Monday, January 4, 2010

What is your dog trying to tell you?

Calming signals are a set of body language skills which dogs use to maintain healthy relationships and resolve conflict without having to resort to aggressive behaviors.

These signals often occur early in interactions, as soon as a dog becomes aware that a situation may need “calming down.” This facet of canine communication is designed to help dogs calm themselves and others in the face of stress. Additionally, many dogs make use of calming signals in an effort to simply show goodwill. Dogs with the inability to signal and/or respond appropriately to signals often find themselves in predicaments. Essentially, calming signals are meant for the dog to display their stress in the hopes that the individual it is communicating with will understand and alter their behavior.

All breeds of dogs have calming signals; however some are more developed than others due to the differences in their physical attributes. Sometimes these signals may be very subtle in nature and at other times much more overt, often depending upon the level of threat that a dog is feeling. Many calming signals appear to be hardwired into dogs.

For example, puppies may exhibit yawning as early as their first day when they are being picked up and handled. Dogs never completely lose their language, but if they do not have the opportunity to practice their signals, or if they are inadvertently punished for using them, calming signals may become suppressed, which unfortunately turns into a vicious circle.

When assessing if a dog is exhibiting calming signals or not, it is important to always look at the context of the situation surrounding the behavior.

1. Head turning/Averting gaze
2. Blinking/Softening gaze
3. Turning away
4. Play bow
5. Curving
6. Slow movements
7. Yawning
8. Sniffing
9. Splitting
10. Nose licking
11. Sitting/Laying down
12. Tail wagging
13. Marking
14. Freezing

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