Calming Signals

31 Oct 2011dogs

What does it mean when your dog yawns at you? She’s tired? She’s bored? She’s embarrassed of your choice of socks? If you don’t know, you probably want to read Turid Rugaas’s book about the body language signals that dogs use to display unease and to calm each other down.

Yawning is a very clear sign that a dog wants people (and other dogs) to back off a little and give them some space, but other signs are more subtle. Next time you see a photograph of a dog, look carefully: is the dog licking its nose? That nose lick means that it was kind of uncomfortable with all the attention and the camera pointing at it. He’s not just buffing his nose up so it looks nice and shiny on the photo...

There are lots of other signs, many to do with body posture and placement, that can help you to interpret how your dog is feeling. Our dog, Winnie, is quite fearful because of maltreatment when she was little, so it’s very useful to be able to watch her and get some idea when she’s beginning to get outside her comfort zone, before she transitions into tail-between-the-legs-must-run-away-now mode.

And this body language is more or less universal between dogs of different breeds and sometimes radically different shapes and sizes. Floppy ears and docked tails both restrict the messages that dogs can get across, but they still seem to understand each other pretty well most of the time.