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 due to lockdown, such as less exercise. This can lead to excess energy with nowhere for it to go. And your dog may become stressed if you’re spending more time at home with them than you used to, or if children are home more than usual as your dog will get less rest and quiet.  

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 will 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 in you are walking near livestock.  

Covid-19 means that you might be exercising your dog less than you usually would eg if you’re self-isolating. If your dog does not like walks or if you’re self-isolating, there are lots of indoor games for dogs that will keep them entertained. 

Read more on walking your dog and coronavirus.  

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

Avoid telling 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 aggressive 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 lockdown is affecting our dogs 

Coronavirus restrictions may mean that you are not able to exercise your dog as much as before, especially if you are self-isolating or live in a city. You might also be living, working and looking after children in a smaller flat or house. All these things can affect our pet’s stress levels. 

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 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

Home schooling  

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 

Due to coronavirus restrictions and colder weather, many of us are spending a lot more time indoors. For many dogs, this won’t be a problem, but some 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 30/03/2021

Did you find this helpful?

We provide free pet advice as every pet deserves to be well looked after. We treated around 35,000 sick injured and homeless pets last year. We're so glad we've been able to help these pets who are unable to help themselves, but there are thousands of sick and lonely pets still in need, so we need to ask for a small favour.

All of our work is funded entirely through donations. People like you are essential to our work. If everyone who benefits from our articles is able to give a little back, we can reach thousands more pets. For as little as £1 you can make a difference - do you have one minute? Thank you.