I’m constantly amazed at how dogs communicate and how they can pick up on the most subtle of signals from us. Sometimes we’re not even aware we are sending these messages! (Of course I also have dogs who choose to respond, and when not to)
But it makes sense. It makes sense to have good communications skills, living in a pack. And to have peace living with so many. This strengthens, rather than diminishes, the pack.
Dogs use something called calming signals. We know of about 30. These are behaviours that speak the “language of peace” and dogs use these signals upon meeting, before meeting… they can do this a couple of hundred meters away from each other!
So if your dog doesn’t want to meet the other dog, listen to him. They’ve already “met”. And decided distance was better.
What are these calming signals?
3. Turning away/turning of the head
4. Play bow
5. Sniffing the ground
6. Walking slowly
8. Sitting down/lifting one paw
9. Walking in curve
and more + combos.
When will a dog use these signals? Anytime they feel threatened. Whether it’s another person/animal seems aggressive (shouting, etc) or it’s being at the vet, it’s different from dog to dog as is the dog’s “vocabulary”.
Generally, bending over a dog, staring at a dog or quick movements are considered threatening. They don’t all respond with the same signal and some dogs have lost that inborn ability. How?
Puppies can be “taught” that calming signals are useless. If they display them, and the other person/animal takes no notice. Worse still, the puppies are attacked!
We also restrain our dogs from behaving appropriately when we use leashes. We are less able to see the calming signals our dogs are trying to show us.
We can also use calming signals with our dogs, to help them. Instead of abruptly correcting for “unwanted” behaviours, try the calming signals.
You can try yawning when your dog is in a uncomfortable situation. Or you can walk slower or come in at an arc, when approaching other dogs.
The ones listed above are the most obvious (and perhaps most used) but there are many more. The one I was surprised by was wagging the tail –
“Should a dog show signs of anxiety, calming or anything that clearly has little to do with happiness, the wagging of the tail isn´t an expression of happiness, but rather that the dog wants to calm you.” – Turid Rugaas
Turid Rugaas is an internationally renowned trainer and writer from Norway. Part of her interest is studying the body language of dogs. She’s the one who’s found these calming signals. Her website is www.canis.no