. If it's tightly tucked between their hind legs, it's a classic sign that they're feeling fearful or anxious. Though it's worth mentioning that some breeds naturally carry their tails this way, so it's important to consider the overall context and body language of your pup to make an accurate interpretation.


Another sign to watch out for is when your dog pins their ears back against their head. When their ears are flattened, it's a pretty good indicator that they're feeling anxious, fearful, or stressed. Taking note of this subtle cue helps you understand what's going on in their mind and enables you to respond accordingly.


You may also notice your dog engaging in excessive licking or grooming behaviors when they're feeling stressed or anxious. It's their way of self-soothing, but too much of it can lead to skin irritation or the formation of hotspots. It's important to identify the underlying cause of their distress to help them find relief.


Yawning or panting, even when they're not physically exerting themselves, is another way dogs show their unease or stress. These behaviors serve as a means for them to release tension and regulate their emotions. So, if you find your furry companion frequently yawning or panting excessively, it's a sign that they could be in a state of distress and may need some extra care and attention.


Restlessness and pacing are common signs of anxiety in dogs. If your pup seems unable to settle down or relax, constantly on the move, it suggests they're experiencing inner turmoil. They might be desperately seeking an escape from whatever is causing them distress or trying to find comfort in their environment or with you, their trusted companion.


Lastly, vocalization is one of the primary ways dogs communicate their emotions. Excessive whining or barking, especially if it's out of character for them, can indicate distress or a plea for help. To better understand the underlying cause, pay attention to the context and accompanying body language.


If you happen to spot any of these signs in your furry companion, it's time to spring into action and lend a helping hand. Your dog's comfort and relaxation matter, so addressing the issue is key.


You can start by pinpointing the source of stress, whether it's pesky loud noises or unfamiliar faces, and taking steps to eliminate or minimize their impact. Additionally, creating a cozy and secure space where your dog can go to unwind is a great way to provide them with the relaxation they deserve.


How Do You Relax a Stressed Dog?


Relaxing a stressed dog requires a thoughtful approach and a deep understanding of your furry companion's needs. Every dog is unique, so it's essential to tailor your relaxation techniques to suit their individual preferences and triggers.



Here are a few effective strategies that can help your canine chill:

  • Create a Cozy Retreat: Dogs naturally gravitate toward den-like spaces when they're feeling stressed or anxious. Designate a specific area, such as a crate or a quiet room, where your dog can retreat when they need some alone time. Make sure it's a comfortable and well-ventilated space, equipped with their favorite bedding and toys for added coziness.


  • Soothing Sounds: Playing calming music or white noise can work wonders for your dog's relaxation. There are specialized playlists or CDs designed specifically to help dogs unwind. Just be sure to avoid any tunes that might make them howl-along (we're looking at you, Barky Manilow). Soft melodies or gentle sounds can drown out external noises and create a peaceful environment.


  • Natural Remedies: Certain natural remedies, like lavender or chamomile, have calming properties that can promote relaxation in dogs. Essential oils or calming sprays infused with these scents can be used to create a serene atmosphere. However, it's crucial to consult with your veterinarian beforehand to ensure their safety and appropriate usage.


  • Stimulate Their Mind and Body: Mental and physical stimulation are key ingredients for a relaxed dog. Engage your pup in interactive play sessions, provide them with puzzle toys or treat-dispensing toys to encourage problem-solving, and make regular exercise a part of their daily routine. A tired dog is generally a happier and more relaxed dog post-stimulation.


  • Positive Reinforcement Training: Boost your dog's confidence and reduce anxiety through positive reinforcement training. Reward calm behavior with treats, praise, or playtime, and gradually expose them to triggers that previously caused stress. This helps them form positive associations with anxiety-inducing situations.


  • The Power of Touch: Just like humans, dogs can benefit from the therapeutic effects of gentle massage. Soothing strokes can alleviate muscle tension, promote relaxation, and strengthen the bond between you and your furry friend. Some dogs also find comfort in gentle pressure, such as anxiety wraps or snug-fitting garments that provide a calming effect.


  • Seek Expert Advice: If your dog's stress or anxiety persists despite your best efforts, don't hesitate to seek professional guidance. A veterinarian or a qualified dog trainer experienced in behavior modification can assess your dog's specific needs and develop a personalized plan to help them relax and overcome their stress.


You’re off to a great start in letting your puppy know you’re paying attention! Remember, every dog is unique, so be patient and flexible in finding what works best for your furry companion.


If you ever feel overwhelmed or need additional guidance, don't hesitate to reach out to professionals who specialize in dog behavior. They can provide valuable insights and support that’s tailored to your dog's specific needs.


With your dedication and love, you can be the source of comfort and tranquility that your stressed dog needs. Together, you'll embark on a path toward a happier, more relaxed life, filled with wagging tails and joyful moments. So, take a deep breath, have faith in the process, and relish the rewarding journey of helping your beloved dog find peace and serenity.


Jenna and the JLDD Team


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