Stress is part of everyone’s day to day life, even dogs. When we start to stack stresses on our dogs, especially fearful or anxious dogs, is when we will start to get into trouble. Most dogs will get stressed from one thing or another. Stress isn’t always a bad thing, but it is helpful to know what stress looks like from your dog, and what to do to help them through discomfort. Below are a couple of visual representations that show the expressions they may show as well as physical signs you can watch for.
Some of these expressions can be seen in other situations as well, so taking the situation into account as well as looking at your dog’s expression is vital. If your dog has just been playing with their best friend, they will likely end up with a happy “clown mouth”. Pay attention to multiple expressions or physiological signs to be able to determine if your dog is truly stressed or just over-aroused.
If your dog is panting in a cool environment where they shouldn’t be overheating, then they are likely stressed. Not taking offered cookies is a huge one we watch for when training dogs to be comfortable around their triggers. If a dog stops taking cookies, we have pushed them too far and need to back up to where they were last comfortable.
As stated above, stress isn’t always a bad thing. If your dog is unsure or scared about a situation, you can slowly ease them into it and expose them to minor stress to help them acclimate to it. We want to be careful that we never force our dog to be in a situation that they are terrified of. If we force our dog to face something they aren’t ready for, we can set back any training we have done with them. Taking careful precautions to not “flood” your dog with too many triggers is important to keep them moving forward and overcoming their stress levels instead of getting overwhelmed by them and possibly feeling like they must escalate to a bite.
If you are in a situation that is stressing your dog out and are unable to remove them, try to get them focused on something else. Move as far away from whatever it is that is stressing them out and try to get them to focus on you, a toy, a cookie, something that they love! Walking away from an overly stressful situation is always the best and we should be aware of what is likely to put unhealthy amounts of stress on our pups. We always want to set them up to succeed in any and every situation we expose them to. If we aren’t paying attention to their levels of stress, we can accidentally set them up to fail. Listen to your dog and go at their pace when exposing them to scary things.