Dogs, just like wolves, use social skills to stop or avoid aggression. We are not used to reading these signals; we do not find them clear. With training and understanding we can see what our dogs are trying to tell us and we can answer in kind.
Calming signals are used to prevent conflicts long before such a situation arises (dogs are pack animals and conflict is to be avoided as it may threaten the survival of the pack). They need to try to avoid threats, loud noises and other unpleasant experiences and to prevent problems and cut down stress, anxiety and nervousness. A dog may use these signals to calm itself and the signals also serve to make all the parties involved feel more secure.
This form of communication is inherent, it is a universal language and dogs all over the world use the same signals, regardless of breed, size, coat colour or type..
Here are some calming signals:
- Turning the head away
- Looking down instead of looking straight into the eyes
- Swivelling the back or side to someone
- Licking the nose with the tongue
- Freezing in a standing, sitting or down position and being completely passive
- Make slow movements
- Tail wagging (white flag)
- Taking a playful bow position
- Sitting, possibly taking a sidewise position or with the back turned.
- Lying down flat on the ground
- Approaching by walking in a curve, so not approaching directly in a straight line.
- Sniffing (with a downward movement, the eyes follow the movements around them)
- Coming physically between two people / dogs
- Offering a paw
- Eye blinking
- The reaction is transferred or displaced
- Urinating or marking
- Lip smacking
- Making a silly face and exhibiting puppy like behaviour.
- Behaving childishly, even though you’re grown up.
Dogs and stress:
We humans require a healthy dose of stress to perform, to be fit to be alert, etc. That’s acute stress. If the stress remains and becomes chronic it can cause all kinds of problems even medical conditions. This is true for dogs as well. If the conflict or medical problem does not go away the dog will exhibit behavioural problems such as anxiety, aggression etc.
Causes of stress:
- a direct threat from dogs, people, objects
- violence, anger and aggression
- pulling and tugging on the leash
- demanding overly high standards in training and in everyday life
- lack of exercise
- hunger, thirst
- pain and disease
- suffering from extreme cold or heat
- not being allowed out in time to urinate or defecate
- too much hassle
- shocking events
- too much excitement
- visiting the veterinarian, groomer, …
- sudden changes
- overreaction to things
- use of calming signals
- licking or biting themselves or an object
- barking, howling, whining
- bad odours from the mouth or body
- stiff muscles
- sudden onset of dandruff
- a change in eye colour
- tail chasing
- poor concentration
- poor appetite
- urinating more often than usual
- allergies and skin problems
- fixation on things for example rays of sunshine, biting at flies, etc.
- venting or displacement behaviour
- aggressive behaviour
How to reduce stress?
- adapting the environment e.g. avoiding noise and crowds
- a change of routine
- stop punishing or being aggressive towards the dog
- recognize calming signals and use them
- meet the daily needs of the dog: exercise, nutrition, rest, etc.
- create a balance between movement, activity and rest
- allow the dog to become a part of the pack/family
- avoid using gestures the dog may find threatening, do not corner the dog or stand over him
- use massage and / or herbs
Do you have any other tips? We’d love to hear about them!