It’s not always easy to spot signs of stress in crated dogs but when you start to crate train your dog, it’s essential to be observant and spot the signs of stress, go back a step and take the training slower. If a dog being trained to enjoy their crate feels stressed, the training will take longer and might fail altogether. Let’s take a look at some common signs of stress and anxiety in dogs so you know what to look out for.
We’re going to take a look at all the stress signals categorized by severity. So red signs are the most severe signals and ones which are hard to miss. Amber signs are less severe and you might spot some of them. Green signs are the mildest and you may be unfamiliar with most of them and are harder to spot unless you know what you’re looking for.
Whether red, amber or green, any stress signals should be taken seriously and as a sign that your crate training needs to go back a step and slow down. Stress signals in other situations mean that your dog needs to be taken away from the situation so that you can assess what it was that was making your dog anxious, and formulate a plan on how to make them feel more comfortable.
Red Signs; Your dog is in severe distress
Being sick is a response to stress and adrenaline. It comes from the ‘fight or flight’ response in the body and it’s designed to empty the body to make it lighter and therefore faster and ready to run away from a threat. Dogs who are so stressed by a situation (being put in a crate, left alone, or in a car) will often vomit within minutes. Dogs who are unwell or car sick will take longer or not vomit until the car is moving.
Otherwise known as pooping, the reasons for this are the same as vomiting and the timescales are the same.
Once again, a part of the fight or flight response, making the body lighter for running and will happen almost immediately.
Dogs who try to escape their crates, damaging them, and possibly themselves in the process, should be treated with compassion. The response to a dog who escapes should be to start the crate training again but a lot, lot slower this time ensuring the dog is comfortable at every stage of the process.
An incorrect response is to buy a more escape proof crate. This will do nothing to help the dog’s panicked state and does nothing to reassure or support your dog.
Growling, snarling, showing teeth, air bites (where they snap at you but don’t make contact), biting without breaking the skin and biting and drawing blood are all signs of aggression in dogs which can be as a result of anxiety and stress.
They aren’t being bad dogs. They’re simply communicating in the only way they know how to tell you that they’re unhappy about the situation. If you punish, ignore or don’t listen, you run the risk of your dog escalating their aggression in order to try and communicate more forcefully, which is the last thing you want.
If your dog is cowering in their crate, visibly trembling, this is a serious stress signal.
Unusual but not unheard of, is for a dog to redirect its stress onto itself and bite itself or throw itself at the sides of their crates.
Amber signs; Your dog is in moderate distress
Dogs and puppies should not be left to ‘cry it out‘ in their crates.
Even if your dog doesn’t vomit, they may experience drooling
This a displacement exercise. When some dogs get stressed and they don’t know what to do they have a ‘go-to’ move and for some, this is digging. Other displacement activities are humping, licking and grabbing something to carry, all displacement activities that you probably see in the dog park from various dogs.
Refusal of food
Offering a dog a treat is a very reliable way to assess stress levels. If they refuse something you know they usually enjoy, then it could be stress. (If they’re refusing food in all situations then it’s more likely to be illness. )
Chewing is a calming activity for dogs and one that’s used by dogs to try and calm themselves down. So if a dog chews its crate it could be a sign that they’re not entirely happy in there.
Green signs; Your dog is in mild distress
Licking their lips
Unless they’ve just eaten or had water, lip licking can be a subtle sign of stress.
Out of context panting, i.e. not after exercise or play, is also a stress signal.
Just like the caged zoo animals, pacing, even if just from side to side in a small crate, and be from anxiety.
Another displacement activity
Anxiety can make a dog look away from you. It’s an appeasement gesture (something that they think doing will make it less likely that a bad thing will happen). e.g. Maybe if they look away from you, you might let them out of the crate.
Are they constantly grooming their flank area? Getting bald spots? Gnawing at their paws?
Inability to Relax
Are they sitting bolt upright the entire time they’re in the crate? Perhaps all the toys and chews you put in there with them are ignored?
Uncomfortable dogs will yawn, again out of context, and far more frequently than a tired yawn.
Keep in mind that individual dogs may exhibit a combination of these signs, and some signs may be more pronounced than others. The presence of multiple red or amber-level signs may indicate a more significant issue and should be addressed promptly. It’s crucial to consider the context and the dog’s overall well-being when assessing their distress and anxiety levels. Consulting with a professional is recommended if you are concerned about your dog’s behavior.
Ready to start crate training your dog?
All articles on tetradog.com are written by qualified behaviorist and dog trainer, Cheryl Walker.
- · Foundation degree (Level 5) in canine behaviour management
- · WSDA instructor (World Scent Dogs Association) and level 1 competition judge
- · ADTB Puppy level instructor Diploma
- · Diploma in Puppy Training
- · Diploma in canine behavior training
- · Canine First Aider
- · Veterinary Support Assistant Diploma
- · Completed Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Sirius academy
- · Owner of an extraordinary working Cocker spaniel called Huckleberry