Do you know how to tell if your dog is under stress or feeling anxious?
When I ask this question, most pet owners will tell me that they see their dog:
Cower or hide under a chair
Pee or poop on the floor
Growl when afraid, but he would never bite!
These are certainly signs of fear, make no mistake. However, the signs that the typical pet owner notices are usually the last in a series of attempts by your dog to avoid whatever is causing them fear or anxiety. The signs leading up to these are much more subtle, but once you know what to look for, they will become apparent.
If you can recognize the early signs of anxiety and stress in your dog, not only can you help your pet relax before they go to the “dark side”, but you might just avoid a dangerous situation. Dogs who are allowed to progress to the fear stages listed above are the ones who will either be permanently mentally damaged by that situation (leading to behavior problems), or they will bite.
Allow me to tell you a story:
Once upon a time there was a cute little puppy who had never been to the big doggie park. Her loving owners decided, when she was about 4 months old, to take her there so she could play and have fun! When she arrived, there were so many smells and so much noise! She stopped and sat down on the sidewalk, but her loving owners tugged on her leash and encouraged her to keep walking toward the park.
When they arrived at the gate, it made a really loud squeaking sound that hurt her ears! Her eyes widened, and she laid her ears back; she tried to avoid the big gate, but her loving owner picked her up and carried her through. When they set her down in the grass, she was suddenly surrounded by big dogs! They were sniffing her and running around in circles, panting and barking. The puppy tried to find shelter between her loving owner’s feet, but her loving owner walked a few steps away.
The little puppy didn’t like the big doggie park after all. And so she growled and snapped at the big doggies who wanted to meet her. Her loving owner scooped her up – she was safe! But then her loving owner scolded her, telling her she was a bad dog. The little puppy was confused and scared, and from that day forward she hated the big doggie park.
Did you recognize the signs of anxiety and stress in the story? The puppy in the story is a real dog, now an adult; she continues to have problems greeting other dogs, and she NEVER goes to the dog park. Had her loving owner recognized her initial signs of stress, these permanent behavior problems might have been avoided.
Here are the signs of anxiety that you NEED to recognize in your dog:
- Ears laid back
- Wide eyes (“fish eyes”)
- Brows furrowed
- Panting (without being hot or thirsty)
- Licking lips
- Acting sleepy or yawning
- Moving in slow motion
- Hypervigilant (looking in many directions)
- Moving away
- Suddenly won’t eat, even if they were hungry earlier
Start watching your dog for these signs. I guarantee that you will begin to see them, and maybe even in situations that you didn’t know were causing your pet stress. Once you become attuned to your pet’s body language, you can intervene early to help your pet relax! If your pet experiences the signs of fear listed at the top, the damage is already done. It’s up to you to be your pet’s advocate!
And here’s a handy-dandy handout for you:
If you need help understanding your pet’s body language, or realize that your pet already has some fear issues, give Dr. D a call!