How do we determine if our animal is stressed?

Kirby yawns when he is stressed

Kirby yawns when he is stressed

In the Pet Partners therapy world some level of stress is positive. Eustress is the amount of stress that keeps us alert and safe such as when we are driving. This prevents us from getting into an accident or embarking on perilous or reckless behavior.

This stress alerts our body that we should be careful, or it is a level of excitement that says “something is about to happen.”

When a small level of stress becomes Distress it is so great is can cause emotional or physical pain or discomfort.

When stressed Benny gives me that look that says "I need comforting"
When stressed Benny gives me that look that says “I need comforting”

In dogs, distress is reflected in many different ways. Pet Partners calls these displacement signals, or calming signals, When a dog is stressed it will try to soothe itself and it is the handler’s responsibility to know their animal well enough to identify these signals at the earliest stage.  Some calming signals include

  • Stretching or bowing
  • Yawning
  • Lip Licking and head turning
  • Panting, squinting, tightening face muscles
  • Going belly up
  • Sudden sniffing of nothing
  • Lowering the head
  • Lifting the paw, averting the eyes
  • Jumping up
  • Tail tuck, backward leaning posture, furrowed brow
  • Shaking it off
  • Additional calming signals you might see are turning the body away, shedding, trembling, tight face, popping dandruff, tail low or tucked, eyes bugging out or whites showing, puppy behaviors: pawing, licking, ears back or pricked high, tight muscle tone

It is best to prevent our pet’s stress by being proactive. If you know your dog gets stressed by being in a very warm room, don’t go there.

A moment of cuddling and Benny is ready to work again
A moment of cuddling and Benny is ready to work again

I know when Benny is stressed he gets clingy and only wants me. He wants me to pick him up and cuddle. He tells me this by turning away from the other person, looking directly at me and saying “I need comfort now.” If I do this for just a second or two he is ready to go back to work. That quick reassurance is all he needs.

When Kirby is stressed, especially if it has been a long visit and he is in a stressful environment (such as hospice or with “favorites” or his who are experiencing a difficult time) he will yawn or stretch his body all the way out. Sometimes he will lick his lips. I watch for these signs very closely because he also gets thirsty frequently and licks his lips for a drink.  When I see this sign, I start by offering him water. If he takes it he was thirsty. But if he does not, I know he is stressed.

Kirby is back to his loving self
Kirby is back to his loving self

You are always your animal’s advocate first so by understanding what triggers stress in your animal you can prevent it from occurring. Also keep in mind your own stress will travel directly down the leash. So be relaxed and calm so you can lead your animal with confidence.