6 min read


Can a Dog Feel Distressed?



6 min read


Can a Dog Feel Distressed?


They say it’s a dog's life, with a nice warm pet bed, kibble in the food bowl, and plenty of nice walks around the park, so do our canines ever feel distressed? If your precious pup is moping around the house and not in the mood for fun, chances are they are feeling out of sorts and it could be from a number of things. 

They might feel unwell or upset over the argument you had last night with your partner. Our whimsical woofers soak up emotions that can manifest in all kinds of ways. No dog owner wants to see their usually upbeat Bolognese displaying a bad case of the blues. Like people, our perplexed pooches might have something on their mind and it's up to us to play counselor and figure it out.


Signs a Dog is Feeling Distress

What’s ailing your beloved Boxer? Cindy is not herself and hasn’t been for a day or so. This bouncy Boxer loves a good time and brings her toys to her pet-mom, always looking to play. She’s an even-tempered soul who wouldn't hurt a fly, so now her pet-mom is worried.

Ever since that time out in the dog park, Cindy’s been really stressed. She whines when the leash comes out and retreats to her pet-bed. Normally this pooch can’t wait to see her pals, but something happened recently that changed her mind.

Down at the dog park it’s always a pawsome good time but today, there’s a new kid in town and he is not a friendly mutt. All the dogs socialize well except for this bully-dog who likes pushing Cindy around.

Now, some dog owners just don’t get it when their pet-child is not behaving well. This precocious pet-dad was no exception, saying, "He's just having a bit of fun - it's what dogs do!"

Cindy’s whole demeanor changed when the macho mutt arrived. Her head hung low in a submissive stance, while the fur was raised on the back of her neck. Her pet-mom could see the whites of her eyes as Cindy whined, hoping the new guy would pick on someone else. No such luck as the malicious mutt jumped up at her and Cindy was thrown to the ground.

Dogs are emotive and capable of feeling a great deal. Cindy may be stressed by the ordeal and doesn’t want to face the bully again. Children are affected by things that happen in everyday life and so are our woofers, who can respond with signs to make us understand.

If your dog is looking dejected and maybe even depressed, a quick visit to the vet could cancel out any physical complaint. Then, it’s a matter of working out what has made your pup so distressed. Have you changed your routine or are you working longer hours? You’d be surprised how this can affect your dog as they wait anxiously for your return. Perhaps you’ve just separated from your partner and your pup is missing the other guardian, or there's a new puppy on the sofa that makes them feel replaced.

Your fur-baby will show you if they are feeling down by sleeping more and going off their food. They might also show a lack of focus or pace dejectedly around the home. Dogs get depressed about changes and can snap at you to show their emotional pain.

Urinating on the floor and chewing your favorite shoes while you are away are signs your woofer is feeling anxious. If they have to see the vet, your distressed pup could yawn, an indication of stress, or constantly lick their lips. Lifting their paw could just break your heart, as it's their way of saying, "Please take me out of here. I promise I'll be good." Some dogs totally freak out when its fireworks night or they hear thunder from a storm. Their distress causes them to whimper, howl, or dive under the bed

Dogs are sensitive and pick up on human vibes. if you're feeling sad, they might emulate your emotion by becoming withdrawn or hiding in a closet. It’s not always a dog's life, as like humans, they can feel emotionally drained.

Body Language

Signs a dog is in distress may include:<br/>

  • Whining
  • Jumping Up
  • Lack Of Focus
  • Back Hair On Edge
  • Snapping
  • Paw Raised
  • Whale Eye

Other Signs

More signs your dog is feeling distressed could be:<br/>

  • Urinating On The Floor
  • Hiding
  • Anxious Behavior

History of Dogs Coping with Distress


Animals in the wild can feel distressed if they have been injured, as it makes them an easy target for predators. The same applies if they are under any kind of threat. Imagine a wolf losing their wolf-cub and hearing them howling in distress. Anxiety appears to be a universal trait shared by planetary animals when under duress.

Wolves are known to howl-bark when they are distressed, sending a "danger" message to the rest of the pack. Their distant descendants express anxiety in many different ways due to their close connection with humans. If a dog is distressed, they may lick their paws excessively, shed more hair, or become super-clingy.

Unfortunately, there are dogs in distress that have been abandoned, neglected or abused. With dogs being regarded as incapable of feeling pain or emotions, it’s a little too easy for some humans to treat them in a way they shouldn’t. Dogs are emotive entities, that need to be respected for their human likeness.

Science Behind Dogs Feeling Distress


ABC Science is aware how dogs empathize with their owners when they feel distressed.  Researchers at the University of London, Goldsmiths College exposed 18 dogs to humans crying, humming, or talking and found the greatest response was to familiar people and complete strangers crying. Dogs nuzzled and licked the distressed people, showing a genuine concern for their emotional state. Seeing a person distressed brought out the nurturing side of dogs.

The American Kennel Club featured a revealing study about how canines respond to distress. Fifty-three dogs took part in an experiment at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna in the “Clever Dog Lab.”

Recordings of people laughing and crying plus dogs in play mode and whining, along with neutral sounds were played to the dogs. Wary woofers froze when they heard dogs and humans in distress and researchers thought this could indicate a survival reaction

When an animal in the wild is whimpering it could mean they are in danger. Perhaps it was the ambiguity of the recordings that warranted this response. The dogs could only hear other pooches and people. Scientific studies where people have been in front of dog crying have inspired a caring attitude.

Helping a Dog Who Feels Distress


If a pooch has been bullied by another dog, they'll need reassurance from their guardian and should be kept away from the guilty dog. If you’ve brought a new dog into the family, it’s essential you treat both dogs equally. Renowned dog trainer, Victoria Stilwell, suggests putting both dogs on a loose leash for their first introduction. If all goes well, take them off the leash and let the pooches get to know each other. Feed them separately in the early days to avoid fights and reward your existing dog if they behave well around the new pup.

It’s the same when you bring a new baby home. Often, a dog will feel left out, as their pet-mom is suddenly busy with the baby. Make time for your dog that has been there all along, and introduce them to the recent addition with supervision. Never leave a dog alone with a baby, as they can suffer the green-eyed monster syndrome, the same way a child might become jealous of a new brother or sister.

Separation anxiety is a major cause of canine distress and is not so easy to resolve. If you’ve started working longer hours, your dog might react by tearing up your throw pillows. It could get worse as they chew up the sofa and attempt to dig holes in your hardwood floors.

Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise and perhaps employ the services of a dog sitter or walker. Try not to make a fuss when you leave the house and keep the TV or radio on. Desensitization techniques work well depending on how much time you have to work with the dog. These involve keeping your car/house keys in various places so your pooch isn’t alerted to you going out. Dogs are observant and know that you grabbing your coat or bag means them being left alone.

Marriage and partnership break-ups can literally break a dog’s heart, as they live through the build-up then suddenly, one or both guardians are gone. Many a mourning mutt has ended up in the shelter because their pet-parents have gone their separate ways. Your dog could be a great comfort to you through these troubling times as they have lost a pet-parent and are also likely to grieve. Think of your pup like a child. They will still need their routine to help them through the break-up, with walks vet checks, the right food, and play.

There are many things that can cause a dog distress, but there’s always help at hand. If you feel overwhelmed, talk to your vet or a dog trainer to see what can be done. Your pooch is a blessing and they can feel distress like you do.

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By a Japanese Chin lover Linda Cole

Published: 04/04/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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