Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Canine Communication: Calming Signals

When dogs feel uneasy or stressed, they will sometimes comfort themselves (and signal the dogs around them) by making specific "peacemaking" dog gestures called calming signals. These gestures are often a dog's way of saying "I am not a threat" and/or "Please be kind to me!" If dogs were astronauts, they wouldn't greet strange new alien friends by saying "We come in peace!" Instead, dogs would probably start:


licking lips

avoiding eye contact

turning their heads away entirely

sniffing the ground

sitting & lying down

moving slowly

splitting up (casually walking between two dogs)

pretending to be focused on some other (nonexistent) activity

*If you notice your dog using calming signals, watch her behavior closely, and then determine if she might benefit from a little de-stressing time away from her current activity, environment, or play companions.

There are actually 27 (!) different calming signals, as identified by Turid Rugaas (read her fascinating book On Talking Terms with Animals: Calming Signals for the complete list. She also has a DVD for us visual learners.) It's fun to watch dogs using body language to silently talk with each other. Humans can mimic calming signals to communicate with dogs, as well. A superduper vet, groomer, or trainer will often use some of these "magical" techniques to quietly help put their puppy clients at ease... and you can, too! Personally, I prefer yawning to sniffing the ground :)

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