Stress Signals

Stress Signals

June 9, 2017

Dogs are very good communicators. The problem is that they do not communicate in the same way that we do. Dogs use their body language to communicate. If you observe dogs interacting you’ll see this. Every part of a dog’s body is used: his eyes, mouth, ears, tail, head, etc. You certainly know what a dog is trying to say to you if he growls at you. He’s warning you to back off and you best listen or there’s a good chance you’ll get bit. If you want to be successful at training dogs or just want to be a better dog owner, then learn about canine body language. This is especially important when working with a dog that’s stressed.

There are many reasons why it’s important to learn about stress indicators.

  • Stress can have a negative impact on your dog’s health.
  • Stress can cause aggression. Dogs do what comes naturally to protect themselves.
  • Stress greatly reduces your dog from being able to learn.
  • Stress may make your dog completely shut down.

There are many stress signals that dogs use. Many signals can have more than one meaning. It’s important to look at all the signals your dog is using to get a better idea what he’s trying to say. Here are some stress signals.

  • Refusing to take treats or food (when the dog otherwise would) can be a stress signal. Stress causes the appetite to shut down.
  • Drooling may be an indication of stress or a response to food if present.
  • A low body posture can indicate stress or a lower ranking dog submitting to a dog of higher status.
  • Stress may cause a dog to avert his eyes and turn his head away. He does this in hopes that the stressor will disappear.
  • Many dogs become stressed when riding in vehicles. This may cause your dog to vomit or poop in the vehicle.
  • A shake off is very often misread by humans. Dogs do this when they’re wet, but more often it’s because a stressor is present. Quite often I see this when I’m working with a dog that is used to getting his own way and is stressed because I’ve asked him to do something he doesn’t want to do.
  • Vocalizations such as whining can also indicate stress. This can also be a way of demanding attention that has worked.
  • Scratching or licking quite often indicate stress. This is very common when training dogs.
  • Dogs who flick their tongues as if they’re licking their lips are quite often indicating that a stressor is present.
  • A stressed dog may seek contact with a human as reassurance. The dog may cling or lean into you.
  • A dog may use his mouth inappropriately when stressed. This can be a gentle nibbling or a painful snap or even bite. This may seem to come out of the blue and quite often surprises the owner.

As you can tell, there are many ways that dogs communicate to humans and other dogs when they are stressed. More often than not, these signals go unnoticed or are misunderstood by humans.

So how can we help a dog that is stressed? The first step is to identify the stressor(s). Examples of stressors could be: a person or child, noise or excitement, an approaching dog, a barking dog, the mail man, men with facial hair, a person wearing a hat, a new environment, a crying baby, the car, a shock collar or invisible fence, etc. Once the stressor is identified, you want to decrease the intensity of that stimulus until your dog no longer shows signs of stress. This is most often accomplished by simply increasing the distance from the stressor until your dog can relax. This distance is where you need to work to implement a program of counter-conditioning and desensitization to change your dog’s association with the stressor from a negative to a positive one.



  1. Kim Collins on September 20, 2022 at 5:12 pm

    We have 2 dogs, 1 is a 66lb Collie/Coonhound mix we got at 8 weeks old & the 2nd we rescued from a bad situation 4 yrs ago and he is 110 lbs Husky/Malamute mix. I have bought everything possible to be able to take him for a walk, you know a simple walk around the block. we have a choke collar, a collar with prongs on it, a harness and last week we received a martingale collar and this big boy slips out of everything then it’s game on to catch him before he get hit by a car. I have tried with both dogs walking at the same time with me being the big boys handler since I catch him the fastest but what do you recommend for him? No he is not a boy who likes treats. Our other dog walks perfect on or off leash and obeys commands and also will do anything for a treat. Any help would be wonderful because I feel so much guilt because our little dog gets to go on daily adventures weather permitting and he is stuck at home with Dad & the kid’s. Thank you so very much for your time.

    • Anita Dungey on November 9, 2022 at 3:41 pm

      Hi, Kim. Thank you for your question! My apologies for the delayed reply. But, I think I may have a solution. We have been working on designing a new leash that will work well for you. I will making a short video next week of how to use this leash. It’s a twist on a trick our trainer told us about when we were working with our young, ambitious 50 lb puppy. I think it would work in your situation, as well. We should have information to post within the next week or so. If you are interested, I can send you a preliminary clip and photos of the leash as soon as they are ready. Feel free to reach out to me directly at Thank you for your interest in our products! Sincerely, Anita / Auburn Leathercrafters

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