How to Help a Stressed Dog

The holidays are fun-filled, joyous, times—for humans. But for dogs, it can be a stressful experience. As responsible pet owners, it is beneficial for your pets—as well as your family—to know how to help a stressed dog.

Whether you’re traveling with your pets for the holidays or hosting a house-hold full of guests, every experience can be new and challenging for your dog, resulting in unexpected behaviors. We sat down with our Trupanion team to learn more about how to help a stressed dog during the holidays.

Small brown & black dog licks his nose while being held by owner

Stress in dogs—ways you can help

Each dog can react differently to new environments, situations, and meeting new pets and people. So when exposing your pet to a new environment or situation, take your time, and take into consideration that your pup might not respond as you initially expected. For example, it might take several trips to the airport for your dog to become acclimated to travel. Especially during the holidays, when more and more people are traveling.

The best way to approach a stressed dog

Pets are family and people are traveling more frequently with their pets. Unfortunately, there’s a chance you might encounter a pup who is unsure of their surroundings—or even potentially off-leash.

Trupanion claims specialist and veterinary tech, Aubrey Halvorsen, weighs in on what to do if you see encounter a stressed dog—

“If you see a dog who may be shy, stressed, or reactive, the best way to approach would be cautiously, and remember to communicate with the owner of the dog. Remember to read their body language—does the dog seem relaxed? Are the eyes open or mouth tensed? Are there hackles raised? Everything from loud noises to visual stimuli, such as children, boots, or people in hats, could be a potential trigger for a dog.”

Although your pup might be open to interaction and play with a new furry friend, it doesn’t mean that other dogs feel the same way. Always ask the owner before interacting with their dogs—or before introducing their pets to yours.

A young man holds his brown dog on top of his shoulders

Signs of stress in dogs

It might be hard to detect if your new puppy or adult dog is experiencing the stress of a new situation. Also, if you are a new pet owner, you might still be learning your pup’s behaviors and cues. Consider the following signs of stress in dogs:

  • Excessive self-licking and cleaning
  • Wide eyes
  • Avoidance/looking away
  • Ear pinned back
  • Panting
  • Stiffness
  • Lip licking
  • Shaking
  • Paw lifting
  • Pacing

Don’t force socialization. Also, consider sitting at their level so that you don’t appear to be a threat. Essentially, depending on the dog’s stress level, it may be best to not approach them at all. Use your judgment and if you have not met this pet before, consider taking a step back and letting them come to you.

How to calm a stressed dog

If you are introducing a new environment like a holiday party, or a new routine such as travel, consider making the experience as comfortable as possible for your dog. Distracting your pet with physical and mental stimulation can prevent stress overload. Consider including interactive playtime with enrichment toys, like puzzle games. Take your time and remember that it will take time for your pup to become accustomed to new people, places, sounds and events.

Further, if you are concerned with your dog’s stress level or behavior, seek medical care with your veterinarian. Under your veterinarian’s expertise and guidance, a treatment plan and regime can be put in place to help your pup through the stress. Make note of the stressors and environments that your dog is reacting to so you can discuss their anxiety and behaviors with your veterinarian.

Two brown dogs snuggle together on the couch

Best practices to prevent stress in dogs

As a new pet owner, there is no way to predict what your dog will respond to or have a stressful reaction to. “If you know that your dog is stressed or reactive in certain situations, try to avoid them,” states Halvorsen. Further, by checking in with your veterinarian and establishing a treatment plan, you can work as a team to help your dog’s stress. Certainly, seeing your dog stressed can be stressful for you and your family. Allow time and patience for everyone to adjust to new schedules and scenarios.

Help a stressed dog—relief for all parties

Every dog has a different response to a new experience, interaction, or environment. But by identifying your dog’s stressors, staying on your veterinarian’s treatment plan, and being aware of your dog’s behavior you, and your pup are one step closer to relief, happiness, and tail wags this holiday season.