We’re not talking about stress in the same way we apply it to ourselves. We don’t think that our dogs are sat mulling over that stupid thing they said last week to the neighbour’s cute poodle, nor are they wondering if they are living their best life.
When we talk about stress in dogs, we just mean a fear, or a dislike of a situation they find themselves in.
This could be a visit to the vet, if they’ve previously had a bad experience, it could be a small child being too ‘in your face’ with them, or they’ve seen a dog they don’t like the look of, or someone they don’t know is being too friendly too soon… there’s a whole load of scenarios out there that your dog might not like.
And they have a range of ways to try and tell us this. We’re a bit stupid though, we often don’t see the early signals,wwe’re less to reading body language than dogs are. And when we do see it, we don’t always accredit it to stress or fear – because we humanise things, so for example the shape a dog’s mouth goes into when panting looks a bit like a smile – so we think they’re happy. Or if they roll over onto their back we assume it’s for a tummy rub, when it’s more likely to be a sign of appeasement, and therefore a request to ‘go away and leave me alone please’.
So here are some signs, but they need to be taken in context, as for something like panting, if they’ve just been running on a warm day, they may likely just be thirsty! Look for one or two signs together, and look at the body as a whole…
- Body is stiff
- Tail is down between the legs, but may still be wagging stiffly
- Ears back on floppy-eared dogs, low on pointy-eared dogs
- Suddenly sniffing the floor
- Front paw is raised
- Widened eyes, with whites showing (sometimes called whale-eye)
- Looking away from you, or object of concern
- Turning away from you, or object of concern
- Moving away from you, or object of concern
- Rolling over onto back
Remember it is a good thing that a dog shows you that he is stressed or anxious. Never punish a dog for growling, or for any other warning signs that he gives you.