Dogs experience stress just as humans do, and the results can be just as unpleasant for both pet and owner. Many canine behaviour problems are rooted by stress because, much like humans, dogs under stress can become edgy, irritable and even aggressive. Enough stress over time can also lead to mental and physical illness.
Spotting Stress in Dogs
Dogs use both sounds and body language to communicate, so these areas (along with behaviour) are the places to look for the signs of stress. Yawning and licking of the nose, for instance, are what are known as “calming signals.” Despite the name, these are signs of stress – in the “language” of dogs, they are requests to calm things down before stress escalates. Squinting, averting the eyes, and turning away altogether are also signs of stress. Other indications that your dog might be feeling stressed include pinned-back ears, showing of teeth, shivering, freezing and bowing to name just a few. As far as vocal signals go, these are usually fairly obvious; barking, whining, growling and howling are the main examples.
If you know what causes your pet stress, then if possible it is best to tackle the problem at the root. If certain situations or environments cause your pet fear or distress, then keep your pet out of those situations as much as you can.
Restriction is also stressful to dogs so, within the bounds of good behaviour, give your pet as much freedom as you can to express natural behaviours such as play and exercise, sleep (dogs need around 17 hours of sleep every day), and socialising with both humans and other dogs.
Minimising stress in dogs also comes down in part to keeping your dog comfortable, both physically and emotionally. Make sure your pet is well-fed on a varied and nutritious diet, and has access to plenty of water. Provide your dog with access to shelter and avoid extremes of weather and temperature.
Make sure they have access to a comfy place to sit or lie down and – especially in the case of long-haired breeds – keep up-to-date with grooming. Interact with your dog regularly and allow as much socialisation with other dogs as possible.
Of course, keeping your pet comfortable involves keeping your pet free from illness and injury so far as possible. Be aware that dogs tend not to show pain too much – an evolutionary remnant from their pack-dwelling ancestors that were reluctant to show weakness – so be as vigilant as possible when it comes to spotting signs of pain. If you suspect your pet may be ill or injured, consult a vet.