Canine Anxiety: Recognizing the Signs and Acting in Support

Experiencing stress at various points in your relationship with your canine companion is entirely normal. Even a well-disciplined family pet can encounter anxiety that might hinder their ability to perform trained tasks. In the following discussion, we aim to enhance your understanding of canine stress, instill confidence in identifying stress indicators, suggest methods to alleviate stress in your dog, and offer guidance on when to seek help.

owner kissing puppy Stress Manifestations Vary 
Have you noticed your dog seemingly "ignoring" repeated cues or commands without apparent distraction? Has their demeanor abruptly shifted without a discernible cause? Dogs, like humans, can experience stress, which may influence their behavior or teamwork effectiveness. Understanding the signs is crucial.
Potential Signs of Canine Stress
Please note that this list is not exhaustive, and the presence of these signs does not guarantee stress. Dogs may display discomfort for various reasons, including:
Heavy panting
Ears pinned back
Tail tucked 
Crouched/low posture 
Eyes wide (also known as whale eyes, or when whites of the dog’s eyes are more easily seen) 
Tight lips and face 
Tense, tight body 
Rapid movements 
Increased “shaking off” (what dogs do when wet) 
Abnormal pull into collar/harness, refusal to move forward, or “flight” behavior (trying to quickly leave an environment) 
Feet tense/nails engaged 
Disengagement from handler/reinforcement 

Depending on the stress level, a dog may exhibit one or a combination of these signs. 

Potential Causes of Canine Stress
Dogs can feel uneasy due to various factors, such as: 

Environmental elements 
Unfamiliar surfaces, noises, smells, or a crowded area
Changes in routine
New routes, a new home, decreased exercise, or new household members 
General confusion
Unclear instructions or repeated unsuccessful ones 

General Tips for Navigating Canine Stress
The key during stressful times is to be a supportive partner. Avoid corrective handling, as it can escalate stress. Instead, opt for supportive measures like: 

Increasing food rewards
Providing meaningful touch
Offering verbal praise

By incorporating supportive handling, you can help your dog navigate stress more effectively, promoting a healthier and happier relationship. 

Help Your Dog Decompress
If your dog experiences stress on an outing or within the confines of your home, consider ways to help them decompress and alleviate that stress, promoting relaxation after the experience. 

Engage with Chew Toys: Offer your dog a favorite or new chew toy, holding it for them to foster connection and relaxation. Select appropriate bones like Benebone, Lunabobne, or Nylabone. A kong is also a great option if it's what your dog prefers. 
Active Recovery: Some dogs find relief by engaging in active play. Play one-on-one, toss a toy in the yard, or allow them to release energy in a way they enjoy. 
Quiet Time: Provide a "quiet time" space in a low-traffic area, allowing your dog to rest deeply.
Respect Their Space: If your dog has a kennel or favorite dog bed, ensure others in your home respect it as your dog's space. Let them rest undisturbed when they retreat to their area. 
Gentle Massage: If your dog enjoys touch, offer a slow, full body massage. (WATCH: Canine Massage with Jody) 
Enrichment Food Toys: Offer an enrichment food such as a frozen stuffed Kong, Toppl, or lick-mat. Focusing on an activity can be a healthy outlet for pent-up energy or stress and licking can be a calming behavior for some dogs.  

Seek Professional Assistance
If you observe signs of stress or anxiety in your dog, don't hesitate to seek help. A certified trainer or your veterinarian can collaborate with you in a judgement-free environment, providing tools, guidance, and ongoing support to help reduce your dog's stress and anxiety effectively.

This post was originally written to support our guide and service dog handlers. We adapted it to support everyday dog owners in case their pets experience stress. To learn more about our work providing guide dogs at no cost to people who are blind or visually impaired, click here .