One trait that we commonly see in dog behaviourist work is stress. Stress and anxiety are far more common in dogs than you may imagine. Just like human beings, dogs react differently when suffering from stress. What’s more, stress can also have a detrimental effect on their health. Identifying stress and getting help quickly is therefore imperative. Here is how dogs react to stress and what you can do to help.

How Dogs React to Stress – Loss of Appetite
One of the ways how dogs react to stress is by losing their appetite. Dogs don’t diet or fast like humans do, so if your dog suddenly has little to no interest in food, it is imperative to seek advice from a veterinarian. This is of utmost importance because loss of appetite may also be caused by an underlying health problem – including, for example, anorexia – which could lead to radical weight loss. If it’s not an underlying health issue causing the problem, it could be stress or anxiety, and a dog behaviourist can help address this.

How Dogs React to Stress – Digestive Issues
Although usually associated with food intolerances or diseases, digestive issues, including both constipation and diarrhoea, can also be manifestations of how dogs react to stress and anxiety. If constipation diarrhoea or other digestive issues are abnormally severe (in particular if the problem lasts in excess of 24 hours and/or there is blood in your dog’s vomit or stool, which may indicate a food borne illness), it is vital to see your veterinarian. If it’s not an underlying health issue causing the problem, it could be stress or anxiety, and a dog behaviourist can help address this.

How Dogs React to Stress – Isolation
Most dogs do like a little ‘alone time’ once in a while. However, if your dog is continually isolating her/himself from people or other pets, you should ask your vet to help you identify the cause of this strange behaviour. Voluntary isolation like this is not only how dogs react to stress/anxiety, but could also indicate an underlying sickness. If it’s not an underlying health issue causing the problem, it could be stress or anxiety, and a dog behaviourist can help address this.

How Dogs React to Stress – Increased Sleeping
Another manifestation of how dogs react to stress and anxiety is excessive sleeping and/or lethargy. Often one of the first signs of a dog being traumatised, injured or sick, lethargy can also be a symptom of health conditions including, among others:

  • Diarrhoea & severe dehydration
  • Diabetes, anaemia & hypothyroidism
  • Tumours, heart or liver disease and poisoning

Speaking to your vet as soon as possible if your dog is sleeping significantly more than usual or extremely lethargic is therefore imperative.

How Dogs React to Stress – Aggression
In some cases, how dogs react to stress/sickness may manifest itself in aggressive behaviour/actions towards people or other animals. This aggression is often accompanied by submissive behaviour and/or fearful facial expressions/body postures. Again, it is vital to consult a vet or veterinary behaviourist to deal with the problem before it gets worse.

Treatment from a dog behaviourist will focus on behaviour management techniques designed to help your dog with his/her anxiety, stress and anger, as well as preventing injury to your dog him/herself, other animals and humans (when away from home, muzzles and similar devices can also be helpful).

How Dogs React to Stress – Excessive Chewing
Some dogs show their stress/anxiety by chewing excessively on furniture, shoes, socks, kids’ toys and other inappropriate objects. Often due to separation anxiety when left alone, excessive chewing may also be caused by medical issues including intestinal parasites, nutritional deficiencies caused by a poor diet or gastrointestinal problems. Getting a vet to rule out such medical issues is again of utmost importance. Separation anxiety can often be reduced by gradually getting your dog used to being left alone and not making ‘a fuss’ before leaving/upon your return, something that a dog behaviourist will be able to advise you on.

Tips from a Dog Behaviourist: How Dogs React to Stress – What You Can Do
Having explored how dogs react to stress, let’s take a moment to look at what you can do to alleviate stress and anxiety in your dog.

The first thing to do if your dog’s behaviour suddenly changes in some way or another is to consult your vet to rule out any medical issues, as well as provide you with recommendations on lowering your pet’s level of stress. Some of the things you can do to help include:

  • Exercising/playing regularly with your dog – A good game of fetch, a nice long walk and similar physical activities are brilliant stress reducing activities for your dog (and yourself!).
  • Offering top quality dog food – His/her diet is an integral part of your dog’s health and well-being. An improperly balanced diet for his/her stage of life and life style could have unforeseen consequences that could cause stress and anxiety.
  • Creating a ‘safe zone’ – Set an area of your home apart as a space your dog can escape to during high-stress events such as, for instance, parties, fireworks or thunderstorms. To minimise stress during such events, make sure:
    • Your dog has his/her favourite ‘security blanket’ (a toy, for instance) with him/her
    • To visit him/her frequently in his/her ‘safe space’ if it is not possible for you to stay with him/her until the end of the high-stress event

    Staying with your dog during thunderstorms, fireworks, etc. will provide your dog with a great deal of reassurance and subsequently minimise the stress and anxiety he/she feels at such times.

Summary
How dogs react to stress varies from one animal to the next. As many of the ways in which a dog will react to stress could also indicate underlying illnesses, it is vital for you to look out for signs like those shown here and seek advice from your vet as soon as possible should you detect any of them. To prevent stress affecting your dog, you should also:

  • Offer your dog a balanced diet suitable for his/her stage of life/life style
  • Exercise/play with your dog on a regular basis
  • Make sure your dog has a safe place to go and provide him/her with as much reassurance as possible during fireworks, thunderstorms, fireworks and other high-stress events