Learning to Work With Your Dog’s Conflict Appeasement Signals (and not work against them)

Featuring Jen Larson, KPA-CTP & Courtney Emken
Concept by Courtney Emken

“Conflict Appeasement Signals”, also known as “Stress Signals” or “Calming Signals”, are used by all dogs to avoid conflict. Dogs use these conflict appeasement or stress signals, which are movements or sounds, to avoid conflict with us and with other dogs. Learning to recognize your dog’s signals and work with them—NOT against—is the best recipe for positive behavior and interactions in almost any situation.

Link for Turid Rugaas information:
http://en.turid-rugaas.no/calming-signals—the-art-of-survival.html


Jen:
So Conflict Appeasement Signals are often also known as Stress Signals or Calming Signals. Dogs are a really social species and they’ve evolved to avoid conflict wherever possible. So the way they do that, is through some of these Conflict Appeasement or Stress Signals. They’re ritualized by movements or sounds to avoid conflict with us and with other dogs so there’s this amazing Norwegian trainer named Turid Rugaas, who years ago, wrote a book called, On Talking Terms With Dogs which he identified about 30 of these signals

Courtney:
That’s a great book.

Jen:
Places you might see a Conflict Appeasement Signal would be maybe somewhere like a dog park where a dog runs up to another dog, that second dog might get a little stiff, show them a little side eye, turn their head, sniff the ground. That’s all telling that approaching dog, “You’re behavior’s making me feel uncomfortable and so you need to change your behavior, cause I’m trying to avoid a conflict with you.” Other places you might see Stress Signals, vet clinics. If you look around a vet clinic, you’ll see a lot of dogs scratching themselves, shaking off even though they’re not wet, drooling, stress panting, things like that.

Courtney:
Yeah, I would say, I think, you know, we see those signals all the times from dogs, but so many people don’t recognize them when they see them, or they don’t know what to look for. Things that you wouldn’t think. You know, above and beyond the norm, like stretching, yawning, lip-licking. You know, a lot of dogs will give you the whale eye, where their looking at you but their head is turned away. You know, any kind of heavy drooling, the ears back, tail tucked, stiff body, I mean the list goes on, right?

Jen:
Right. And what you are describing are all really important things to look for in a dog-dog interaction. So if you’re managing dog play, or you’re introducing dogs to each other, things to look for, red flags like getting really stiff, showing a little side eye, lip-curling, that indicates that the dog is feeling pretty uncomfortable and might be ready to snap at that point. So you need to back off or change the behavior in some way.

Courtney:
Right.

Jen:
So what can we do when we see Stress Signals or Conflict Appeasement Signals? The first thing that we should do is evaluate the environment. So what’s going on in the situation? Is the dog feeling stressed because of something happening in the environment? Is the dog feeling uncomfortable or stressed because something you are doing? So evaluating the situation, changing the environment if necessary or removing the dog from the situation. Also it’s great to keep a record of some of these things where you see these Stress Signals so then you actually do some purposeful training sessions to start changing those emotional responses. And so for example, a lot of dogs are really stressed out when they go to the vet and so you see a lot of Stress Signals. If you are at the vet with your own dog and you’re seeing a lot of those Stress Signals, what you can do is start trying to change those feelings by making the vet visit a little bit better for your dog somehow, bring some treats, have the vet techs give them some treats, do things like happy visits where you’re coming to the vet clinic and nothing bad happens to the dog, they’re just walking around, sniffing, having some positive experiences and then leaving and so then you start to change those feelings of anxiety in a vet clinic.

Courtney:
Wow, what a concept. I mean taking your dog to the vet, just for training purposes, like most people would never even think of that because, I mean, you know, just to go and like, get treats and love and sit on a scale. That’s awesome, I love that for dogs. But you also wanna make sure you’re not punishing those Conflict Appeasement Signals. So like if two dogs come to meet and one growls at the other, usually clients get really upset and they’re really quick to wanna punish that dog, when in reality, that’s good communication right?

Jen:
Yeah, absolutely. I think what you said is really important so when two dogs are interacting and you see a correction or something like that, not punishing the dog that’s giving correction because often times it is appropriate communication and so we don’t wanna penalize the dog for trying to avoid conflict with another dog, we wanna encourage the good communication.

Courtney:
Yeah, cause what happens if you do punish that?

Jen:
Well, sometimes it can make those sort of signals go away completely so instead of growling or trying to communicate that they’re feeling uncomfortable they’ve been punished for something like that, they’ll go immediately to snapping or lunging and biting.

Courtney:
Yep.

By |2018-08-17T01:47:29+00:00August 17th, 2018|Dog Behavior, Dog Safety, Dog Training, Dog Wellness|0 Comments

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