Is your dog stressed? What we can do as pet parents

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Is your dog stressed? What we can do as pet parents - Dog peeking out from under a curtain

Dogs thrive on routines, so it is normal for your pup to become stressed by a change to the norm. How do you know if your dog is stressed and what can you do about it?

If the stress persists and your dog’s anxiety level is affecting their daily routine and activities, consult a veterinarian to learn more about your dog’s behavior and what you can do to help.

The majority of dogs become temporarily stressed by unusual situations like meeting new people or dogs, as well as being in an unfamiliar location like a daycare or vet. In a recent survey, nearly three-quarters of pet parents report observing behaviors associated with stress in their dogs.

Watching your dog's body language and learning what's normal will help you to recognize signs of anxiety and stress. You may see patterns that range from subtle signs to anxious and aggressive behavior changes or even sudden aggression. A certain noise, movement or action may trigger a memory of a traumatic experience.

How can you tell if your canine companion is stressed?

Different dogs may react in different ways to stressors. Reactions to stress may include:

  • Hiding or seeking to move away from a stimulus
  • Changes in body posture, such as pinning ears back or tucking their tail
  • Yawning
  • Raising the hair over the shoulders
  • Barking or whining
  • Growling
  • Pacing or restlessness

These are normal reactions to a situation that your dog may perceive as stressful. If your dog is displaying symptoms of stress and anxiety excessively and consistently, they may have a medical anxiety disorder. A vet can determine if these symptoms are due to some other medical issue as well as diagnose and treat anxiety or other behavioral disorders in your dog. There are steps you can take to soothe and redirect your dog’s attention.

De-stressing strategies for dogs

The key to helping your dog cope with all kinds of stress is confidence, but how do we build confidence in dogs? Here are the key actions you can take to increase your dog’s confidence level:

Predictable routine

  • Minimize the impact of changes in your routine on your dog’s routines. Keep your dog’s routines for food, water, and exercise the same whenever possible.
  • If you must create a new routine when your schedule changes, be consistent about it. If you’re going back to work at the office, for example, start a new early-morning or after-supper daily walking habit and stick to it.
  • Prioritize a fun ritual with your dog every day when you first get home. It doesn’t have to be long, but it’s important that it happens. It only takes a minute to throw a favorite ball a few times and give a tummy rub.
  • Adequate routines are also useful for preventing house soiling. A healthy pet is fully capable of making it through the school or work day without having to go to the bathroom.

Adequate exercise

  • Physical activity is important. Don’t let a change in routine be an excuse to shortchange your dog on their much-needed exercise. If playing with the kids outside is your dog’s go-to outlet for energy, come up with a substitute for when they go back to school, when it’s too hot to exercise outdoors, or other times your schedule may change.
  • Make exercise more efficient if time is limited. More athletic dogs can get worn out more quickly if you play fetch downhill or even down the stairs.
  • Adequate exercise is another tool for preventing house soiling. When the day home alone is bookended by exercise with opportunities to go to the bathroom, accidents are much less likely. If your dog is struggling with house training, book a virtual vet appointment to discuss strategies with a vet.

Appropriate levels of mental stimulation

  • Leave your dog with work to do while everyone is gone, like games or interactive toys.
  • Think like a dog, not a person. While you might be bored with the windows shut all day, closing the blinds may actually be a relief to a dog who feels compelled to be vigilant and bark at everything going by. Take advantage of your dog’s instincts to use a den and make sure your dog has quiet zones to escape to, free from stimulation.
  • Don’t pass your stress along to your dog. Act calm and cool when you leave and like you’re happy about it. Don’t make a big production of leaving. Dogs don’t naturally carry out a departure ritual when they leave each other, so don’t project your human emotional baggage onto your dog. It may teach them to be anxious about being home alone.

If you have trouble meeting your dog’s needs due to a change in your routine, consider getting outside help. A doggy daycare, dog walker, or pet sitter can help provide your dog with exercise, food, and playtime and keep them on a consistent schedule in your absence.

What should you do if your dog is stressed?

To minimize future stress, or remedy a current issue, try these strategies at home:

  • Address your dog’s physical health to make sure there isn’t an underlying illness causing symptoms
  • Follow a routine schedule so your dog knows what to expect
  • Make sure your dog gets adequate exercise so they don’t have excess energy
  • Provide mental stimulation to distract and positively engage your dog

If these calming techniques don’t seem to help, it might be time for a vet appointment. Sometimes, like humans, a dog may have general fearfulness or anxiety that is so severe it interferes with their ability to carry out normal daily activities.  Sometimes these symptoms persist even when outwardly nothing stressful seems to be happening. Severe and persistent symptoms of anxiety may indicate a behavioral disorder, and as such warrant a conversation with a veterinarian. Behavioral disorders like separation anxiety can be difficult to manage, but help is available.

If you have questions or concerns about your dog's behavior, book a virtual care appointment 24/7 to consult a vet who can help you to determine the best course of action. If your dog has a medical disorder, normal calming tactics for stress may not work. The sooner you find out the underlying cause of your dog’s behavior, the sooner you can take effective steps to improve it.


Why do stressful situations cause destructive behaviors in dogs?

Just like with humans, anxiety, confusion, and fear can cause your dog to engage in unwanted behaviors. Dogs don’t perform destructive behaviors purposefully as a revenge tactic. These behaviors are often a self-soothing tactic to release their excess mental or physical energy, or may even indicate signs of panic from a truly anxious dog. Providing your dog with positive outlets for their energy and adequate exercise can result in mental health benefits that decrease destructive behavior.

How do I know if my dog has separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a mental health disorder that should be diagnosed by your dog’s vet. A dog can experience anxiety in response to certain triggers or situations without having an anxiety disorder. Dogs who show symptoms like these when left home alone may have separation anxiety:

  • Excessive barking
  • Destructive behaviors like breaking furniture, blinds, screens, or windows
  • Self injury such as torn nails and broken teeth
  • House soiling, chewing, or scratching

Loss of appetite

Is anxiety medication dangerous for dogs?

You should never give your dog medication unless it is approved by a vet. Your vet can prescribe the correct type and dosage of anxiety medication for your dog based on the diagnosis, and will only prescribe medication in situations where the health benefits outweigh the potential risks.

As is the case when your dog is on any medication, you should monitor them for side effects and notify your vet if you see any behavior that is out-of-the-ordinary. If you know your pet will need to be on medication, consider booking an online appointment with a Vetster veterinarian so a qualified professional can observe your pet in their home environment and build a rapport. Then, after your pet has begun taking the new medication, you can conveniently connect with your virtual vet whenever you need, and receive more-accurate advice on behavior that could be considered atypical.