But They Do Feel Stress

One definition of anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. The thing is, dogs do not worry about future events. Nor do they relive past events in their minds as we often do. Dogs live in the present moment, always. So, technically speaking, they do not experience anxiety, but they do experience stress. Stress is a response to a threat or situation. Anxiety, on the other hand, is the reaction to the stress.

Dogs’ natural intuitiveness leaves them vulnerable to the feelings and emotions of those around them. They will frequently match the energy of their humans. And sadly, anxiety in humans is at an all-time high. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (A.D.A.A.) states that anxiety disorders in humans are the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. Therefore, the number one reason a dog will exhibit stress symptoms is the transference of stress energy from their owner.

There are other, less common, reasons that your dog will develop stress symptoms. These can be due to fear of specific situations such as loud noises (fireworks), other dogs, strangers, etc. For example, if a dog had a negative experience in the past due to an abusive man, that dog may exhibit fear when around men. This is because that dog associates pain with that type of person, not because the dog relives the actual abusive experience as us humans might do.

Dogs will often exhibit stress when they do not clearly understand their owner’s expectations. Dogs inherently want to please us. When we attempt to train in a way that uses negative reinforcement, is not clear, or causes frustration in us, then our dogs can develop stress. If our dogs exhibit a negative behavior around something we are attempting to train, then we must reassess our approach.

Dogs thrive in certainty and structure. If the dog’s routine changes constantly, this too may cause stress.

Symptoms of Stress to Recognize in Your Dog

  • Excessive panting
  • Tense posture
  • Clingy
  • Shaking
  • Tail tucked
  • Hiding
  • Acting destructive
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Refuses food
  • Potty accidents
  • Vocalization
  • Yawning
  • Lip licking
  • Drooling
  • Hiding

It is important to know that many of these symptoms are also signs of medical illness. Therefore, if your pet is suddenly showing any of these symptoms, please have him/her checked by your veterinarian to rule out an underlying medical condition.

How to Approach Your Stressed Out Dog

First, we must be sure it is not stemming from something that we are doing. If we are transferring our own stress to our dog, then it might be time to focus on ourselves. It’s hard not to have stress these days. But if we can recognize it, we have a much better chance of managing it in a healthy way, so it doesn’t spill over to the ones we love.

If a dog deals with stress around specific situations such as car rides, separation, other dogs, other people, fireworks, etc. it’s important to develop habits that build your dog’s confidence and provide comfort.

Puppy at the Spa

Great ways to build your dog’s confidence include: obedience classes, agility, controlled socialization, positive reinforcement for favorable behaviors, and consistent routines and expectations.

Ways to provide comfort for your dog include soft music, a covered crate, fluffy bedding, petting and gentle massage, speaking softly, and thunder shirts. Herbal supplements can also be tried such as ashwagandha, CBD, chamomile, L-theanine, valerian root, or melatonin. Please speak to your holistic veterinarian before trying calming supplements.

If your dog’s stress cannot be controlled, then I recommend seeking the advice of a veterinary behaviorist.