How to Tell If Your Dog is Anxious?

When your dog is awake and still, is he loosely relaxed or stiff with anxiety? The Dog Trainer explains why it's important to train your eye to tell the difference.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
1-minute read

How to Tell If Your Dog is Anxious?

You’ve probably heard of the “flight or fight” reaction to danger – a threatened animal (human or other!) may respond by running away or by defending itself. But there’s also a third f: freeze.

In the most extreme situations, an animal may be “paralyzed with fear,” but that dramatic picture – I always envision some poor critter lying on the ground, completely rigid – might lead us to miss important communications from our dog. The researchers Daniel Mills and Helen Zulch point this out in an excellent round-up article, “Appreciating the Role of Fear and Anxiety in Aggressive Behavior by Dogs”: “Many animals may freeze to allow the threat to pass, but this can fail as a strategy because the owner perceives the behavior as stubbornness … and so escalates the perceived threat.” I’d add this, too: I wish I had a dollar for everyone who’s told me their dog is “fine” with being patted by strangers, or by kids, when the dog is actually still and stiff with anxiety.

The dog who’s both awake and still – not loosely relaxed, and it’s important to train your eye to tell the difference – is telling you that something’s wrong in his world. Pay attention!

Related Content:
How to Help Your Shy or Nervous Dog
A Dog Who Is Afraid of Just One Car Ride

Scared dog photo from Shutterstock

About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).