Assessing Your Dog's Stress

August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

It's important to recognize signs of stress in your new dog as you get to know them. Some signs of stress are subtle, while others are very obvious. If your dog has a history of anxious behavior in the shelter or in a former home, they may also show those behaviors in your home. Alternatively, stress signs can start to emerge with time. Stress can be caused by fear, changes in environment and routine, medical issues and/or encountering new pets and people. Some dogs will adjust to stressful situations more easily than others.

Factors That Can Cause Stress

  • Moving to a new home
  • Kenneling or pet-sitting
  • A new animal or person staying or visiting in the house
  • A new baby
  • Noises, especially new and/or loud ones (e.g., construction, alarms, fireworks, thunderstorms)
  • Medical issues and/or pain
  • Strangers and crowds
  • Fast, excited movement of humans (e.g., running, playing, sports)
  • City environments
  • Dog Events
  • Not enough exercise
  • Other pets
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Being left alone

Behavioral Signs of Stress

  • Over-excitability: The dog doesn't calm down and may be jumping, barking, whining, pacing, panting, constantly moving and/or taking treats from you roughly compared to normal.
  • Destructiveness: The dog tears up objects and/or furniture, windows sills, walls, etc.
  • Unusually quiet: The dog doesn't play with toys or not interested in interacting with you or other family members; less active than normal.
  • Repetitive or odd behaviors: The dog chases shadows or lights, chases their tail, constant licking/grooming, pacing or running in a repetitive pattern, etc.
  • Hiding: The dog hides under or behind furniture, in another room and/or does not want to come out of their crate.
  • Not eating: The dog doesn't eat meals and/or doesn't taking treats from you.
  • Shut down: The dog is very quiet and rarely moves. The dog stays in one place most of the time and doesn't show interest in life and the environment.

Body Language Indicators of Stress

  • Turning head away or moving away from a person, animal or object while body is getting smaller - cowering.
  • Stiff or tense body, tail is usually still and can be hanging down or standing up high
  • Avoiding eye contact OR looking toward you with head turned slightly to opposite side showing the whites of their eyes.
  • Trembling, tucked tail, panting, crouching
  • Excess drooling, excess shedding, sweaty paws
  • Humping, repetitive jumping
  • Yawning, lip licking, shaking off (as if wet), scratching
  • Loss of appetite and/or thirst
  • Aggression (e.g., growl, snap, bite)

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