It is no secret that dogs live in a world driven by their senses. What they lack in words, they make up for in being very perceptive to the tiny details us humans often miss. They know when we are angry, happy, or sad and we don’t even have to tell them about how our day went. Understanding what our dogs are trying to tell us can avoid any miscommunication between our pooches and us.
So what are calming signals? Calming signals are ways dogs communicate with each other and are used to mitigate threatening situations. They are also used to pacify themselves when they feel stressed or to make others around them feel more secure. Where the problem lies in when dogs attempt to use these signals with humans and they are lost in translation. After time, a dog can become frustrated and give up using these calming signals with other dogs and it can sometimes result in a nervous, stressed or aggressive dog.
For example, when my dog, Widget, has done something that I am displeased with her about, her first response is to lick her lips and avert her eyes. She is trying to assure herself and calm me down by looking as nonthreatening as she knows how. By recognizing these signals, I have avoided ever having to yell at her, as it would be counterproductive. There are many situations in which people become frustrated in not being able to get through to their dog, while being unaware that their dog may be feeling the same way. There are at least 30 calming signals for dogs and some of the more common ones can be seen illustrated below. Next time you are at the dog park, see if you can spot any of them and observe how the dogs around them react. It’s pretty amazing!
Considering these signals is also a fantastic way of rehabilitating a dog. They are an important factor in a type of rehabilitation for reactive dogs, called Behavior Adjustment Training, or BAT. Dogs learn to replace reactive behavior by instead using a calming signal and are thus rewarded by either moving away from or closer to the object in question. It is important our dogs never lose sight of how to communicate with each other, so calming signals should be recognized and encouraged.
That is just a little insider to the world of “dog language”!
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