What Dog Lovers Should Know About Dog Communications

I met a new client and her puppy for the first time. She also had an older dog that’s been trying to show his affection to me however the puppy is mediating.

I asked “Is your older dog gets mad when the puppy does that?”

“Not really. He already adapted to her,”she responded.

“Are you sure about that? I think it’s too much for him now,” I said. Then suddenly, I just heard a sharp cry from the puppy and I saw her quickly move to the side when the older dog snapped before her.

My client did not expect me to anticipate what could happen and she said, “How did you know that? Are dogs whispering to you on what they’ll do?”

“Actually, dogs express themselves all the time and they will just guide you”, I said. “They are talking to us and we just need to do some listening.”

How did I know the older dog had enough? He actually turned his head away from her when she was coming towards him. The puppy should have considered this as a signal to back off, but still she persistently went on biting his ear. He moved away and released his “whale eye”—the whites in the eyes of a dog—and lift his lip. All the warnings have been given to this stubborn puppy but she still continued to disrespect the older dog. Finally, with a heavy heart, the senior launched his annoyance. The puppy would not have gotten growled and snapped if she were listening to the cues. This puppy certainly needs some kind of lecture on listening as well.

Don’t you know that dogs have a set of gestures they show to express their feelings of distress or fear? These behaviors are so called “calming signals” which is discussed in detail in the original book of Turid Rugaas, On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals. She explained that these are social skills used to express themselves to invite play, avoid conflict and be understood by their owners and co-pets.

Below are the most popular calming signals we can observe with our dogs. Have you seen them doing these?

Head Turn. It can be a 360 degree turn where they don’t see the dog, person or item they are distressed about. You may observe this when another dog is coming rapidly towards him or a vacuum cleaner is on its way.

Lip Licking. This is common when we are reprimanding our dog—he would lower his head and begin to lick his lip. But we must also check some possible reason why his doing this. If there’s that good smell of food nearby.

Yawning. We must still put some observation on this to confirm. If your dog just woke up from a nap, then he’s just sleepy. But if a young one had sprung to him to play his ears, and he yawned, it’s positive. It one of his calming signals.

Play Bow. This stance is achieved by simultaneously lowering their front end on the ground while their back end is up. It means they want to play with somebody. This is a tactic to get other dogs play with them. He’s actually trying to shrink himself to look friendly.

Freezing. It’s when nothing in your dog’s body part moves. It’s like freezing. You’ll observe this when another dog begins to go near him and watch him at a dog park. He will tend to stay put. This may signal the other dog that he won’t do any harm. It may also mean that your dog is in a current state of high arousal or stress. One example is when your dog looks hungry and found a yummy bone; he may freeze due to arousal, before licking the bone.

Walking in a Curve. Walking straight to someone head on means your dog is showing an assertive behavior. But walking in a curve may mean your dog must be releasing their tension due to stress. This fact might enlighten you if there were times you got angry when your dog is still strolling in a curve after you shout out loud his name to come inside the house.

Observe the environment of your dog when many of these calming signals are present. Does he want to make friends with other dogs? Is someone giving him stress? If we don’t acknowledge these calming signals, it might get worse. Any one of these simple calming signals could turn to a snap, growl or bite if we don’t do anything. You would definitely keep your toddler away from the dog if they are exhibiting a calming signal. Understanding what your dog is communicating is a very important skill you must learn to make your dog’s environment less stressful. Your dog would be glad knowing you are listening to him.




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