Just like humans, dogs can experience stress for many reasons: their routine vet appointment, visiting a strange place for the first time, or simply hearing loud noises outside. Because every pup is different, their specific stress triggers will differ as well.
As a responsible pet parent, it's important to find the cause of your dog's stress, so you can help them manage or resolve their symptoms and live a happier life. Read on to learn the signs of stress and five ways to help your dog feel safe and calm.
Signs of Stress in Dogs
Helping your dog to manage their stress levels starts with recognizing their stress signals. Common signs of stress in dogs include:
- Shivering or shaking
- Excessive panting and salivation
- Whining or barking
- Excessive licking
- Rigid body posture
- Hiding or avoidance behaviors
- Excessive shedding
Many times, dogs will turn to unwanted behaviors as a stress management tool, such as chewing and barking. If left unresolved, these management tactics can become long-term behavior issues like destructive chewing, excessive barking, or aggressive behaviors.
Some stress behaviors can also lead to bad habits that have consequences for your dog's health. Excessive licking, for example, creates moist, warm areas on your dog's skin that can lead to inflammation, hair loss, and infection.
How to Relieve a Stressed Dog
If you're dealing with a stressed dog, there are several things you can do to provide relief and help your furry friend feel better. Here are our top five tips:
1) Regular Exercise
Exercise is good for your dog's physical health, but it also has a variety of mental health benefits. Exercise increases the production of endorphins in your dog's brain. These endorphins are the neurotransmitters that are responsible for the "feel good" effect, leading to natural stress relief for your pup.
Exercise also helps your dog burn off pent-up energy. When your dog goes too long without exercise, they become bored, and all that excess energy can leave them feeling stressed and restless. Their pent-up energy needs to go somewhere. Without exercise as an outlet, your dog may resort to destructive behaviors instead.
2) Mental Stimulation
Like exercise, mental stimulation provides a great outlet for your dog's pent-up energy and boredom. They're able to focus on solving a specific challenge or task, and the enrichment offers a great distraction from the cause of their stress.
Mental stimulation is also a great way to build your dog's confidence and self-esteem. Dogs that are insecure or unsure of themselves are more likely to experience stress symptoms.
When you provide your pup with mental enrichment activities, their confidence and trust in you grow, helping them feel more comfortable in their environment.
There are many ways you can provide your pup with mental stimulation, so don't be afraid to get creative. A few fantastic examples include:
- Puzzle toys
- Treat dispensers
- Nose work games
- Trick training
3) Create a Safe Space
If your dog is stressed, it's often something in their environment that's the cause, whether that's loud noises or a new guest in the house. A great way to relieve your dog's stress is to create a safe space for them where they can escape from what's triggering their stress.
What your dog finds comforting will vary, but a crate is a great place to start. Dogs are den animals, and crates – especially when you cover them – are naturally calming for many dogs. You can include a soft blanket or bed, as well as a treat or toy to keep them occupied while they decompress inside.
Alternatively, you can set up a safe space for your dog in another room or a quiet corner of your home. You can even teach your dog that a designated spot in the room is for relaxing, like a bed or a mat.
Teaching your dog to go to this place when they're feeling stressed can help them manage their stress symptoms on their own. What's important is that it's a space away from loud noises and other people and pets and that it's a place where your dog feels comfortable.
4) Calming or Anti-Anxiety Supplements
There are a variety of over-the-counter calming and anti-anxiety supplements that can help your pet naturally feel calmer. A couple of excellent examples are Bach Rescue Remedy Natural Stress Relief for Pets and Jackson Galaxy Stress Stopper – both of which are great for dogs and cats.
Always talk to your veterinarian before you add a supplement to your dog's routine. Some supplements are better suited for some dogs, and your vet will have an expert opinion on the right choices for your dog's situation.
Just as in humans, massage can help your dog to relax and relieve many of the physical symptoms of stress such as tense muscles. The pressure and calming touch of massage can also help your dog feel safe in uncertain situations.
When you introduce massage therapy to your pup, you'll need to go slow to begin with. For many stressed and anxious dogs, touch can be scary at first. Use slow, gentle strokes and listen to your dog's body language.
Don't force your pup into a position they aren't comfortable with. While they may walk away at first, over time, they'll get more comfortable with massage and stay for longer periods of time.
If your dog doesn't like to be touched, try an anxiety vest like a Thundershirt. This close-fitting garment is designed to apply continuous, gentle pressure on your dog's body, which has a calming effect on many dogs.
When to Visit Your Veterinarian
If your dog's stress is severe, lasts for more than a short period of time, or is accompanied by other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive panting, it's best to visit your veterinarian. Chronic or long-term stress can be signs of a more serious condition such as an anxiety disorder or an underlying health problem.
Helping Your Dog Live a Happier, Healthier Life
There are so many experiences in your dog's life that can be scary and stressful for them. From bringing new pets into your home to making it through the yearly fireworks celebration, it's common and understandable for your dog to experience stress.
By identifying your dog's stress symptoms and understanding their triggers, you can help your dog to manage their stress symptoms and, ultimately, live a happier, healthier life.