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How do I help my stressed dog?

Now that you have an idea of what a stressed dog looks like, it’s time to make sure you help your dog when he is showing you he is stressed.

Give your dog space

One of the very best things you can do is to put more distance between your dog and whatever is causing him stress. For some dogs, this is a couple of feet, for some it will be two blocks. Taking away the pressure of the situation will help your dog relax.

Understand what situations are stressful for your dog

One year, I went to both the Bay Area Pet Expo and The Golden Gate Kennel Club Dog Show within a few weeks of each other and was struck by the almost polar opposite behaviors of the dogs. Many dogs at the Expo were clearly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of STUFF happening: dogs, people, noises, smells, tight quarters, and lots of activity.  Unfortunately, a lot of owners seemed to be completely unaware that their dog(s) just didn’t want to be there and were completely over stimulated. In contrast, dogs at the dog show were also surrounded by much of the same STUFF but were completely at ease, and many seemed quite happy to be surrounded by everything. The difference is that the dogs at the show are in that sort of situation on a regular basis and most likely grew up in that environment. For some of the dogs at the Expo, they may have NEVER been in that sort of situation before and it was just too much without a history of prior (and positive!) experiences.


If you find that your dog is stressed, in general or in certain situations, one of the best things you can do is positive reinforcement training. Whether with a private trainer to specifically address certain issues or in a general group class, teaching your dog new behaviors and skills will increase his confidence and can help him to calm down. Training is an opportunity for you and your dog to have fun together, and for your dog to learn that you have everything under control, so he doesn’t need to worry as much in stressful situations.

A word of caution: not all trainers are created equal! You want to find a Certified Trainer who uses modern, science-based training methods. Using harsh, corrections-based training on a stressed dog will just result in a dog who is even more stressed.

A note about growling...

Does your dog growl when he is stressed? Great! Whatever you do, do not EVER punish your dog for growling. Growling is your dog’s way of stating that he is concerned about something. Dogs who are punished for growling may learn they shouldn’t growl but then have less options for showing their concern. You hear about a dog who bit someone “out of nowhere” but I bet somewhere down the line, they used a growl to try to express that they were upset. For more info on growling and why it is good, read this great article by Nicole Wilde. The take home message from it is this: Growling is meant to avert aggression, not cause it.

Here are some resources for those interested in learning more about helping to alleviate stress in your dog:


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 below are 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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