Most people who invest the time to train their dogs are not just looking for good behavior from their dogs – they understand that spending that time working together grows a relationship. A fundamental part of any human relationship is listening to what the other person is saying and respecting their feelings, even if you do not understand them.
As a student at CanineLink, we studied “calming signals,” a phrase coined by Norwegian dog trainer Turid Rugaas based on years of observation. Dogs use the signals to calm themselves and other dogs in situations of danger, fear, shock or stress. This universal method of communication helps dogs avoid physical conflict by showing another dog that they mean no harm.
At the time we were studying calming signals, I thought it was inside information that dog trainers would use to be mysteriously all-knowing in translating a dog’s behavior for an owner. To my surprise, an explanation of calming signals is included in the class plan of many AnimalSense training classes. The first time I explained calming signals, I went on about them so long that my students’ eyes glazed over. I probably cut it too short the time after that. Today I am just going to hit a few highlights to encourage you to learn to listen to your dog with your eyes.
Here is a list of the common calming signals:
Lip Licking or tongue flicks
Sniffing the ground
Shaking (like they had water on them)
Arcing – moving towards you or another dog in curve.
These are simple behaviors that dogs do all the time. Because they are so common and benign, we would never recognize them as being deliberate communication without guidance. The key to recognizing a calming signal is the context.
For example, if your dog does a total body shake when he is not wet – that is a calming signal. My favorite point made by another trainer in class is that we can use calming signals to see when our dogs are feeling a little uncomfortable so we know when to try to change the situation. Calming signals can show us when our dogs are tolerating a situation versus enjoying it and there is only so long that we should subject our dogs to situations that they are only tolerating. We don’t want our dogs to have to tell us when they’ve gotten to the end of their ropes, because we very rarely like how they communicate that!
Want to learn more? Check out this video on YouTube.