How to Spot the Signs of Discomfort and Stress in Dogs

Dogs Walking on Path

Do you know when your dog is stressed out or uncomfortable?

Unfortunately, our canine companions can’t articulate when they’re feeling less than happy, but there are signs we can see. Some are obvious like extreme shaking, but others can be more subtle.

Small White Fluffy Dog Playing Outside

Subtle Symptoms of Anxiety:

Unless you know exactly what to look for, these subtle signs of stress and discomfort in your pooch may go unnoticed. Take the time to read your dog’s body language so you can help him or her through whatever may be triggering the “Nervous-Nellies.”

Hiding and Seeking Solitude:

A dog that is stressed may seek out a hiding place so he or she can be alone.

Seeking Comfort:

Some canines will become very pushy or needy when they are stressed. This can include following their pet parent at a close distance, jumping up onto their laps or nudging their arms.


Shaking and Panting:

Excessive panting (not just after exercise) and shaking is not normal and is usually a good indication that your pet is experiencing some turmoil. This is common in dogs that are afraid of fireworks or other loud noises.

Excessive Licking or Chewing:

Dogs that continue to lick or chew in one area may be exhibiting signs of stress. Be sure to rule out food allergies or hot spots to determine if this behavior is stress-related or health-related.

Saint Bernard Licking his Nose with his Tongue

One Paw Raised:

Unless your dog is offering its paw as a trick, this subtle action could be letting you know that he or she is worried and does not want to be bugged at the moment.

Half-Moon Eyes:

This behavior can be shown when the dog is being touched or hugged too much or too hard by a child.

If your dog shows this sign when an overly-affectionate child approaches, then it is most likely worried about the love-attack and it’s best to divert the child’s attention to leave your dog be.

Other Subtle Signs of Stress in Dogs:

Along with the previous signs, your dog may exhibit these subtle signs of being anxious and stressed.

  • tail between legs
  • tail low and only the end is wagging
  • tail between legs and stiff or wagging
  • for curly-tailed dogs, the tail may be down or straight
  • ears sideways for erect-eared dog
  • ears back and flat

More Overt Signs of Anxiety:

The more anxious and stressed a dog gets the more overt its behaviors can become. Here is a list of more obvious signs of discomfort and stress in dogs.

Displacement Behaviors:

The tricky thing about displacement behaviors is they are normal actions, but done out-of-context. For example, if it’s time for bed and your dog yawns and goes to its resting spot, it’s a normal behavior; but, if a child is being overly affectionate, your dog may yawn or lick itself vigorously because it is using a displacement behavior instead of actioning a bite.

Here are other displacement behaviors to look for in your canine.

  • licking lips without the presence of food
  • sudden scratching when not itchy
  • sudden biting at paws, tail or other body part
  • sudden sniffing the ground or other object
  • shaking off when not wet or dirty

Rottweiler Laying in the Grass

Avoidance Behaviors:

For the most part, dogs will try to avoid conflict, so they may try to avoid the situation altogether. This list are tell-tale signs of your dog wanting to leave a stressful situation.

  • the dog gets up and leaves
  • turns head away
  • hides behind person or object
  • barks and retreats
  • rolls over on back (please don’t hurt me!)

Extreme Signs of Distress in Dogs:

These signs are not hard to read in your dog and may appear when your canine is in an extreme case of fear or panic.

Excessive Barking or Howling:

If you dog begins to bark during or after a loud noise and cannot be easily calmed, then it is feeling anxious and scared.

Little White Deaf French Bulldog

Aggressive Behavior:

Dogs that snap, growl, nip or bite may likely be under extreme stress. For your safety, avoid approaching this dog whenever possible.

Trying to Escape:

Dogs that are tethered or confined in some way may jump, dig and try to run away when under extreme stress.


Dogs that are otherwise house-trained may defecate or urinate in the house when anxious and frightened.


Tearing apart furniture, walls or even screen doors can be an extreme sign of stress and anxiety in dogs.

Panic Attacks:

A dog showing many of the above signs could be in a full-blown panic attack.


Dealing With Anxiety and Stress in Dogs:

Regardless of the level of stress and anxiety in your dog, it has to be dealt with promptly to help alleviate the problem.

Dogs with mild cases of anxiety may benefit from natural calming remedies such as valerian root, L-theanine, Rescue Remedy for Dogs, Licks Zen liquid vitamins, etc. Many pet parents have had success using the snug-fitting“Thunder Shirt” to help give their dog a sense of being hugged or swaddled.

If the anxiety is more severe, consult a certified trainer, behaviorist or veterinarian. These trained professionals can assess you dog and give you more in depth alternatives to help alleviate your pooch’s anxiety.  


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