The Body Language of Canine Anxiety

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

Recognizing the Signs of Fear and Anxiety in Your Dog

Fight - Flight - Fidget - Freeze

These are the main 4 categories of a dog’s possible responses to stress. Much like humans, every dog has their own reactions, or group of reactions, to situations that cause fear and anxiety. The Four Fs mentioned above are an expanded version of the classic “fight or flight” responses we are familiar with.

The Four Fs

The first two categories are fairly easy to spot. One dog may run away from a stressor (Flight), while another may opt for a more aggressive response (Fight). The other two Fs, Fidget and Freeze, may require you to look a little closer to see. This simple chart, by Dr. Sophia Yin and Cattle Dog Publishing, provides a great visual

of many of the signs of Fidget and Freeze.

Fidgeting includes movements that might appear normal and unimportant. It’s normal for a dog to pant when they are hot, but what if they’re inside the house and have been relatively inactive for a while? This is an example of seemingly unimportant body language that might actually be an important message from your dog to you.

Here are some Fidgeting actions that could be indicators that your dog is feeling stressed:

  • Panting (when not hot or thirsty)

  • Licking Lips (when no food nearby)

  • Yawning (when they shouldn’t be tired)

  • Hypervigilance (looking in many different directions)

  • Pacing (walking back and forth)

When they don’t know how else to deal with stress, dogs may exhibit signs of Freezing:

  • Cowering (staying low to the ground)

  • Furrowed Brow/Ears to the Side (similar to a facial expression)

  • Slow Motion (not quite Freeze, but moving slowly with caution)

Other signs not covered by the four Fs that may indicate fear and anxiety include:

  • Decreased/No appetite (little or no interest in food)

  • Diarrhea (sudden and otherwise unexplainable soft/runny stool)

  • Destruction (tearing apart furniture, etc.)

  • Urinating/Defecating in the House (unusual for the potty-trained dog)

Some of these signals may indicate other issues your dog is having, such as an illness that requires veterinary attention. You are always encouraged to contact your vet if you feel any of these signals could indicate health-related issues.

Take note of which signs your dog is giving and if there are more than one. Often, a dog will exhibit more than one of these behaviors when feeling stress, anxiety, or fear. A great resource for helping you identify body language and its meanings is the Dog Decoder app. It is authored by dog trainer Jill Breitner and is available in the app store.

The situation causing your dog to feel anxious will help you understand the path towards resolving that anxiety. If