From UC Davis Magazine

by Shelby Dioum | Jul 6, 2022 | Aggie LifeAnimal ScienceSpring/Summer 2022

Dogs get stressed just like humans. When dogs act out, tense up or become distant, their owners may wish that their dogs could verbally tell them what’s wrong. Fortunately, though, dogs have body language that can help their caregivers better understand them. Emma Grigg, an animal behaviorist at UC Davis, said that understanding their behavior plays a significant role in their welfare. “It makes us more compassionate when they’re doing something we don’t like if we can understand what’s triggering that behavior,” Grigg said. Here are some ways that your dog may express to you that they are stressed or anxious. 

Leaning away

This is a sign that a dog is fearful of a certain situation. Some dogs will lean away from what is stressing them out (an unwanted hug, for example). Other times, a dog may avert its head slightly, but keep its eyes fixated on a person or thing. According to Grigg, dogs may do this to pretend that whatever is stressing them is not there, or to signal that they don’t want an interaction to continue.

Tensing up

“When [dogs] suddenly get very still and tense, it’s a huge sign that they’re uncomfortable,” said Grigg. Many dog owners may think that a tense dog is being stubborn or dramatic, but they may actually be anxious or irritated. Relaxed dogs are wiggly and loose, according to Grigg, so a dog may be very uncomfortable if it suddenly goes tense.

Firmly closing the mouth

“A happy dog will have a relaxed, open mouth with their tongue hanging out,” said Grigg. On the other hand, a dog with a firmly closed mouth may be uncomfortable in a particular moment or environment. “This sign is subtle and can be easy to overlook,” Grigg added.

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