What does stress look like in a dog?

I want to start to talk about TTouch and how the tools can release tension, anxiety and fear.  But before I do that I think it is important to know what tension, anxiety and fear look like.  And we have to understand that dogs show their emotion through their posture and when we are able to change his posture (with TTouch) we can then change his behavior.

Signs of stress in the mouth are evident by lips that are pulled back, excessive drooling, dry mouth, stiff lips and puffed up cheeks.  Ears can be erect, held tight to the body, or pulled back.  ‘Whale eyes’ where the eyes are wide open with the whites of the eyes showing, staring and squinting are also signs the eyes can give us as indicators of stress.  Tails are stiff, between the legs or held close to the body or excessively wagging.  Crouching body posture or tense upright posture or the body is stiff.  Breathing that is closer to panting is a sign of stress as the holding of the breath.  If you see a dog with his tail tucked, ears back, mouth drawn tight and head lowered is common in dogs who are fearful.

Other signs of stress include shaking, restlessness, barking, whining, howling, fooling around, excessive licking, chewing and irritability.  Often there is a combination of these characteristics that make it easy for us to determine if a dog suffers from stress and anxiety if we know what to look for.  This calls for us to stop, take a few moments and just observe what the body is telling us.  When you are making these observations I suggest that you write them down.  Capture what the environment is like at this time.  Is he nervous around other dogs?  Strangers?  Noises?  Slippery surfaces?  The list can go on and on.  Be aware of any stress you may have in your body and mind that the dog may be mimicking.  Pay attention to your breathing, the sound of your voice and observe whether your expectations are contributing to the tension.

I know this for sure – while the dog is exhibiting behaviors that tell you he is suffering from stress, anxiety or fear, he cannot learn.  Depending on his level of arousal he may truly not hear you when you speak to him or give him a command.  We have to eliminate the underlying causes of these postures before we can change his behavior.

Next post:  the touches.

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