We’re fully aware when our own stress barometers are rising. Dogs are even more “creative” about how they signal their stress. It’s up to us to be conscious of what these signals are so we can help reduce their stress. These signals can be subtle at first, but if they’re not recognized and addressed immediately, the dog’s stress can escalate to scary heights.
Signs of mild physical stress can include increased yawning, shaking, lip-licking, panting, scratching and drooling. As the dog’s stress levels increase, he may shed excessively open his eyes unusually wide, cower, tremble, pace, tuck his tail between his legs or just wag the tip of his tail, pin his ears back or overly perk them up, and experience urinary incontinence or gastrointestinal issues (e.g. diarrhea or constipation).
Physical signs that a dog is extremely stressed, and can become dangerous to himself and others, include a tense body stance, raised hackles, puffed-out tail, lips that are stretched upward, bared teeth, a menacing stare, as well as excessive licking or chewing at his own limbs.
Behavioral stress signals
Behavioral changes of any type can indicate a dog is experiencing stress. Milder signals tend to manifest as increased sleeping, clinginess, or periodic withdrawal. As the dog’s feelings of stress continue to increase, he may hide, become agitated, exhibit decreased appetite, engage in destructive behaviors, and display increased vocalizations such as growling, barking, whining or whimpering.
As a dog’s stress level escalates, simple agitation can turn to outright aggression or an extreme fear response, such as running away or completely shutting down emotionally. Though dogs are considered predatory by nature, their “fight or flight” response comes into play when they’re highly stressed. Different breeds react differently. For instance, Greyhounds may appear comatose when overwhelmingly stressed, while the Akita lnu is more apt to become highly aggressive.