Stressed dog on a sofa

Stress in dogs 

It’s normal for your dog to feel stressed from time to time. But too much stress can lead to longer term problems with your dog’s behaviour, like anxiety.  

Stress in dogs can be caused by a variety of things, from loud noises like fireworks, to new places. It can also be caused by a change in routine. 

How to spot the signs of stress 

By knowing what to look for, you can reduce the stress your dog may be experiencing and prevent possible problems in the future. 

Subtle signs your dog might be stressed include: 

  • yawning – unless your dog is tired  
  • panting – often with a curled tip of their tongue instead of relaxed 
  • pacing back and forth 
  • licking their lips
  • ears pinned back
  • dilated pupils or red around the eyes 
  • whites of their eyes showing (whale eye)

Obvious signs your dog might be stressed include: 

  • loss of appetite 
  • backing away from someone or a situation 
  • tail tucked between their legs 
  • cowering (shrinking down or crouching) 
  • diarrhoea or increased bowel movements 
  • trembling or shivering (when they’re not cold or excited) 

Some of these signs may also be caused by a health problem and you should speak to a vet if you are concerned. 

What causes stress in dogs? 

Dogs can become stressed because they are bored, frustrated, scared or anxious. 

You may also be feeling a bit stressed by the coronavirus restrictions in place. For many dogs, being around a stressed family member will be enough to affect them, as dogs can sense when things aren’t quite right.  

Dogs can also be affected by a change in routine, such as less exercise. This can lead to excess energy with nowhere for it to go. Or your dog might become stressed when going out to public places following lockdown. Remember that your dog has become used to being at home too and that they may need extra support to help them get used to busy places again.

Defensive behaviours 

Sometimes dogs who feel worried or threatened may use more obvious signs to show they are stressed or scared. This usually means they urgently want to stop something happening or get something or someone to move away. Some of these behaviours include: 

  • stiffening and staring 
  • growling 
  • flashing or showing teeth 
  • snapping 
  • biting  

Dogs are likely to have shown other signs of stress before this, so it’s important to recognise these early signs to prevent any unwanted behaviours. 

How to help calm a stressed dog 

Recognising whether your dog is stressed is the first step. There’s lots you can do to help make your pet feel less stressed and more at ease once you know what to look for. Understanding the cause of your dog’s stress will also help you choose the best way to help your dog calm down. 

Give your dog time away

dog and child safety - crate
A dog having time away in a crate

Avoiding or removing your dog from a stressful situation will help, whether that’s outside or in your home. You could create a separate space away from excited children with a safety gate or create a homely bed or crate for them to relax where they won’t get disturbed.

Exercise your dog 

Most dogs love their walks! Not only are they good for their physical health but walks will help your dog’s mental wellbeing too, having lots of things to sniff, look at and enjoy. Remember that you must keep your dog on a lead if you are walking near livestock.

Stay nice and calm 

Many dogs are very sensitive to their owner’s emotions. If your dog is stressed, keep calm and try not to panic or raise your voice as this might add to your pet’s stress levels. 

Keep your dog entertained 

There are lots of things you can do inside your home to keep your dog entertained. This can help keep their mind focused and distracted from things they find stressful.  

We have lots of ideas on fun indoor games for dogs

Don't tell them off  

Don’t punish your dog, especially if they’re showing defensive behaviours as this is likely to make them even more stressed. Telling them off may mean they stop one behaviour, such as growling, but start biting or snapping instead. 

When to see an animal behaviourist 

If your dog is showing aggression or displaying any other problematic behaviours, talk to your vet and find a professional animal behaviourist to help. They will be able to help identify what’s causing the stress and give you advice on how to manage it. 

What if I don't think I can keep my dog any longer? 

We know that sometimes people’s circumstances change. Giving up your dog is a really difficult decision and it can help to speak to someone about it. If you can no longer look after your pet, our Rehoming Team is always happy to talk to you about your circumstances. Contact your nearest Blue Cross centre to talk to one of the team or find out more about giving up a pet

How coming out of lockdown is affecting our dogs 

Coronavirus restrictions have meant that you and your dog might have been spending more time at home. As restrictions ease, it’s important to make sure that you help your dog adjust any changes to their routine, such as visiting public places again.

Puppies in lockdown 

We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of people getting puppies in the last year. With restrictions and social distancing, it’s been harder to socialise your young dog and get them used to new experiences but there’s lots you can do to make sure puppies in lockdown don’t miss out! 

Separation anxiety in dogs 

When you return to work or leave your dog, you may notice that your dog looks anxious or stressed. Although dogs will get used to being left for short periods, they may need some further training so they don’t get stressed following lockdown.

Visiting busier places

As restrictions ease, you may want to go to a busy venue, like a pub, with your dog. Many of our dogs won’t be used to seeing lots of people or being in strange, new places having mostly been at home for the past year.

During the school holidays  

Children don’t always understand the signs telling them a dog might need space. Children and dogs often have strong bonds but it’s important that you supervise their time together. And it’s important that you help your child to understand that, just like us, dogs do not always feel like playing or being hugged. 

Advice for parents 

Some dogs might feel stressed or uncomfortable if they have more attention from children than usual. Children can also be a bit rough or not understand a pet’s need for space. 

We’ve got some helpful tips to make sure everyone stays safe including: 

— Page last updated 30/01/2023