By Courtney Emken
co-written by Bart Emken, CPDT-KA, Jen Larson, KPA-CTP, and Amanda Ott.
Us humans often drive dogs crazy when we ignore their “dogspeak.” Fortunately, knowing how to recognize and use calming signals allows you to both listen to your dog better, and speak to them in a language they understand. It also comes in very handy whenever you meet a dog you don’t know. Here’s the DogBoy’s guide to calming signals:
How To Identify And Understand Canine Calming Signals
The term “calming signals” was coined by a Norwegian trainer named Turid Rugaas. She identified about thirty different signals which dogs give with their body in order to calm other dogs down and relieve their stress.
You’ve probably seen your dog send plenty of these signals in the past. Some of the most common examples include:
- Soft eyes
- Licking their chops
- Sniffing the ground
- Scratching their belly
- Pawing or sniffing the ground
If you’re worried about remembering all the calming signals, take a trip to the dog park and watch different dogs interact. You’ll quickly realize that dogs are constantly communicating with each other using signals, and that you can too.
When Should You Use Calming Signals?
Unless your dog is particularly shy, you shouldn’t have to constantly reassure them with calming signals. Instead, pay close attention to their body language while they’re in potentially stressful situations like:
Watch for stress signals and keep an eye on them for any sudden changes in behavior. Every dog is different, and will react to stress differently. Familiarize yourself with your dog’s unique tolerances and stress signifiers and you’ll be able to recognize when they need calming.
For example, we recently had two dogs dropped off for boarding who DogGirl had never met. Courtney reached down to pet one of the girls (using proper dog etiquette) but the dog whale-eyed and retreated from her touch.
Courtney immediately knew that this dog was stressed and uncomfortable, so she backed off and gave her space. It can take weeks of reassurance and earned trust before shy dogs can become acclimated to a person, and calming signals help them understand that you’re a friend.
Any kind of new environment, sight, or smell may also trigger anxiety for dogs, so be careful about introducing them to new people or pets too quickly. If your dog is calm, but becomes exposed to another dog who’s reactive or fearful, they can easily become stressed out too.
How To Use Calming Signals With Your Dog
So now you know some calming signals, have familiarized yourself with stress indicators, and can identify a potentially anxiety-inducing situation for dogs- let’s put it all into practice!
When you notice anxiety in a dog, the first step is to prevent it from getting worse. Try to remove them from whatever stimulus seems to be causing their reaction. You can yawn and open your mouth as this creates the “soft-eyes” that we mentioned earlier and will immediately signal to your dog that they can calm down.
You can also avoid or mitigate stress before it ever begins. When greeting a dog, make sure you use your best canine manners. You can turn your body sideways and crouch down, mimicking how dogs greet each other. If the dog is comfortable enough to approach you, don’t maintain eye contact. Instead, look away and let them get acquainted with you.
Watch your tone of voice as well. Using a soft tone and lowering your volume can relax and reduce anxiety for many dogs. Avoid raising your voice and sudden outbursts, as these can cause dogs to become fearful and reactive.
If you have an anxious dog, or just want to know more about canine calming signals, please contact us today. At DogBoy’s, we offer Tranquility Daycare & Spa– a specialized daycare experience for shy and anxious dogs. We hope to see you there!
Dog Face by Eric Sonstroem
Smiling Murphy by Oliver Clarke
Dog Greeting by Alden Cornell