Signs of Stress and Anxiety in Dogs

Signs of stress and anxiety in dogsIn my last post I wrote about the debate over hugging your dog and received a lot of feedback. The argument against says that while we humans feel this is a natural way of showing our affection and fostering the bonding experience, for the dog it can cause stress and anxiety. Their fight or flight instincts can make them feel trapped.

One celebrity dog trainer Joel Silverman, writes that it really all depends on the dog, and I agree. “Just because a dog does not want to be hugged today does not mean he will not want to be hugged six months from now.” “Some dogs with a higher prey drive do not like to have hands around their head, but there is no question that over the course of time they can get conditioned to that.”

Of course there are obvious signs to watch for when approaching any dog. But today we will discuss ways to tell if your own pet is becoming anxious or uncomfortable.

Half moon eye / Whale eyeHalf-Moon Eye / Whale Eye
When a dog is calm and relaxed, it usually does not show the whites of its eyes. But turning their eyes at an angle such that sclera is showing at the corners is a sign that they may be uneasy or wary of what to expect.

Yawning in dogsYawning (when not tired)
Though a yawn may indicate your dog is tired, usually it is an indicator of stress. They are actually trying to displace the feeling of stress or conflict with a safe, neutral behavior.

A dog looking or moving away is showing that you are the dominant onesLooking or Moving Away
Even when you intend to give your pooch a friendly pat on the head to engender affection, they may perceive it as a sign of dominance. To demonstrate that they are no threat to you, the dog will show subservience while maintaining a somewhat protective posture. The dog will avoid direct eye contact to stave off a potential confrontation.

Licking lips in dogs is often a calming behaviorLip Licking
Lip licking is usually a calming mechanism, also called an appeasement gesture. It is similar to appeasement grinning and serves to deescalate a potentially confrontational situation. Turid Rugaas, a dog trainer, behaviorist, and author from Norway, coined the term “calming signals.”

Other signs that your dog is uneasy, fearful or wants to avoid a confrontation include:

  • tail between legs
  • tail held low and only the end is wagging
  • tail between legs and wagging
  • tail held straight down
  • ears sideways (for erect eared dog)
  • ears back combined with rapid panting
  • hiding behind person or object
  • barking and retreating
  • rolling over on back in submissive way


For more information, please check out the following resources:
Do Dogs Like To Be Hugged []
Common Stress Signals [Liam J Perk Foundation]
Translating Puppy Talk []
DogSpeak: Whale eye, translated []
Why Do Dogs Lick their Lips Excessively []
Lip Licking in Dogs []
Dog Communication and Appeasement Gestures []
Calming Signals – The Art of Survival [Turid Rugaas]


Should You Hug Your Dog?
Are You A Pack Leader?