Just like people, dogs get stressed. In certain situations, they feel uncomfortable. But you might not always notice, particularly because dogs often engage in weird behaviors that don’t always make sense to their human families. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to learn how your dog responds. A dog who’s stressed or uncomfortable may end up showing anxious or aggressive behavior.
Below, check out the frequently unnoticed behaviors that actually mean your dog is uncomfortable, anxious, or stressed.
1. Wagging his tail slowly
You might think that your dog only wags his tail when he’s happy. But tail-wagging is actually more nuanced than you might expect.
How quickly and in what position your dog wags his tail can give you some clues about how he feels. As Psychology Today reports, a slow tail wag at a “half-mast” position may indicate that a dog feels uncomfortable. “Slow wags with the tail in neither a particularly dominant (high) nor a submissive (low) position are signs of insecurity,” the publication explains.
Next: This tail movement signals negative emotions.
2. Wagging his tail to the left
A slow wag isn’t the only tail movement that can tell you that your dog feels uncomfortable or anxious. According to Psychology Today, researchers have also determined that a dog experiencing negative emotions will wag his tail more to the left than to the right.
As the publication explains, “we are talking about the dog’s left or right, viewed from the rear as if you are facing in the direction the dog is viewing. Meaning that if you are facing the dog and drew an imaginary line down the middle of his back that positive right-sided signal would appear as tail swings mostly curving to your left.”
Next: A dog does this with his ear when he sees an unwelcome person.
3. Flicking his right ear
Researchers have determined that people often make subtle, involuntary facial expressions called micro-expressions. They last for just a fraction of a second, making them more difficult to detect than longer-lasting facial expressions. But they can reveal a lot about how a person is feeling.
The same thing happens with dogs. According to Psychology Today, researchers found one micro-expression that dogs display when they see an unwelcome object or person. “When presented with something they found unpleasant, there was a momentary flick of the right ear,” the publication explains.
Next: Your dog may refuse to do this when he feels stressed.
4. Refusing to eat
If your dog typically loves to eat but suddenly refuses a meal, a variety of factors could be to blame. But as WebMD reports, some dogs don’t want to eat when they feel nervous or uncomfortable, especially when traveling or moving to a new home. Other times, they may refuse to eat if they’re in a situation that makes them anxious. (Maybe there’s an aggressive dog around or their bowl is at an uncomfortable height.) However, bear in mind that a loss of appetite can also signify serious health issues. So if in doubt, consult your vet.
Next: Dogs avoid this if they feel frightened.
5. Avoiding eye contact
Explaining the physiological effects of fear in dogs, DVM360 explains that dogs react fearfully when they encounter someone or something that seems dangerous. And even if you think that something isn’t frightening, the fear is real to your dog.
One way that your dog shows fear? Avoiding eye contact with anybody. DVM360 notes that this subtle sign is easily overlooked, but it merits your attention. As VetStreet explains, dogs perceive prolonged eye contact as a threat. And while dogs learn that eye contact with humans can result in good things, as DVM360 notes, their avoidance of eye contact often signifies fear.
Next: A dog may do this to cope with stress.
6. Licking his lips or yawning frequently
Did you know that a dog who’s licking his lips or yawning frequently may be saying that he’s uncomfortable or stressed? DVM360 characterizes these behaviors as some of the most commonly overlooked signs of fear or anxiety. You should look for frequent lip licking, repeated yawning, or even yawning with a particularly tense face. Those signs may not seem immediately apparent. But if you pay close attention to your dog’s responses, you’ll find it easier to pick up on them.
Next: These behaviors also mean that your dog feels stressed.
7. Exhibiting displacement behaviors
Similarly, Whole Dog Journal reports that many dogs engage in displacement behaviors when they feel stressed. These behaviors seem particularly common among dogs who are placed in isolation, such as in an exam room at a veterinary hospital.
Some displacement behaviors to look out for? Blinking at a faster rate than normal, nose-licking, chattering teeth, scratching, and shaking off as if wet.
