Note: I have included pictures when I had them available. Some categories are difficult to catch in still photos, and some are things Maisy simply doesn't do. If you have a photo of one of the missing categories, and would be willing to share it so I can post it (with credit of course), please email me. My address is on the “contact” tab above.
This is one of the most common signals you'll see; almost every dog does it when feeling stressed.
When the pupils are larger than they should be, given the amount of ambient light, it's probably a sign of stress. This is an involuntary action; it naturally happens when under stress as part of the fight-or-flight system because dilated pupils allow the dog to take in additional visual information which might be helpful.
(Click to embiggen. It's the only way to see the pupils clearly.)
If your dog licks his lips, especially in the absence of food, it's probably stress-related. Pay attention to when the behavior begins and ends to determine what's stressing him out.
A stress stretch looks very different from one done upon waking or when very relaxed. It will be very quick and abbreviated, typically only half of a normal stretch. It can look a lot like a play bow, so it's important to observe the dog for additional signals and check out the context in which the behavior happens.
Also called “bunny ears,” this happens when the dog's ears are pulled back against the head. It will look slightly different from dog to dog since there's such a wide variety of ear types out there.
Photo courtesy of Melissa Smith.
This excellent shot of Toby includes pinned ears, dilated pupils, some muscle ridges,
and a head turn (which will be featured in the post on appeasement signals next week).
Often combined with a very stiff posture, a sudden onset of shedding is an excellent indicator of stress. It's not limited to dogs, either- one of my cats is a fur-generating-machine when at the vets!
Slow or Little Movement
This is a very significant behavior, and indicates a very stressed dog. A dog demonstrating this signal is neither loose nor stiff. There's no acceptance of what's going on, nor is there any struggle. Instead the dog is checked out. Sarah described it as “the lights are on but nobody's home.” If you see a dog doing this, she recommended doing something to get the dog moving- squeak a toy, toss a treat- whatever it takes!
Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche, who shared that Layla didn't move
for hours after waking up from sedation to find this bandage on her foot.
If your dog normally likes a food item and suddenly refuses it, it's probably due to stress. Pay attention to your surroundings; is there a pattern to when he stops eating, and when he starts again?
This is where a dog looks back at his own genitals. Some dogs are brief, and do just a quick glance, while others will do a prolonged search and sniff. Either way, Sarah said that it's a sign of stress, and often serves as a displacement behavior since the dog isn't sure what else to do.
This picture demonstrates Maisy's own take on the check-out: spinning or biting at her tail. I've noticed that she often looks back and/or snaps at her tail when she's over-aroused or stressed. It's similar to the check-out, though not identical, proving that dogs don't read the books on body language!
Pacing or an Inability to Settle
If your dog can't stop moving, he's probably stressed. He may switch positions (sit to down, for example) repeatedly, he may walk back and forth, or he may just seem hyper. No matter how it looks, it's stress.
(Discussion on this video is available here.)
Photo courtesy of Melissa Smith.
This photo of Toby would be funny if it weren't so sad.
Tucked Tail, Weight Shifted Back, Low Body Posture
This is the classic “scared dog” posture.
Many dogs will put their tail between their legs and touching their bellies, but interestingly, this is as far as Maisy's tail ever tucks. I think it's because she has such a high tail set to start with, once again demonstrating that each dog is an individual.
Maisy is cautious and low, but interested.
Muscle Ridges Around Eyes and Mouth
Easy to see on dogs with short hair and expressive faces, but ultimately challenging on a dog like Maisy, muscle ridges are similar to furrowed brows in people, and a great indicator of stress.
Ridges around the eyes, courtesy of 2dogcrazy.
Ridges around the mouth. Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche.
Increased Respiration Rate, or Shallow/Fast Breaking
Lots of ridges. Photo courtesy of 2dogcrazy.
If a dog is panting more than seems reasonable given the weather or the dog's activity, it's probably stress.
It's hard to tell in this picture, but Maisy is definitely panting in this photo. I don't know if this is true for all dogs, but Maisy's stress pants have her mouth opened only a small amount, as opposed to her tired/happy panting, which is with a wide open mouth.
If the dog is shaking, shivering, or trembling, he's probably stressed. This great video example is courtesy of Sara Reusche:
This is a more significant signal- if you can see sweaty paw prints or feel a damp paw, Sarah said you should immediately adjust the dog's environment. Interestingly, the only time I've seen Maisy have sweaty paws is when playing ball- which is a happy thing for her. As a result, I'd classify this as more of an anticipatory behavior, at least for Maisy, and in that one context.
Photo by Aditi Terpstra.
(And his foster mom reports the sweaty paws are disappearing quick!)Excess Salivation
The more you see, the more stressed the dog likely is. Again, you'll need to take other factors into account, such as tasty food items in the vicinity and breed of dog, but salivation for no reason, or more than seems normal, is probably stress.
When the dog's cheeks puff out, it's a sign of extreme stress. Sarah said it's not very common.