Stress sucks. And unfortunately humans are not alone in this sentiment. So, in the aftermath of what is probably one of the most stressful nights of the year for most animals (4th of July), lets talk about stress, how to watch out for it, and a few ways to cope.
There are six major signs of stress that dogs frequently display. These are signals your dog may be sending you, a family member, or a stranger that he or she is not comfortable with the situation at hand. It is your job to spot these, and help remove your dog from the situation that is causing him to enter the panic zone.
- Turning Away: Lets say you approach someone sitting on a bench with their dog patiently lying at his owners feet. You bend down to give the seemingly friendly dog a pat and he simply turns his head away from you, avoiding eye contact with you, but not getting up and moving away. This may make you feel as though the dog is blowing you off, and may then intensify your greeting by making increasingly high pitched baby cooing noises to get the dogs attention. Guess what! That is exactly what the dog is trying to politely avoid, and you have just increased his stress ten fold. Not all dogs are ‘people dogs’, but are rather shy around new people, and we as dog lovers need to learn to respect that.
- Moving Slowly: Lets repeat the same situation as above, but this time the dog moves away very slowly and cautiously. This is the dog trying to show people around it the type of behavior that he himself would like to see. If instead of rushing up to the dog and rapidly giving him a pet or scratch, try slowly moving beside him, offering a hand for him to sniff, and let him do the ‘talking’.
- Freezing: This is a very uncomfortable dog that is on the brink of snapping. Best to back away from the situation, wait for the dog to calm down, and find a way to remove the dog from the situation that is making him uncomfortable. Most of the time when I see this, it involves a treat or beloved toy, of which they are worried it will be taken form them. Find a way to distract the dog away from the item or food, with something else positive, or give the dog a moment to finish his food before you approach again. Remember, they will only bite if you give them the opportunity and reason to. Remove yourself from any danger of bites, and wait for the moment to pass. Also keep in mind that you should never punish a dog for showing this type signal. If you do, he may stop giving you a warning that he is uncomfortable, and simply go straight to snapping. Trust me, a warning is nice.
- Lip Licking: Fido might not be hungry if he is licking his lips. This is a very common sign of anxiety, and is usually a very fast, short lick of the lips. It may come from an instinct to show puppy-like, nonassertive behavior to alpha member of the pack.
- Whale-eye: This can be seen in cats as well as dogs. Whale eye is when your dogs eyes are as wide as they can be, showing the outer white rim of the eye around their iris, that when the dog is relaxed is not usually ever seen. This is an innate psychological and physiological response to fear, stress or anxiety. Much when people hit a fight or flight mentality, our pupil will dilate, allowing as much light into our eyes as possible, and thus as much visual information as possible. Your dog is doing the same thing, and is thus clearly uncomfortable with the situation. Time to remove him from the situation.
- Yawning: Another one of the most common signs of stress and often mistaken for contentment. Usually this can be combined with a high pitched whine. Often seen when a dog is being overstimulated by its surroundings, whether thats a busy street, lots a screaming kids, or those dreaded fireworks on the 4th of July. They are not trying to tell you they are sleepy and ready for bed despite the racket. They are freaked out and want your help!
Usually when you see these signals, they best thing you can do is remove the dog from the situation the best you can. Sometimes that is impossible, such as the 4th of July. So the next thing you should think about is what makes my dog comfortable. Try looking into a Thundershirt, or a Comfort Zone plug in. Some dogs respond really well to being placed in their crate with blanket over it, if they have been previously crate trained and see their crate as their safe zone. You can look into anti-anxiety herbs and supplements carried at many pet stores. Happy Traveler worked well for my dog when we went camping for the first time to help her remain calm in a new place with strangers around. If your dog is showing all of these signs, plus rapid panting and shaking, and is doing so very frequently, it might be time to consult a veterinarian. Anxiety and stress is a big issue for our pets, and one that should be taken just as seriously as our own stress and anxiety. We have the ability to understand what is causing our stress and how to deal with it internally, but our dogs can’t always cope with theirs on their own. Hopefully now you know what signs to look for, and can help our dog when he or she needs it the most.