Calming signals – is this a term you’ve heard of before? A relatively common phrase in the dog and animal welfare world, calming signals are a means of communication used by dogs. They even use these signals to attempt to calm us. Unfortunately, humans can easily misunderstand what dogs are trying to tell us.
Once you begin to observe these signals, you will never look at your dog the same way!
As you learn to speak ‘dog’ you will see the lines of communication open between you and your dog and you’ll understand what your dog has been trying to tell you all this time. Above and beyond the fact they want bacon for dinner every night, unlimited bones and dibs on your king-sized bed. We know that with or without calming signals.
This is probably the most common CS (calming signal). Fido will look away from the object that needs calming. While humans use eye contact as a signal of attention and respect, dogs consider eye contact as threatening or a challenge. Looking away is Fido’s attempt to appear less threatening and give space. A glance away or a full head turn are both considered looking away.
When looking away isn’t doing the trick, Fido will turn away in an attempt to calm the object.
Fido will blink as a way to avoid staring. Lowering of the lids is also considered a calming signal.
Ever been frustrated with your dog and in turn, become more frantic or agitated? Dogs will often slow down their body movements in response. This can be frustrating to an owner who doesn’t understand that their dog is not being disobedient (a slow recall or heel), but is simply attempting to calm their owner and relieve the tension.
When things get scary to a dog, sitting or lying down is a very clear signal.
No, your dog is most likely not tired. Unless its midnight on Friday and you’re only halfway through your PVR’d shows for the week. Then your dog is probably tired. Second to looking away, yawning is the most common CS. Yawning is used to release stress and calm others.
While sometimes sniffing is Fido’s way of catching up on the days gossip, it is also used to calm other dogs and people. Is Fido sniffing the ground when another dog approaches? Let him! He is sending the other dog very clear signals. Sniffing during a recall? Change your tone and stance – you’re giving him reason to be concerned.
Dog’s aren’t people – they don’t like to meet straight on. Its very unnatural and intimidating for them. If your dog attempts to go to the other side when meeting another dog, let him do it. His curve is a very clear message! On walks, help your dog curve away from other dogs while on-leash so as not to send the wrong message.
Many of these signals can also be used by you to help calm your dog. Lip licking, blinking and looking away all let your dog know that you are understanding them and reading their signals loud and clear!