Critical Signs of Stress in a Dog

Learn the signs of dog anxiety so you can avoid having your dog shut down.


Your ability to recognize critical signs of stress in a dog is an important aspect of taking good care of your dog. Stress can lead to medical and worsening behavioral problems you’d much rather prevent. You need to recognize dog anxiety and take steps to help your dog manage his stress.

Learn to recognize signs of dog anxiety, so you can help your dog feel more comfortable in a situation. Examples of potentially stressful situations for your dog include unwanted confinement, leash restriction when other dogs are free, new people or pets in the house, new home, and scary noises like rattling shopping carts or plastic bags flapping in the wind. But there can be more, which is why you need to know signs of dog anxiety. Dog stress symptoms include behaviors that are known to mean a dog is feeling stress:

  • Barking
  • Circling
  • Cowering
  • Dilated pupils
  • Excessive drooling
  • Flattened ears
  • Front paw lifting
  • Head shaking
  • Heavy panting
  • Losing control of bladder or bowels
  • Nose licking
  • Obsessively licking one spot
  • Refusing to look directly at something
  • Scratching himself
  • Shying away from/refusing to move toward something
  • Trembling
  • Whining/vocalizing
  • Yawning (when obviously not sleepy)

Bloodshot eyes in your dog aren’t necessarily stress. Yes, sometimes anxious dogs or even happily excited will get bloodshot eyes, but you shouldn’t assume bloodshot eyes just mean stress. Medical problems like conjunctivitis, dry eye syndrome, and glaucoma can cause bloodshot eyes, too. If you see bloodshot eyes in your dog, get an appointment with your veterinarian.

In addition to the signs of stress listed above, dogs exhibit certain behaviors that signify chronic stress. These include:

  • Compulsive licking at a limb creating a “lick sore”
  • Destructive behavior like tearing up his bed or destroying household things
  • Diarrhea
  • House soiling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low activity
  • Restlessness/pacing
  • Shut down (withdrawn, unresponsive to stimuli and people)
  • Withdrawal from family/less interactive
  • Vomiting bile

If your dog is exhibiting any of these signs of anxiety/dog stress, seek professional help.  Your veterinarian can make sure there are no underlying illnesses involved and give you guidance on best ways to manage your dog’s stress. You may need to make adjustments to his environment and your handling, slowly increase his socialization to build confidence, or consider some medications that can help modify his behavior.