Logo image
Logo image

How to Manage Stress in Dogs

6 minutes
It's impossible to prevent dogs from suffering from stress in their daily lives. However, there are some strategies that can help mitigate its effect on canine health.
How to Manage Stress in Dogs
Last update: 07 April, 2023

Like humans, dogs experience several episodes of stress throughout their lives, which must be managed appropriately to avoid conflict. If not carefully attended to, they can develop behavioral problems or emotional instability. Learn how to manage stress in dogs!

Stress in dogs is a serious and sensitive issue that should be given priority in the home. Although it’s common and often doesn’t create an immediate risk for the family, it’s better to learn how to control it and help the pet to deal with it. Continue reading this space and discover how to manage it in the most appropriate way.

What is stress in dogs?

Contrary to popular belief, stress is actually a biological defense mechanism that allows the body to prepare itself to face a dangerous situation. During this phenomenon, the body produces several types of hormones (such as cortisol or adrenaline) that activate the fight or flight system, whose objective is to ensure the dog’s survival.

When stress appears at appropriate moments such as the response to aggression or the defense of a loved one, it’s called “good stress”. This is because it fulfills its normal function in the organism and protects the integrity of the dog. On the contrary, if it’s present in an intense way, for a prolonged period of time, or due to stimuli that are harmless to the dog, it’s considered “bad stress” or, simply, distress.

Discover more here: 7 Signs that Your Dog is Stressed Out

Some figure

Why can stress become bad?

As mentioned, stress forces the activation of various metabolic systems and processes that put the entire body on alert. Although this is necessary to overcome difficult or complicated situations, it also causes constant wear and tear on the body.

When stress events are sporadic, the damage to the body isn’t significant or dangerous. However, when suffering from stress, the unnecessary activation of the metabolism causes severe physical and psychological consequences.

Bad stress keeps the body tense and alert at all times, which requires a lot of energy and a change in the general behavior of the animals. Although, at first, this state remains stable, as time goes by it loses its efficiency, wears out the metabolism, and alters perception.

What happens if a dog suffers from stress?

According to an article published in the magazine of the Mexican Association of Veterinarians specializing in small species, bad or chronic stress clearly modifies a dog’s usual behavior and their reaction to different stimuli. Among the main signs that a dog is distressed are the following:

  • Flight from harmless events: They try to escape or hide from situations that frighten them or make them uncomfortable.
  • Unrestrained aggression: Growling, barking, snorting, or attacking whatever causes them stress (people, dogs, or objects).
  • Paralysis: The pet goes into a state of shock that immobilizes them or prevents them from moving quickly.
  • Nerves or anxiety: Dogs act agitated, lick their muzzle, yawn repeatedly, scratch the ground, or shake for no apparent reason.

It’s important to emphasize that the severity of signs of stress in dogs increases over time. In the most complicated cases, dogs are unable to interact with other people or dogs in a healthy way, as their nervous or aggressive behavior is dangerous for coexistence.

Learn how to manage stress in dogs

There are many environmental factors that can generate stress in dogs. Therefore, it is better to learn how to manage the stress situation to avoid risky scenarios and to avoid exposing the health of the family and the dogs. Some recommendations to achieve this are listed below:

  • Stay calm: Dogs are quite perceptive and get stressed when they detect that their owner is nervous or worried. So, as much as possible, try to control your emotions to prevent them from affecting your pet.
  • Give them simple commands and reward them: The tension generated by stressful moments causes the dog’s emotions to run wild and they just act on impulse. To calm them down, you can redirect their attention to simple commands such as sit or lie down, which distract them sufficiently and help them refocus.
  • Don’t force them to interact: This causes them to become stressed and increases the tension of the situation. There are desensitization methods to get them to accept certain situations, but they should be carried out with the guidance of a professional.
  • Pay attention to your dog’s warning signs: All dogs use their body language to show if something has displeased them, bothered them, or if they feel uncomfortable. Whenever you notice any of them, move them away from the source of stress and try to distract them.
Some figure

