Dogs and communication using calming signals

by | Jan 22, 2022

Dogs are experts at solving and avoiding conflicts. In order to communicate effectively with our dogs and to understand what they are saying, we need to understand their language.

Being able to read a dog’s body language to understand when they are scared, anxious, stressed, bored or over aroused is an excellent tool, and it allows you to remove your dog/s from a situation to make them feel more comfortable and to improve relationships between dogs and humans. When you are observing canine body language, pay careful attention to the context in which the behaviour occurs.

Norwegian dog trainer and behaviourist Turid Rugaas uses the phrase “calming signals” to describe the social skills or body language that dogs use from an early age to avoid conflict, invite play, prevent things from happening, avoiding threats from people and dogs, calming down nervousness, fear, noise and other unpleasant things.

You may have noticed that your dog tends to walk slowly to you if you call him to you in a voice that sounds stressed or angry, or he may turn his head away and lick his lips when you tell him off. These are all calming signals!

Walking slowly, using slow movements – slower movements can have a calming effect. If you call your dog to come to you in an angry tone, your dog may move slower as he is trying to calm you down!

Play bow – can be an invitation to play (particularly when it is in a jumpy side to side way) but can also be a calming signal.

Sitting down – a dog may sit down if strange dogs come rushing up to them. Lying down – can be used to calm other dogs down

Yawning – A good one humans can use to calm their dogs if the dog is fearful, anxious or uncertain.

The calming signals for dogs whilst important to understand the behaviours of dogs can also allow our occupational therapist to practice using those calming signals with both client and animal together.

If you would like to see our Occupational Therapist and “Cooper” the therapy dog, please contact [email protected] or 1300 000 105.

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