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How Can I Tell if My Dog is Stressed?

Updated: Nov 6, 2019

I have spent tens of thousands of hours observing dog body language because it used to be a necessary skill in my day-to-day life. Because of this, I sometimes forget that it IS a skill that needs to be developed, and unfortunately, not all dog owners possess this skill. Not having this skill does not make one a bad person or a bad dog owner, however, we can do so much more for our dogs if we can understand when our dogs are stressed, or scared, or uncomfortable. The great news is that there are literally hundreds of resources out there about canine body language, so becoming an educated dog owner is absolutely possible without spending over a decade and a half of your life working with dogs like I did. A few that I would recommend checking out are:

Dogs are masters of reading body language, so the signals they use to communicate are generally quick and subtle. But with a little time and practice, you too can pick up on what your dog is trying to say.

Stress Signals in Dogs:

  • Lip Licking – I’m not talking about the “about to get a treat, licking your chops” lip-licking. Watch this clip for two examples.

  • Yawning – Again, this is not yawning when you know a dog is tired. It is in an out of context situation. Here you can see yawning and lip-licking combined.

  • Panting – Another out of context behavior. If your dog was not just engaged in something active and is panting like this, it is a sign of stress.

  • Excessive drooling – Also not when food is coming. I think we all know what drooling looks like.

Because not all signals that dogs give us are over the top, it can be difficult to notice if you aren’t looking for it. Look at this dog:

He is not doing anything necessarily dramatic and his tail isn’t tucked, but he is clearly uncomfortable with the person filming him (or perhaps something the person is holding/wearing). Why do I say that? Because he is yawning, lip-licking, panting, and he is avoiding looking at the person. This dog may not be scared, but he is uncomfortable in this situation.  Pay attention to your dog. Learn to notice these little things that clue us in to how a dog is feeling. Dogs who are stressed can easily become dogs who are scared, and dogs who are scared can easily turn into dogs who bite. It is our responsibility as the owner/guardian/parent/companion (pick your favorite title) of our dogs to protect them from things that are scary, and recognizing these stress signals is an important first step!

Well great, now I see that my dog is stressed. What do I do now?! Keep your eyes peeled for my next blog, and I’ll answer that question! In the meantime, download this awesome app (illustrated by the fabulous Lili Chin who created the SVD logo) and start learning to “understand your dog’s signals like a pro!”

Tracey Lee Davis, Silicon Valley Dogs

Tracey Lee Davis is a former CPDT-KA, a graduate with honors of the Academy for Dog Trainers, and a Certified Kennel Operator. For close to a decade, she ran one of the most well-respected dog daycares in the Silicon Valley. She is passionate about helping dogs and their humans lead happy and fun lives together.


Disclosure: Some of the links may be affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Thank you!

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