How to help your dog manage stress on its own

Despite the above recommendations, it isn’t always possible to avoid stressful situations or to control your pet to try to reduce its stress. Because of this, it’s also necessary to prioritize strategies that help the dog manage stress on its own. That is, to make them more resilient and not react inappropriately in such situations. Some tips that will help you are the following:

  1. Offer your pet different environmental stimuli: Stress can appear due to the dog’s fear of facing new situations or stimuli. These effects diminish if they get used to dealing with this type of interaction in advance.
  2. Make them exercise regularly: Exercise calms the dog’s mind and stabilizes their emotions.
  3. Socialize your pet from an early age: This means having them live with different people and animals. This will help them get used to changes and to the presence of strangers.
  4. Offer them good nutrition: It goes without saying that a bad diet causes metabolic stress that makes them susceptible to diseases and makes them feel unstable.
  5. Provide a safe and special space for your pet: This place should be a refuge where they feel calm and safe from any problem. In this way, they’ll know where to run to if they get too stressed or need a break, which prevents problems such as aggression.
  6. Train them well: Dog training is essential to control the pet’s behavior and correct it when necessary. In addition, certain commands help to calm some stressed dogs.
  7. Understand the origin of the stress: Each stressor is handled differently depending on its origin and the effect it has on the dog. However, it’s mandatory to have the help of a professional in canine ethology and a veterinarian to formulate an effective treatment.

Another great article for you: Daily Exercise for Your Dog: What Is Enough?

Final recommendations

As you can see, in order to manage stress in dogs it’s necessary to have in mind a series of appropriate strategies adapted to each dog. It’s crucial to emphasize that these recommendations are not treatment to correct canine distress, but simply a way to cope with it and reduce its harmful effects.

If your pet’s behavior is very reactive or aggressive, you should consider going to an expert to address the situation as soon as possible. Remember that this type of problem also harms the dog’s health in the long term, so offer them the attention they need. As long as you act in time, you can be sure that coexistence will improve with time and your relationship with your pet will be strengthened.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Domínguez-Oliva, Adriana & Mota-Rojas, Daniel & Ruiz-García, Alfonso & Miranda Cortés, Agatha Elisa & Hernández Avalos, Ismael. (2021). Clinical recognition of stress in dogs and cats (Reconocimiento clínico del estrés en perros y gatos). Revista AMMVEPE 2021, 32(1): 24-35.. 32. 24-35. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/356175068_Clinical_recognition_of_stress_in_dogs_and_cats_Reconocimiento_clinico_del_estres_en_perros_y_gatos_Revista_AMMVEPE_2021_321_24-35
  • Bodnariu, A. L. I. N. A. (2008). Indicators of stress and stress assessment in dogs. Lucr Stiint Med Vet, 41, 20-26. https://www.cabdirect.org/cabdirect/abstract/20103126500
  • Le Brech, S. (2014). Diferencias individuales en comportamiento y respuesta de estrés en perros (Doctoral dissertation, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona).  https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/tesis?codigo=86685
  • García-Morato Fernández-Baíllo, C. Respuestas comportamentales y fisiológicas en situaciones de estrés en el perro y el gato (Doctoral dissertation, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona). https://www.tdx.cat/handle/10803/669554
  • Sánchez, B. R., Laita, S. G. B., Muniesa, I. L., & González-Martínez, Á. (2021). REDUCCIÓN DEL MIEDO Y EL ESTRÉS durante la hospitalización. Argos: Informativo Veterinario, (227), 1-16. https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=8706642
  • Beerda, B., Schilder, M. B., Van Hooff, J. A., De Vries, H. W., & Mol, J. A. (1999). Chronic stress in dogs subjected to social and spatial restriction. I. Behavioral responses. Physiology & behavior, 66(2), 233-242. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/223032728_Chronic_Stress_in_Dogs_Subjected_to_Social_and_Spatial_Restriction_I_Behavioral_Responses

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.