Next: You may see this if your dog feels uncomfortable.
8. Enabling you to see the whites of his eyes
When your dog feels stressed or fearful, the whites of his eyes may become visible via a phenomenon trainers have termed “whale eye.” The Spruce reports that it typically occurs when a “dog will avert his head slightly, but his eyes stay fixed on something or someone. The whites of his eyes will appear in a half-moon shape, usually at either the inner or outer side of the eye, but sometimes all around.” The behavior typically means that your dog feels anxious or uncomfortable.
Next: Dogs make this specific noise when they feel fearful.
9. Making long, low growls
Most dog owners wouldn’t be surprised to learn that growling can signify a dog’s discomfort. But what you may not have realized is that dogs growl differently in different circumstances.
Psychology Today reports that shorter growls, especially those in a sequence, typically occur when a dog is playing. But long, low, and loud growls often signify an aggressive response. And if you hear any higher pitches in a long growl, that likely means that your dog also feels fearful.
Next: This tail movement happens when a dog feels uncomfortable.
10. Tucking his tail
Another sign that your dog is feeling fearful? A tail tucked under his body. Psychology Today characterizes this widely known — but easily overlooked — type of canine body language as “a sign of fear.” A dog who tucks his tail under his body does so to tell you, “Please don’t hurt me.” If your dog tucks his tail around houseguests or a new doggy acquaintance, that’s a sure sign that he isn’t comfortable with the situation.
Next: An anxious dog may try to do this.
11. Trying to hide
Again, a dog’s attempts to hide aren’t an entirely subtle clue that he’s uncomfortable in a specific situation. But many dog owners don’t quite pay close enough attention to know what’s really going on.
According to DVM360, many dogs hide — or try to hide — when they feel anxious. “Anxious or fearful animals may exhibit avoidance behaviors such as hiding and may be hypervigilant — constantly on alert — and possibly even startle at the slightest sudden stimuli,” the publication explains. Even if you think it’s cute when your dog hides behind your legs, you need to take his behavior seriously.
Next: You may see this on your dog’s back when he feels fear.
12. Hair standing up
This one isn’t exactly a voluntary behavior. If you observe the hair on your dog’s back going up — technically called piloerection — that can clue you into how he’s feeling. As The Bark reports, dogs exhibit a couple of different patterns of piloerection.
If the hair standing up forms a thin line all the way down your dog’s back, your dog is confident. (But beware, he may be more apt to behaving aggressively toward another dog.) If the hair goes up in a broad patch across his shoulders, your dog may feel fearful. And if your dog has a patch of hair raised at the shoulders and at the base of his tail, he’s probably feeling conflicted. In fact, he may react negatively to the situation at hand.
Next: This posture reveals how a dog feels.
13. Leaning away from a person or object
Petful reports that a dog’s body axis can tell you a lot about his feelings. If a dog’s posture looks straight up and down, he’s probably feeling pretty confident. But if he’s leaning away from a person or an object, he likely feels frightened. Similarly, a dog with a decisive stride feels a lot more confident than a dog who slinks close to the ground. Paying attention to your dog’s posture can help you figure out how confident he feels in a given situation.
Next: A dog does this with his paw when he feels uncomfortable.
14. Lifting a paw while standing
Your dog also shows you how he feels in the way he moves his paws. According to Petful, a dog who lifts a paw up while sitting is either recognizing your authority or showing a sign of insecurity. Similarly, if your dog lifts up a paw while he’s standing, that shows that he feels indecisive. As he stands there with his paw up, he’s probably thinking about what to do next.
Next: Your dog may engage in this obvious behavior if he wants somebody to back off.
15. Baring his teeth
Finally, one of the most obvious signs that a dog feels uncomfortable: Baring his teeth. According to The Spruce, you should “think of bared teeth as a warning: ‘I am going to use these teeth if you don’t stop it.'”
The behavior often precedes aggression. And it may be accompanied by growling, snarling, erect ears, rigid body posture, or a tail that’s held high.
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