How to Tell When a Dog Gets Nervous or Upset

Learn to read your dog's body language.
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Dogs have a range of emotions, just like people, and if you pay close attention, you can learn how to read your dog. Understanding what makes your dog fearful, anxious or stressed can help you create a better quality of life for your pup, and it can bring you closer as well. Your dog will come to trust you to “get” his signals when something is making him upset.

Body Language

Dogs often let us know how they feel based on their body language. A scared pup may cower into a submissive position, put his tail between his legs or avoid making eye contact. Some dogs jump or prance when they get anxious or nervous, a signal to you that says, “I’m antsy, I don’t like this, let’s go!” Some shy dogs retreat into themselves when they’re upset, and may hide or stick close to your side.


Just like a mother comes to recognize which of her baby’s cries signal hunger, pain or tiredness, careful observation of your pup will help you understand the sounds he makes when he’s nervous or upset. Some dogs whimper or whine, while others let out an anguished howl. Small dogs may emit high yipping noises, while others go silent when they’re upset.


Dogs exhibit different types of behavior when they’re scared or anxious. Many refuse food, have “accidents” in the house, or become destructive and tear up your belongings. Other dogs shiver and shake uncontrollably, especially small and toy breed dogs who are prone to nervous, high-strung personalities. Dogs of all sizes may turn into lap dogs when they’re upset, just as a way of being in close physical contact with you.

Helping Your Dog

Just because thunderstorms frighten your neighbor’s dog doesn’t mean they’ll upset yours -- every dog is different, and recognizing and responding to his triggers and signals can help you alleviate his stress and anxiety. Sometimes increased socialization or behavior modification training can help your pup overcome unfounded fears. In other cases, you may need to try to eliminate what’s making your pup anxious. For example, if hearing the doorbell makes him pee on the floor, it may be worthwhile to disconnect the bell, get a lower-key bell or train him to accept the “ding” as a good thing. If you find your pup is fearful or nervous in many common everyday situations and doesn’t improve with increased socialization, consult your vet. He may have an underlying health problem, or he may benefit from anti-anxiety medicine.