ARE YOU MISSING YOUR CANINE COMPANION’S CALMING SIGNALS?
All species communicate within their own and toward others. As pack animals, dogs have their own unique way of communicating with each other through body language. Their body language communication is unique to their species however dogs will also communicate these signals to their human family members. This is because, as many of us know, dogs view all of the members of their household as their pack.
Dogs use communication signals to let other dogs know that they are friendly. Communication within their species is crucial to the survival of the pack. These signals can be used for hunting, to raise babies and to alert each other to ‘calm down’. In general, dogs will not seek out conflict within their pack. In the pack dog mind, any conflict can cause injury to one of their members, therefore weakening the pack.
These communication signals are effective tools for dogs to communicate with other species, particularly humans. In the dog mind, they believe that all species will inherently understand and receive these signals. It is quite easy for humans to miss these signals from our dogs of we do not make ourselves aware of them. If they go unnoticed for too long, the dog may cease trying.
While many humans tend to get upset with their dogs for certain behaviours, they may be missing their dogs signals that ‘there’s no need to yell’, or ‘calm down, I understand’ and the dog will get punished anyway. This can lead to sadness and overall frustration within the dog. In some cases, this frustration can lead the dog to act out or to become aggressive.
One such example may be when a human calls his dog to come to him. He has learned in class that he needs to sound strict and dominant so that the dog will understand who is in charge. The dog
finds dad´s voice to be aggressive. The dog instantly gives dad a calming signal in order to make him aware that he need not be aggressive. Perhaps the dog will lick his own nose, yawn, turn his head away. This will result in the human becoming angry, as he perceives the dog as being pig-headed, stubborn and disobedient. The human then punishes the dog for using his calming signals to calm him.
Outlined below are several of the approximately 30 dog calming signals to pay attention to. The more we understand dog body language and behaviour the more harmonious our lives will be together.
YAWNING- When a dog feels threatened by yelling, loud arguing, aggressive behaviour, he will often yawn. When a person is leaning over him, when another dog or person is hurriedly or excitedly walking towards him, the dog often perceives such actions as threatening. He may yawn to let them know to calm, that their intensity is unnecessary.
TURNING HEAD AWAY- Often, when a dog is being scolded or is in the company of aggressive tones, s/he will turn her/his head away from the source. This is another sign that s/he is communicating calmness. S/he is letting the aggressor(s) know that their message is received and she meant no harm. Therefore she need not be punished. Or, she understands the aggressor’s message loud and clear and wishes to share this.
LICKING- A dog will give a quick lick of the face as a calming signal. This licking behaviour is its own type of unique licking only meant to diffuse a potentially confrontational situation. Interestingly, it is more notable behaviour on dogs whose faces are harder to read such as dogs with small noses or long haired dogs.
SNIFFING THE GROUND- Dogs, as a rule use their noses to obtain a wide variety of information. In almost any situation, a dog’s nose is his most powerful sense. However with respect to calming cues, when a dog lowers his nose toward the ground even slightly, this is a sign of calming behaviour. One example might be if a dog is in a crowded area and feels overwhelmed by all of the activity. If there are people or other dogs walking toward your dog, he may lower his nose slightly to let the others in his vicinity know that he “comes in peace’.
WALKING SLOWLY- In the dog mind, high speed is seen as a threat. Coming from dog or person (or other being), walking toward or beside at high speed can invoke the defense mechanism within the dog. This can trigger a calming signal; for example walking slowly. Particularly because the other being is in motion, the dog will have a reactive defense of movement as well. The slow walking is intended to let the other beings in motion know that he is peaceful.
WALKING IN A CURVE- When you call your dog, does she respond by coming toward you in a curve (or walking slowly as per the statement above)? If she does, this may be a reflection of your tone of voice. If you sound overly stern or authoritative, this curved walk may be a calming signal. Your dog my be letting you know that there is no need to be so commanding.
When a dog is introduced to another dog, she will often approach the other dog in a curve as opposed to straight on. This is because the dog feels that she does not want to pose a threat to the other dog. In fact, when humans force their dogs to meet in a straight line format, this makes the dogs feel very uncomfortable. It is important never to force a dog into a meeting and to let it happen naturally. It may help you, as well, to understand this behaviour when approaching any new dog. You may wish to greet the new dog from a curve instead of a straight line. This may help to assist the dog in being more comfortable and lesser threatened by you.
Calming signals coming from dogs can be subtle. It is of great benefit to pay close attention to how your dog reacts to you and other stimuli in her/his environment. These are but a few of the 30+ calming signals that dogs exhibit to each other and to humans. Once we have a solid understanding about what they are and when dogs use them, we may even be able to send them back to our canine companions. When we see our dogs giving us calming signals, we can take the time to lower our voices or carry a more peaceful demeanor. Additionally, by sending calming signals to our dogs, they will be grateful that we have learned their language. They will feel understood and comfortable in our homes and in our hearts. We will surely be creating a more harmonious environment for all!