Signs Your Dog is Stressed and How to Relieve It

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Tetiana Zhudyk
Updated on

In the intricate tapestry of emotions, dogs, much like their human counterparts, experience stress in response to certain situations. While occasional stress is normal for humans and dogs, understanding the signs and distinguishing between fleeting stress and prolonged anxiety is crucial.

This guide is like a roadmap to understanding what your pup might be trying to tell you. We'll uncover the subtle signs, talk about things that stress them out, and, most importantly, share tips on being their source of comfort. It's a journey of decoding doggy language, making their world a stress-free and happy.

Common Signs of Stress Every Dog Owner Must Know

Dogs rely on body language to communicate distress, self-soothe, and diffuse conflicts. Understanding these signals is vital for assisting your pet in coping with fears.

Pay close attention to whether your dog exhibits these signals when approached by you or others or if it's a consistent reaction to the presence of a specific object, like a car.

This way, you’ll understand better the core problem, so you can help your dog deal with it if you can’t avoid it (e.g., by desensitizing and counterconditioning to the stimuli).

Subtle Stress Signals

Turning Their Head Away

Signals discomfort and a need for "space" during actions like hugging or picking them up.

Turning Away

Indicates distress when milder signals don't bring the desired result, often seen after unexpected experiences.


This is a common stress sign in dogs, characterized by repetitive and restless movement. If your dog is pacing excessively, it may indicate unease or discomfort.

Lip Licking

A calming signal, especially when tired of training, communicates a need for space. This is usually accompanied by lifting one paw.

Whale Eye

"Whale eye" refers to a stress sign in dogs where the whites of their eyes become visible, resembling the eye of a whale. This typically occurs when a dog turns its head away but keeps its eyes fixed on a person or object. It signals discomfort or anxiety, indicating that the dog is feeling uneasy or stressed in the given situation.

Inviting-to-Play Position

Accompanied by calming signals like licking, tail wagging, or lowering the head, this suggests a desire to ease tension in their surroundings.

Ears Back

This calming signal indicates discomfort, fear, or anxiety in response to a particular situation or stimulus. Dogs may retract their ears as a way of expressing submission or a desire to avoid conflict.


Frequent yawning, not just after waking up, can indicate stress and a desire to stop an unpleasant situation.

Weight Shifted Backward

This behavior is often accompanied by other stress indicators like avoiding eye contact or attempting to create distance. Shifting weight backward is a defensive mechanism, signaling the dog's discomfort or unease in a particular situation.

Tail Wagging

If your furry pal wags are stiff and with a lack of much side-to-side movement, it means they’re uncomfortable. Usually, this type of tail wagging will be predominantly to their left.

Obvious Stress Signals

Whining or Barking

Dogs bark for many reasons, but generally speaking, a high-pitched bark indicates distress or frustration. A very low continuous bark indicates a dog is feeling they or something of theirs is under threat.


A low rumbling growl from a dog is a clear sign they’re unhappy and require more space. If your dog is constantly growling at you/other animals, then it’s time to see a dog trainer.

Backing Away

Dogs may back away from a person or situation when feeling stressed. This behavior signals a desire for space and a need to avoid potential stressors.

Tail Tucked Between Legs

When a dog tucks their tail between their legs, it's a classic sign of anxiety or fear. It reflects a submissive posture as the dog tries to make themselves appear smaller.

Loss of Appetite

A sudden reluctance to eat can clearly indicate stress in dogs. Changes in their environment or emotional state may lead to a decreased interest in food.

Lowered Body Posture

A lowered center of gravity is a common behavior seen in uncertain dogs attempting to project a non-threatening demeanor.

Trembling or Shivering

When a dog trembles or shivers in the absence of cold or excitement, it often indicates stress. This physical response reflects heightened anxiety or nervousness in the given circumstances.


Stress can impact a dog's digestive system, leading to diarrhea or more frequent bowel movements. Changes in routine or anxiety-inducing situations may trigger this response. Persistent signs of an upset stomach mean it's time to see your vet, as it may be colitis.

Why Do Dogs Become Stressed

Dogs may become stressed for a bunch of reasons, just like us. Changes in routine, loud noises, unfamiliar environments, the presence of new people or animals, and even boredom can induce stress in dogs.

On top of this, separation anxiety, medical issues, and even certain grooming procedures may contribute to their stress levels as well. So, if you’ve already noticed some stress signals in your pooch and have determined the reason, it’s time to resolve the problem.

Ways to Help Your Dog Cope with Stress

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

First, let’s talk about how you can prevent stress and make sure your dog has enough emotional stability and confidence not to be susceptible to stress factors:

  • Build a Consistent Routine: Make sure your dog has a consistent schedule for feeding, walks, and playtime, as it provides a sense of security.

  • Beat Boredom: There are various ways you can provide mental enrichment for your dog: from interactive toys to fun games you can enjoy togetheк!

