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Common Signs of Stress in your Dog: How to Interpret your Canine’s Body Language

If your dog could talk, what would they be trying to tell you?

Like Humans Dogs have a language that they use to express their feelings and intentions to those around them. Dogs do use sounds and signs, but they also communicate through body language, particularly through their postures and facial expressions.

You can tell a lot about them by listening to what they are ‘saying’. If your dog is scared or anxious about what is happening, or even if your dog is tense and possibly about to snap at someone, you can help them by listening to what they are ‘saying’ and moving them away from the situation.

Dogs are known to be their Gaurdian’s best friend. However, just like humans, they too can experience stress. Stress is a natural response to challenging or threatening situations that can have a significant impact on the dog’s overall well-being. As a dog owner, it is important to be aware of the common signs of stress in dogs so that you can take steps to avoid the things that cause the stress to reduce it, keep them safe and improve their quality of life.

Did you know that your dog may be showing signs of stress if they do some of these things ‘out of the blue’ or out of context?

Read on below for some of the more common signs of stress in your canine companion.

Licking their Lips

Without any obvious physical explanation (such as heat, exercise, tiredness, or the presence of food), your dog may be fearful or anxious if they lick their lips, pant, or salivate. Many of these behaviours are typically thought to represent various possible stressors.


Dogs yawn when they are exhausted, bored, or under stress. A strained yawn is normally longer and more powerful than a sleepy one.

Dogs yawn when they are anxious, to put it simply. Dogs employ a variety of soothing cues, such as yawning, to reduce their anxiety and stress, much like people do.

Tail Between the Legs or Tucked Down Tightly

The phrase ‘tail between their legs’ that is used to describe people was inspired by canine behaviour.

But, if you observe your dog acting oddly or having their tail between their legs, it most likely indicates that they are fearful and or worried.

Whale eye (when they show the whites of their eyes)

Another sign that is often missed is whale eye, which can indicate, uncertainty, worry or anxiety. Frequently, when a dog looks away slightly, the whites of its eyes take on the appearance of a half-moon.

But don’t mistake this for the playful bit of ‘side eye’, which may just be your dog being affectionate or wanting your attention.


Just like humans, dogs can stretch to release muscle tension brought on by stress. Dogs also stretch to release their pent-up energy. It may merely happen after they’ve slept or been still for a while, but stress stretching may happen when your dog feels tense.

Excessive Licking /Grooming

This can sometimes be classified as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

OCD can often be a type of self-soothing when feeling stressed. Some of this may include gnashing at their paws until they are inflamed, or obsessively licking in a specific area for no apparent reason.


Pacing back and forth is a symptom that something is stressing out your dog and making it difficult for them to relax. It might not be a significant concern if this just occurs around mealtimes or for brief periods of time.

Noticing when this behaviour occurs can help you to identify any anxiety triggers.


Whining can be a sign that your dog is feeling scared or anxious. Sometimes this can be combined with trembling which can be a sign they are fearful.

Keep in mind, some dogs may whine a little if they crave your love and attention, or some of your food!

Abnormal Shedding

Dogs may shed more than usual when they are stressed. This is due to the increased production of cortisol, a stress hormone that affects the dog’s coat.

Shedding is a very common biological result of high cortisol in their system and is unlike usual seasonal shedding, as bare batches can appear on your dog’s coat.

Expressing Anal Glands, Anal Gland Release

Anal glands in dogs may spontaneously empty. It’s known as “shooting the glands, or expressing their glans” because the foul fluid, which also has a strong disagreeable stench, tends to spray over neighbouring things. A dog may shoot his glands in response to anything that makes them feel scared, anxious, stressed, or excited.

Ears Tucked Back or Tight

In general, a dog’s ears can indicate how engaged it is whether it is angry, aroused, scared, happy, and, of course, aggressive. The relationships between owners and their pets can be improved by learning how a dog communicates and moves by using its ears.

Moreover, a dog with its ears pinned back may be sick, hurt, or under stress.

Freezing – Stiff Body Posture

A stiff body posture that is not linked to age-related diseases like arthritis or dysplasia can be a sign that your canine friend is feeling fearful, stressed, or anxious.

Raised Hackles

Like the stiff body posture, raised hackles can also indicate fear or anxiety. Raised hackles are a physical reaction to an adrenaline rush such as another dog threatening them. But psychologically, this stress sign can indicate curiosity, worry, or arousal.

Hunting dogs often raise their hackles when they smell or spot their prey.


If your dog is drooling when there is no food around or in anticipation of food, it may be that your dog is exhibiting a stress sign.

This can be from separation anxiety when their owner leaves the home, car sickness or a noise phobia from thunderstorms or fireworks.


If a dog feels a bad situation is imminent, they may retreat and seek comfort away from the threat or thing that is worrying them.

Although these are all common signs of stress in a dog, it also depends on the individual dog and their individual personality, just because a dog licks their lips or yawns does not mean that they are stressed, you must also take into account the context of the situation and the individual personality of the individual dog, for instance some dogs are naturally vocal, with some dogs raised hackles can simply be a sign of arousal when the dog is excited in play, yawning may be because the dog is actually tired.

Always talk to your dog’s vet or a professional dog trainer if you are in any way concerned about your dog’s behaviour to identify the root cause of the stress and create a strategy to help with it.

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Justin Jordan Trainer

Justin Jordan

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