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How to Recognize Signs of Holiday Stress in Your Dog

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Jingle bells are in the air, and with them come visits from your extended family, loud noises, distracting decorations, guest appearances from grabby kids and many other sensations related to the holiday season.

It’s a lot to handle for a human, and it can be even more stressful for a dog who doesn’t have total understanding or control of the situation.

While some dogs enjoy the increase in activity and new experiences that come with holidays, an equal number of pups aren’t fans of change. That’s why it is important to be able to recognize signs of stress in your pet, so you can remove them from overwhelming situations and help them relax.

Unfortunately, dogs can’t eloquently speak on the particulars that are bothering them, but they do have their own ways of letting you know “I am freaking out.”

Camp Bow Wow’s Training and Behavioral Expert Erin Askeland, CPDT-KA has come up with a list of canine stress signs to look out for this holiday season, along with helpful ways to comfort your pet and ensure everyone enjoys this festive time of year. 

Signs of Pet Stress

Lip Licking and Yawning – Both are indicators of stress. It is important to assess the exact situation. If a dog is lying on the couch by itself and licks its lips or yawns, it is most likely not stress. If a dog is being hugged, tugged on, etc., and begins to emit these warning signs, this is a clear indicator that he/she is now anxious.

Wide Eyes and Averting Gaze – Wide eyes and showing the whites of the eye both indicate that a dog is stressed out. Often dogs with this expression avoid your gaze as well. 

Hackling (spiking of the fur along the spine) – For a dog, this is an involuntary response to his environment and can mean the dog is nervous and anxious.

Growling and Snapping – Never try to get a dog to stop growling; we WANT it to growl, as it lets us know that he/she is uncomfortable. 

Stiff Wagging Tail – A dog that is experiencing stress (and may bite) will wag its tail in a stiff manner. Look out for a tail that is pointed high and moves quickly back and forth.

Shivering or Shaking – A stressed dog may shiver or shake and appear to be cold. This is typically not due to being cold, but due to being nervous and anxious. Again, you must look at the whole situation to determine the cause. 

Cowering or Tail Tucking – This behavior indicates that a dog is fearful. It doesn’t mean the dog will bite, but could if the dog’s fear continues to increase.

Backing Away or Hiding – Whether the dog backs itself into a corner or tries to hide, this is a clear sign that the dog is uncomfortable and trying to escape. It is important to leave these dogs alone! Allow them to come to you.

Pacing and inability to settle down – A dog that is stressed may also pace around an area and not be able to relax into one spot. 

How to Comfort Dogs Showing Signs of Stress

Provide a safe space – Set up a crate, separate room, bed, or other escape where the pet can lie down and not be bothered. It’s important to ensure those around the pet leave it alone when it goes to its safe space.

Remove your pet from stressful situations – If a pet is stressed in a particular setting, the best thing you can do for yourself and your pet is to remove it from the situation entirely. Forcing a pet to be in a scary situation that causes it stress can make it worse and increases the risk of the pet injuring someone or themselves out of fear. 

Occupy your pet – A little extra exercise and access to treats that take time to go through can help take the pet’s mind off of its stress and relax. A long-lasting bone or chew paired with its safe space can provide relief. 

Try a calming aid – There are also calming aids available like slow-paced, classical music, natural calming sprays, thundershirts, and pet rescue remedies that could help take the edge off your pet. These may not work for every pet, and if the pet’s stress levels consistently get worse, it may be time to talk to a rewards-based trainer and veterinarian.