Is My Dog Stressed? Body Language of a Stressed Dog

When dogs get stressed, they often demonstrate body language that is telling of their anxiety. Several things can trigger your pup’s stress.

Your dog may show you their stress by flattening their ears. They may also exhibit the whites of their eyes, often called “whale eyes.” Excessive barking, whimpering, or whining may also occur in a stressed or nervous pup. 

Another common sign that a dog is stressed is they may have a low tail or tuck their tail between their legs. If you want to know more about whether your dog is stressed and their body language, check out this article.

Stressed Dog in Palos Heights, IL

What Body Language Does a Stressed-Out Dog Exhibit?

Being a pet parent comes with responsibilities. One of them includes knowing how to help your dog when they are feeling anxious or stressed. You need to know what body language you should be looking for. There are many different ways your dog may let you know they are stressed:

The Position of Their Ears

Stress can make your dog’s ears shift in position. Some pups’ ears perk up when they are feeling stressed. Other dogs’ ears perk up when they are being alert and attentive. However, most dogs will demonstrate that they are stressed by pulling their ears back and flattening their ears. High, upright ears can signify play or overstimulation, or it could be an early warning sign that they could become stressed.

Other things flat ears can indicate:

  • Fearfulness
  • Concern
  • Anxiety
  • Upset

If a dog has their ears perked straight up and their fur is standing on end, they could be suspicious of something or someone. If the ears are flat and their hair stands on end, they could feel threatened. Flat ears are usually a sign of discontentment in a dog.

Showing Their Gums

If your dog feels playful, they may “smile” at you. They will often be panting and demonstrate an overall happy appearance. However, if your pup’s lip curls, it could be an aggressive warning. A stressed pup may snarl, and they will reveal their gums. When a dog does this, it is typically a warning that they do not want to play anymore or may feel pestered.

Lip or Nose Licking

This action may be performed when environmental changes are putting stress on your dog. There could be a new pet in the home, or you may have changed the time of day you walk your dog. Whatever the case, something is making your pup anxious. The licking is often done two or three times in a row and is usually a quick motion.

They Yawn

Many people think that yawning is just a sign that their dog is tired and needs a nap. However, if you and your pup are on a walk and are passing an unfamiliar area, they may be stressed. Stress and anxiety may trigger a rise in cortisol levels, and the yawn may be a way for your dog to offset the increase in body temperature. Some other reasons why dogs yawn:

  • To communicate indifference
  • To calm themselves down
  • To deflect a perceived threat
  • To indicate emotional closeness

The indication of emotional closeness means that dogs can also interpret the feelings of others. The pup may also pick up on your anxiety, making them stressed and anxious. After your dog yawns, they may take a long deep breath. They may be expressing their relief.

Excessive Barking

Excessive barking may be due to stress in your dog. Many dogs who bark a lot without a clear explanation can be suffering from fear or anxiety. Other vocalizations:

  • Whimpering
  • Whining
  • Growling
  • Panting

Whether or not you have to be concerned about these vocalizations depends on the context. If your pup barks constantly when you are about to leave the house, they may be experiencing separation anxiety, which triggers stress in a dog. You can help them feel more secure. Many dogs respond well to positive reinforcement.

Tail Between the Legs

A low tail or a tail between their legs is a common sign that a dog is stressed. Even though tail wags are often thought of as a sign of happiness, you need to watch out for other behaviors that may occur in conjunction with their tail between their legs. They are most likely stressed if your dog’s tail is low and demonstrates an intense wag.

Showing the Whites of the Eyes

This behavior is another common sign that your pup is stressed. When dogs want to communicate that they are stressed, they bare the whites of their eyes. Your pup may also be trying to stay vigilant for any potential indications of danger. Their nose will be positioned forward while their eyes move sideways. This eye expression is sometimes referred to as the “whale eyes.”


If your dog freezes or becomes stiff, they may be stressed about something they see or hear. It means that your pup cannot handle the situation they are experiencing. When canines feel the need to be still, they try to avert the situation from intensifying further.

In other instances, freezing may be a warning that the situation could escalate, and they may even bite. To prevent this from occurring, if you see that your dog is uncomfortable in a situation, do not push them or increase their stress level.

Sweaty Paws

When we become stressed, our hands may start to sweat, commonly referred to as sweaty palms. The only area a pup can perspire is through their paws. Sometimes a dog’s paws are sweaty because they are stressed or nervous.

You should watch for any other indications of stress that may be occurring in your canine. One of these indications could be that your dog appears startled. Another reason for sweaty paws is that your pup is too hot, and they are trying to cool down.

How Can I Help My Stressed Dog?

It can be challenging to see your dog disturbed. It is only our natural inclination as pet parents to want to help. You can attempt any or some of the following to prevent or decrease stress in your pup:

  • Physical activity or exercises like walking or playing fetch may help calm them down and reduce tension
  • Provide a protected place for your canine to retreat when they feel stressed, like a crate with all their favorite toys
  • Physical contact like picking them up, cuddling with them on the couch, or giving them lots of pets and kisses
  • Massage therapy, just like in humans, dogs get tension in their muscles. A good massage can help reduce tension
  • Music therapy can help your pup relax. Research has demonstrated that dogs enjoy classical music. Give it a try!
  • Calming jackets like Thundershirts work by applying soothing and continuous pressure to your dog’s torso, which helps increase calming hormones like oxytocin or endorphins

Pet parents may also want to assess their behavior to determine if there is anything they are doing to stress their dog. Another way to help is to give them a place where your pup can eat, and no one bothers them, as this can sometimes be a trigger.


There are many ways your dog can show you they are stressed. If you see your pup is anxious or stressed, you can help them by exercising them or giving them a safe, comfortable place to chill.

In the Palos Heights, IL area, Palos Animal Hospital is here to care for your pup and answer any questions. Reach out to (708) 448-6600 today!