How To Combat Stress, Anxiety & Aggression In Your Dog

All of us, our dogs included, suffer stress at differing times of our lives. The effect it has on our dogs is such that it causes them to react deciding whether they need to fight, freeze or flight. That is, fight to make the problem go away, freeze and hope the problem goes away or flight and run away from the problem.

Dogs learn a powerful set of body language postures as they grow up which help them interact with other dogs correctly. This is especially the case in the first few weeks of their socialisation period with other dogs and also as they grow into adulthood. The main issue with aggressive dogs is that they haven’t been exposed to dogs and / or humans enough or in the right way in the crucial socialisation period of their lives. As humans we’re likely to be unaware of the signals they are sending each other which will be alleviating and diffusing potentially threatening situations, but it will be happening at every opportunity when put on a walk. If they haven’t learnt how to however, it’s likely they will be stressed and unable to handle the situation in the best way.


The most common reaction for a stressed dog is to bark and / or lunge at other dogs or people. If your dog does this I’d recommend reading Feisty Fido by Patricia McConnell for ways to help alleviate this. If you meet a nervous dog then try not to make eye contact (as this is seen as threatening by them) and keep your weight backwards. Avoid leaning forward and petting the dog as this is not what they need and they are telling you they are nervous and to keep your distance.

Dogs are always looking for the subtle changes in both our body language and other dogs they meet, and this is especially true of a nervous dog.

If a dog’s hackles are up this is not always a sign of aggression as in commonly thought, it can simply mean that the dog is excited and aroused.  Its intentions will be clear as it approaches. You will see a lot of different reactions in dogs as they approach one another. Some will sit and wait to observe the other dog to see if it’s safe to greet. Some will lie down flat or with their head up and others will sniff the ground or circle slowly. Most of the time this will be signalling that its intentions are peaceful but if a dog comes in with full eye contact, face on and stiff legged and circling then it could be a prequel to aggression.

It’s rare for a dog to attack for no reason but it’s also helpful to recognise some signs that it might:

Signs of a distressed dog that may be about to attack

  • Backing away from the situation
  • Showing the whites of their eyes or unusual eye signals
  • Yawning
  • Licking their nose
  • Hackles on the back of the neck will stand up
  • The dog’s body will lean forwards
  • Their legs and body stiffens

If you come across a dog you feel is aggressive a few key tips are to do a U turn and go simply go in the opposte direction. Stop its focus by throwing treats at or behind it and then move away.

For help with dog walking or any of my home pet sitting services contact me today. I cover Thirsk, Northallerton and surrounding areas.