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San Diego Humane Society

Stress in Pets: What to Look For

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Training can be hard work for your pet, which can also be amplified by distractions in the environment. A certain amount of stress is normal when learning new things, but all too often people ignore the warning signs that their pets are experiencing an overload of pressure during training. With this in mind, the following outlines how to gauge your pet’s feelings and comfort level when interacting with you or participating in training sessions.

Your pet is an expert at “telling” you when they feel stress or anxiety. In order to do this, they display what are known as “calming signals.” These actions are your pet’s way of relieving stress while also communicating to other pets (and/or you) that they are trying to resolve some inner conflict regarding what is happening around them. It is important to watch for these behaviors in order to help your pet work through stressful situations — whether it’s a training setting or any other situation in their daily routine.

Calming Signals

Animal trainer Turid Rugaas coined the term “calming signals” and spent many years identifying the behaviors dogs employ when dealing with stress and conflict. If you see your pet doing any of the following, you should immediately stop and assess your pet and/or the environment. This is necessary in order to ensure that you maintain an acceptable level of comfort for your pet:

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  • Excessive water consumption.
  • Excessive urination.
  • Shaking body (the same as after a bath).
  • Averting eyes.
  • Sniffing the ground more than normal.
  • Excessive scratching.
  • Turning body away from you or something else in the immediate surroundings.

What to Do

If you see your pet displaying any of the above calming signals, you have a couple of options to help your pet become more comfortable. The first is to take a little break. Pet them gently or have a brief play session. You may also mirror some of the easier calming signals back to your pet by yawning or licking your lips a number of times until your pet can respond back with the same behaviors. These calming behaviors send the message to your pet: “I’m OK. You’re OK.”

Lastly, if your pet is still uncomfortable, remember that you always have the option of postponing your training session to a later date or removing your pet entirely from the situation.

Behavior Helpline: Contact Our Behavior Team

For behavior questions, please contact our Behavior Helpline either by calling 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, emailing or filling out our Ask a Trainer form. San Diego Humane Society adopters can fill out the Post Adoption Consultation form to schedule their troubleshooting session. We aim to respond within seven days, but responses may take up to two weeks. Thank you for your patience!

Note: Due to the potential for serious injury, canine and feline aggression are best handled by a professional who specializes in aggressive behaviors. Because phone or email counseling is inadequate for addressing serious behavior concerns, we ask that you contact a qualified professional for help. Please refer to the list of behavior resources here.

Questions About Public Classes

San Diego Humane Society offers training classes and resources to address a variety of needs for companion animals.

Our training philosophy is based on the behavioral science concepts of positive reinforcement. Training your pet using these concepts will not only help them learn new behaviors more quickly, but it will also strengthen the bond you share.

Please visit our website for a current schedule of training classes or call 619-279-5961. 

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