August 26, 2019 4 min read

Dogs are not completely unlike people in that they just aren’t overly happy in some situations. They can become stressed and even depressed. Signs that your dog may be unhappy are not always obvious if you don’t know what you are looking for. They have their own ways of communication that are mostly nonverbal. When you wonder to yourself ‘is my dog depressed?’ you will be able to tell if you understand more about dog stress symptoms and how they cope. Many trainers refer to these physical cues as ‘calming signals’ and they let us know when a dog is feeling stressed about a situation or sometimes just bored in general. The boredom that is constant can even lead to stress and anxiety. Let’s discuss the ways in which you can recognize the signs.  

Calming Signals

This is the term that dog trainers and behaviorists use for the body language messages that our dogs send to us to try to diffuse situations and let us know when they are feeling stressed. Contrary to popular belief, dogs always give a warning before the bite or react to any situation. The key is that we need to learn how to read those signals so that we know when the symptoms of stress are being displayed.

These things are all considered calming signals:

  • Lip licking
  • Diverting gaze
  • Sitting and lifting a paw
  • Chewing on feet or other seemingly inappropriate to the situation licking of the body
  • Rolling over on their back
  • Head down, tail rapid wagging
  • Urination inappropriately
  • Yawning - trainers often call it a ‘stress yawn’ and it is a sign of stress or confusion

Why is it called a calming signal?

Typically, the dog will exhibit one or more of these signals when they feel stress in any situation and are unclear what is expected of them or fear something. Lip licking is a very nervous way of letting you know they are extremely nervous and you may see them do this when you are scolding them over chewing something.

You may also see them sit, lift a paw, and then divert their gaze. This is a dog’s way of saying, “You may approach me but I’m very unsure right now and nervous.” They are also letting you know that they have no desire to fight with you or retaliate if you want to fight with them. This is how they would communicate to another dog that it may approach and sniff them and they are not looking for a fight.

Nervous urination can happen when bladder loss while excited occurs. It can also be their way of displaying submissiveness to other dogs and to you. For that reason, it’s often called submissive urinationby dog trainers and behaviorists.

Dog stress symptoms are a way for them to diffuse situations and let you or other animals know that they are nervous and don’t wish to fight. Sometimes, pet owners mistake these as having other means. A yawn, for example, more humans think means that a dog is sleepy.

Typically, it happens when they are in training and being asked to do something they do not understand. It can also happen when they are on a leash in public and a situation has made them feel timid. This is not a time to yell at them, it is the time to encourage them as you would a fearful and shy child.

They don’t want to get into trouble. They don’t want to have an argument and be yelled at or punished, or attacked by another dog either. This is why they constantly use calming signals to help diffuse situations.

Other Indicators Of Problems

Now you understand stress but you still wonder ‘is my dog depressed?’ When they are depressed you can see other types of behaviors emerge that become even deeper than the calming signals.

For example:

  • Sleeping more
  • Eating less
  • Chewing on their feet or another body part until is raw or bleeding can be emotional or an allergy. That one should be checked by a veterinarian to rule out allergy before assuming it is an OCD related to depression. Bored dogs tend to chew on their own feet, however.
  • Whining for no reason. Sighing constantly.
  • Showing no interest in the things they used to love - chew toys, balls, etc.

You see the signs and you automatically ask yourself, “why is my dog depressed?” It could be a lot of reasons. Here are some thoughts and ideas that may help you.

  1. Your dog has no life outside of your home. YOU are his life. Have you changed work schedules or grown too busy to interact with him and take him to the dog park, generally not doing the things you used to do with him? This can lead him to be lonely and very depressed.

  2. Is he getting older and experiencing aches and pains? As our pets age, they become arthritic just like we do. He might be very uncomfortable. You should talk to your veterinarian about giving him medication for pain if it is warranted. You could even try supplements for joints such as glucosamine.

  3. Did you have another pet pass away? They will mourn the loss of their siblings and playmates. In fact, some people resort to adopting another pet to help snap their dog out of depression and it doesn’t always need to be another dog. Sometimes cats and dogs form very strong bonds.

Pay Attention And Imagine Yourself In His Paws

Sometimes the thing that you have to do more than anything else is paying attention to your dog more. Look at his behavior and ask yourself if you would be bored if you were him. The average dog has the mentality of approximately a five-year-old child. No five-year-old would want to lay around the house all the time and never go anywhere or play.

Rule-out medical issues if they aren’t eating and try mixing the schedule up and taking them for someone on one time to a park. This might be just the perking up that they need!