  • Provide a Safe Space: Create a safe and comfortable space where your dog can retreat when feeling stressed. This can be a crate or a designated area in your home.

  • Exercise Regularly: Regular physical activity helps release excess energy and promotes mental wellbeing not only for humans but for dogs, too! Thus reducing the likelihood of stress. Our Woofz app can help you in finding fun activities.

  • Quality Food: Ensure your dog's diet is nutritionally balanced to support overall health, as physical wellbeing contributes to mental wellbeing.

  • Create a Calm Environment for Both of You: Dogs can easily pick up on your mood, so if you’re under constant stress or fights with other members of your family, your dog will likely feel similarly.

  • Regular Vet Checkups: Regular veterinary checkups can help identify and address potential health issues early, contributing to your dog's overall wellbeing and confidence.

  • Desensitize Your Dog to Various Stimuli:

Gradually expose your pet to loud noises, new experiences, and environments to prevent overwhelming your dog. Make sure your dog always has positive associations (by giving them their favorite treats and lots of love) with them to help reduce anxiety.

Let’s see how you can do it in this example of desensitization to loud noise:

Tip: If at any point your dog seems more reluctant to take food or focus on you, go back a step and reduce the volume or proximity to the trigger.

  1. Prepare a generous supply of treats.

  2. Start playing an audio recording of the noise you want to practice with at the lowest volume, immediately giving treats to your dog.

  3. If the dog exhibits reactive behaviors like barking or growling, move the object producing the sound further away to decrease volume.

  4. As your dog becomes comfortable (no attempts to flee or noticeable reactions), gradually raise the volume while continuing to give treats.

  5. Repeat the process with every sound/noise your dog might be afraid of/not used to until they’re okay with it, even with the highest volume.

Deal with Actual Stress Factor

If stress has already happened (e.g., New Year fireworks or a thunderstorm) and you didn’t have time or the opportunity to prepare for it, here’s what you can do:

  • Support your pet by staying calm, gentle, and attentive

Speak to and pet your pooch with a soothing tone, keeping an eye on their preferences that might change in stressful situations. It's crucial not to get anxious yourself; maintain a calm voice and slow stroking. Provide things to chew on for mental stimulation.

  • Water, food, and toilet

Ensure your pet has access to both food and water, with a higher priority on water. Create a comfortable indoor toilet area using materials like earth from houseplants, pieces of clothing, or paper if going outside is not possible. Be patient as your dog adapts to the situation.

  • Encourage curiosity

It can lower stress levels and create a healthy distraction. If your dog is scared, your deep breaths can help them cope.

  • Just be there

Simply being close to your pet without any training or commands is essential. Stress can cause mental exhaustion, so ensure your dog gets enough sleep and rest. Consider using a warm blanket or a warm water bottle to help your dog relax and fall asleep faster.

  • Avoid leaving your pet alone

Especially confined in a crate or another place. Refrain from making loud noises or demanding too much from your pooch. Instead, focus on being present and providing companionship.

  • Breathing next to a scared dog

Your deep breaths can help your fluffy friend cope with stress! Hug your dog and take deep inhalations and exhalations, and you'll likely notice a positive change in their breathing and overall demeanor.

What Can I Give My Dog to Relieve Stress?

Two categories of medications offer relief for anxious pets: general anxiety medications and specific anxiety medications.

Generalized Anxiety Medications: Examples include Fluoxetine and Clomicalm. Consider this treatment if your pet's low tolerance to triggers hinders training, causing excessive stress. A behaviorist can assess if this is necessary, especially in cases of severe separation anxiety, fearfulness of the outdoors, or extreme anxiety. These medications work gradually over the long term, helping your pet adjust to stress. Combining them with a suitable training plan is advisable, and in many cases, you can eventually taper off usage.

Specific Anxiety Medications: One example is Trazodone. If your dog experiences context-specific, predictable stress — such as fear of fireworks — a vet may recommend this medication. It can be administered on occasions like any night involving fireworks or New Year's Eve to alleviate stress. If your dog encounters intense stress around specific, non-daily events, discussing this option with a vet is worthwhile.

Besides, if you’re a fan of aromatherapy, you can try diluted lavender essential oil to help soothe your dog’s nervous system and even encourage them to sleep more. You can find out more about dog aromatherapy and other relaxation techniques in the Wellbeing section in the Woofz app.

In Conclusion

In summary, understanding your dog's stress signals is crucial for a healthy bond. Proactively preventing stress, creating a safe environment, and using positive reinforcement contribute to your dog's wellbeing. Stay attentive to their needs and seek professional advice if distress persists. A happy, confident dog enhances the joy of your companionship.

Written by

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Tetiana Zhudyk

Woofz Content Manager with a deep passion for dogs and a strong affinity for positive reinforcement training methods.

Reviewed by

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Annie-Mae Levy

Experienced dog trainer with Bachelor of Science Degree in Animal Behavior. Diplomaed dog nutritionist. CFBA Accredited Canine Behaviorist