Monday, March 23, 2009

Calming Signals at the Park

I went to the dog park today with Jenn and Bernie. Bernie likes to run around the park flushing birds and racing after squirrels. He's so fast. I love to follow him and chase after him when he runs.
Today, I tried to herd Bernie by nipping him on the shoulders as we ran. Well, wouldn't you know he growled at me and grabbed my face planting me into the ground! It was all quite unnecessary if you ask me. I got up and shook myself off and then Bernie licked his lips and looked away from me. Jenn ran over and made sure we were OK. She said we both did "calming signals" to diffuse the situation.

Calming signals are part of the communication system that dogs use. They are very subtle body movements that humans ignore most of the time. Things like yawning, turning the body away, lip licking, shaking the body off, lifting one paw, and many others. These signals can indicate stress or discomfort or the dog simply trying to say "Are we OK?". Calming signals can also diffuse a situation before it escalates into something more serious.

The term was coined by a Norwegian dog trainer Turid Rugaas. She has a great article about calming signals here.

Apparently, Bernie has been patient with me for a long time and he finally had to tell me to back off. OK, maybe I shouldn't have tried to nibble on his shoulder. I guess I'll be more careful and respectful next time.


Unknown said...

I just found your blog, it's a fun read (and helpful!). We've just adopted a 12lb, puppy mill mystery terrier... he looks like he's less than 2 years old. He is VERY anxious, about EVERYTHING... My question was, are there any calming signals PEOPLE can use to let the dog know that everything is ok? I have noticed that blinking my eyes a lot when I look at him, perpendicular body approach and high, happy laughing ("ha ha ha" "Buh buh buhbba") make him happy... (Yes, I'm weird and I laugh and make silly noises for my dogs). Are there any other weird dances or noises I can make to help him feel safe/happy? I don't care if I look/sound like an idiot... especially if it makes him "laugh".
Kelly (and Gus the pup)

Royal said...

Hey Kelly,

People can definitely use calming signals with dogs. I can yawn and then all my dogs will yawn as well. I will often use calming signals when I meet a new dog. Not sure if it actually helps the situation, but it doesn't hurt. I will yawn, blink, look away, turn to the side and generally just be calm and low key. Too bad calming signals don't work with people! I'd love to use them with some of my clients. Turid Rugaas' book is truly fascinating.


Jenn (and Royal)