Through their body language, dogs communicate with us and tell us exactly how they’re feeling. As a canine behaviorist, I work with my clients to help them learn their dog’s language so they can respond effectively, and canine calming signals are one my favorite things to point out.
What Are Dog Calming Signals?
Calming signals are a set of communication skills our dogs have to resolve conflict. In other words, instead of fighting another dog or predator, they display these signs to help their opponent understand they’re not interested in conflict.
All dogs, regardless of breed, have learned calming signals, but they may be more clear in some breeds than others. This is thanks to physical characteristics that can make these signs more apparent.
1. Looking Away/ Whale Eye
It’s not always clear whether a dog is asserting himself, scared, or submissive. With the whale eye (or looking away), this is particularly true. A dog giving the whale eye can quickly become aggressive. However, breaking eye contact is also the most common sign a dog wants to disengage.
No matter what, if a dog is giving the whale eye, the dog needs a break from the situation at hand.
2. Sniffing the Ground
When meeting a new dog or group of dogs, your dog might start sniffing the ground. This is a way of saying, “I don’t want to fight with you, I just want to do this.”
A dog who is yawning may just be sleepy. A dog who encounters another dog and begins to yawn, though, is showing some stress. He’s sending out a non-confrontational signal.
Did you know that if your dog mimics your yawn, it’s the sign of a strong bond between you?
4. Nose Licking
Nose licking is a sign of stress in dogs. If your dog is repeatedly licking his nose, he may be anxious. You may not notice it, but the probability of another dog noticing it is fairly high.
5. Play Bow
A dog may bow as a calming signal when he meets another dog. In the play bow, he will extend his front legs and leave his bottom in the air. He may even sway back and forth, indicating he wants to play.
Bowing tells the other dog, “Hey, I just want to play!”
Additional Calming Signals
In addition to the above calming signals, you may also notice the following calming signs in your dog:
- Walking slowly
- Completely stopping and ‘freezing’
- Turning the entire body in a different direction from the conflict
- Sitting down
- Lifting only one paw
- Urinating (peeing submissively)
- Wagging the tail
When Calming Signals are Used
Calming signals may be used to resolve many different situations, including:
- When someone is walking toward you and your dog quickly
- When your dog is meeting a new dog
- When your dog is meeting a new person
- When your dog is in a new environment
- When your dog is confused
- When there is a loud noise
- When your dog is tired
- When your dog feels trapped
Learn the Signals
Whether your dog is meeting your friend’s dog, a new neighbor, or adjusting to a new dog park, keep an eye out for calming signals.
Help your dog retreat or take a break if it’s needed, but these can also be a good sign that your dog just wants to be friends.