How to Tell if Your Dog Is Suffering From Stress

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    Oct 23, 2013
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How to Tell if Your Dog Is Suffering From Stress Photo by Raquel Cervera

We all feel it even if we cannot see it. It is part of our daily lives and causes all kinds of negative outcomes we don’t want, but we ourselves have created. What is this? It is the noun used everywhere to try to explain changes in humans that otherwise cannot be made clear. It is stress.

We use it when we feel different, when we cannot identify why do we cry over nothing, when we arrive home from work and don’t even want to speak to our family members, when we jump at the most minute stimulus, when we cannot sleep and a myriad of other situations.

We humans do use this word almost constantly and feel satisfied that we have found an answer to many of our problems when we adjudicate them to stress, but do we know about stress in our dogs?
Oh, yes, dogs do feel stress just like us. The problem is that we sometimes are so busy we don’t even notice those stress signals in our dogs and because they cannot speak, they suffer the consequences in silence.

Experts have stated that both, humans and dogs, feel the stress but interpret it differently. Even within members of the human race stress is interpreted depending on the person, so the same can be expected to happen with our canine companions. If, for example, we have raised our child enjoying the company of dogs all the time and taught her never to be afraid of them, she will not. If on the contrary, one of the parents is afraid of dogs and passes this fear to the child, the mere presence of a dog will be accompanied by stress and fear.

If dog owners help their dogs to socialize from the beginning, when they are still puppies, the behavior these dogs will manifest when exposed to situations involving people, different environments and other animals will be totally the opposite as the ones manifested by dogs who have never been given that opportunity.

There are, of course, certain signals dogs give when under stress that should become familiar to their owners. There are others that most dog lovers identify immediately because of their being so common, like the tail between their legs and the dog hiding itself in some corner of the house when thunder strikes.

When exposed to certain situations that are not usual in the dog’s life, it may start yawning too much or show a lot of lip licking, scratching and even sneezing. Dog behaviorists state that the behavior observed in the dog has to be out of context for the situation in order for it to be considered as part of a displacement or conflict activity. We humans also use some of these coping mechanisms when under stress as a means to try and channel the same.

When we look at human faces with care we can see all kinds of signs of how the person is feeling. A relaxed expression is simply the synonym of what is going on inside. A tense jaw or tearful eyes will also give us the idea that there is stress there somewhere. If the dog owner notices his dog’s eyes showing all the white in them, with eyelids pulled back, that is an indication of what is called the half-moon eye or whale eye expression and should be considered a sign of stress in the dog. It is frequently the behavior the dog produces to something specific in the environment he is in at that moment.

When we give our dogs a bath, we will certainly be exposed to water too. Why? Because every dog shakes the water in its body to become dry. No problem there. But, when there is no water involved and the dog produces the same kind of shaking, that is a signs that something is not right, that it is trying to shake whatever “problem” he is facing off.

We are all unique. Thank God we are all different. Life would be too complicated if we were unable to establish who we are connecting with if it would seem we were looking at ourselves in the mirror all the time. The case of twins is, of course, the exception. Well, even if dogs may seem to look alike in many cases, like in breeds, they are not. All dogs’ faces are also unique, so if we pay attention to that detail, we may be able to identify signs of stress in our dogs. It is easy for me to know when one of my dogs is “worried”. It shows in their faces. They furrow their brows and put their ears all the way in the back of their heads.

When under stress, dogs may also become hyper-vigilant. What does that mean? They will adopt an attitude of extreme care, their ears may be up, their faces tight and they will be on the lookout for something moving their heads from one side to the other quickly.

Finally, when there are movements that your dogs usually do not produce, it is important to notice what these may mean, because they are usually related to stress. You may see your dog changing its breathing pattern, maybe breathing faster and heavier, having tics or even adopting strange positions not characteristic of it. You may observe shedding that was not usual, muscles that are tense without an apparent reason, pupils dilated, excessive salivation and sometimes panting.

Recognizing the signs of stress in your dog is not the solution. It is the beginning of the process of trying to eliminate it. What has to be done is try to look or identify the cause of the stress; that is, the stressor. This may be easily identifiable in some cases, but not in others, as some may be external and effortlessly removed, when others may require you take your dog to the veterinarian for a more expert recommendation.

Stress is silent and affects everybody’s health, yours and your dog, so it is never something to ignore or accept as impossible to deal with.

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The author is running a site and a blog related to dog training,grooming and dog care. For more information about dog training and dog care, pay them a visit.

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