To Promote Responsible Dog Ownership Here Is A Small List Of Common Calming Signals Your Dog Will Offer To You Or Others And An Insight Into Their Behaviour
Body language is an important part of dog psychology and understanding, both your own body language and your dogs. If you can recognize your dog’s body language, you can get an insight into what it is feeling. But at the same time your dog is always reading your body language. This is a big part of their own visual language!
The way your dog reads your body language
Body language can say so much about how we feel and most pet dogs are very good at reading our body language, even though it is a lot different to their own. They immediately know when we are happy or sad, excited or cross. Strangely, most dog owners report that they only need to think about taking their dog for a walk and they will respond immediately. They are equally as quick to respond to less fun thing such as when we go out and have to leave them.
When training, your dog may actually find it easier to respond to hand signals and your body language rather than listen to words that we use. Are we more consistent with the hand signals or are they easier for the dog to learn.
Dogs spend an awful lot of time watching us and thus they learn to respond to us and can understand what we do. Maybe it is easier for them to do this. After all, they do not have many things to think about - or worry about - as we do. But, as we are supposedly the more intelligent half of the partnership that exists between our dogs and us, it is important for us to learn just as much from them.
Instead of repeatedly trying to tell our dogs what to do, we should simply watch them and by doing so, learn so much from them. Instead of talking we should watching and instead of demanding we should be asking. This way we can begin to allow our dogs to teach us how to understand them.
Reading your dog’s body language
All dog owners like to think they are in control of their dogs at all times, but the reality is many are not. Dogs are pack animals (security in numbers just like human behaviour), and hence instinctively try to assert their authority over other members of the family - namely, the owner. Assertive behaviour is about asking your dog to do more for you without making them, this builds respect and that respect will build trust. If an owner does not give the dog reasons to believe they can keep the dog safe (the trust), then it's possible the dog may try to bully through aggressive or unbalanced behaviour towards them or others. A dog will never believe it is doing anything wrong, so telling a dog off can cause the dog be confused, to lose respect for you and even teach the dog to do it more.
While human’s primary sense organs are eyes, dog’s strongest sense by far is their smell. This is why shouting at a dog isn't as effective as many people think it is, because hearing comes a poor third behind smell and sight for a dog. The vocal sound dogs offer (barking) is taught to them from us because of the vocal sounds we offer. Many of you that have had dogs from a puppy will hopefully remember that your dog took a few months before starting to bark. Their sense of smell is why dogs are so adept at working out what humans are feeling, they can literally smell fear for example because of the chemical changes in our system. This is also why they have been successfully used within the medical profession for many years now to detect cancer or alert the owner of an impending secure, etc.. So if you have a worry that your dog will react to another dog and because the dog does not believe they are ever doing anything wrong, your dog will misunderstand that your fear must be caused by the other dog and so begins Dog on Dog aggression. Please seek advice from a behaviourist if your dog is already reacting to other dogs as the retraining will take a little time.
Turning away of the head: Calming signal. Peaceful intentions. Avoiding potential conflict. Prevents making direct eye contact (which many dogs consider a threatening behaviour, challenging). Also used by your dog to indicate to you that your dog has not understood your instruction if your dog looks away and looks back quite quickly, saying something like "I don't understand".
Low head: No threat, calm, non-confrontational. Ideal position for your dog’s head when out on a walk because they can sniff the ground and this helps stimulate their mind.
Licking of the nose: Peaceful intentions. Calming signal. Calms members of a social group, eases tension in a group or personal stress, may precede you stroking your dog on the head. If this was an English word it would be used (within a sentence) as the word "OK". If your dog licks their nose and the turns away, your dog would be saying "OK Calm Down" or you may see it as your dog approaches you "is it OK to come into your space", etc.
Yawning: Calming signal. Stress reducer of personal stress levels. in a social group. Commonly observed in a social group like the vet's, groomer, before pack walks (excitement).
Shake off: (Looks exactly like dog is shaking off water after a bath or swim.) Stress reliever. May see this after your dog has a scary or very exciting experience. Bringing hackles back down.
Tail positions: Elevated (without wagging) - bully. Over back (without wagging) - extreme bully (fear driven). Down (without wagging) - relaxed, calm. Between legs - fearful (covering belly area). Wagging with entire body/hips - over stimulated, over excited. Wagging without body - Very low, stress. Below horizontal, interest, dog is thinking, confused. Horizontal - happy (without wagging). I feel it is important to explain that this is general advice because dogs use their tail to aid balance.
Piloerection (raised hackles): Feels threatened. Over-stimulated. Excited.
Shivering: tension, over-stimulated (excited), rarely fear around humans. When mammals, including man, are confronted with a stressful event, their core body temperature rises, stress-induced hyperthermia.
Kissing of the Mouth: (Dog licking the mouth of dog, human) Puppy behaviour, hunger, peaceful intentions, calming behaviour. One of the most common reasons dogs jump during greeting rituals, another being because we stroke or touch to push down. This touch is a conformation you want the dog to do it again, many just spin and jump up again.
Blinking: Calming signal, peaceful intentions, and sleepiness.
Double blink: calm down, don't look at me, enough.
Paw lift: Weight distribution toward the rear of body - peaceful intentions, begging. Weight distribution toward the front of the body - fearful, distrustful, unsure. Weight distributed on three legs - calming themselves.
Smile: Relaxed jaw muscles, tongue exposed. No visible creases on face, forehead.
Closed Mouth: Precedes bite, to gain better scent, convey seriousness or simply thinking.
Open Mouth: Relaxed, happy, smiling, panting.
Grimace: (Often called fear grimace, but also seen in excited dogs) Tense jaw muscles. Mouth pulled at corners back exposing molars or all teeth. Visible creases at corners of mouth, forehead - fear, tension, excitement. Looks like an exaggerated or forced smile.
Whale Eye: White of eyes visible all around the eye, dilated pupils. Fear, aggression.
Averted Gaze: Peaceful intentions, polite behaviour, fearful.
Starring: At an object - claiming, intent to claim. At another dog - challenge. At a human - challenge, begging (both can lead to unwanted behaviour).
Presenting The Belly: Laying squarely on back with floppy paws over centre of chest - submission, trust. On side, lifting one hind leg or one front paw (or both) - fear, apprehension, fearful submission, uncertainty (do not stroke their belly). Urinating while doing either: excitement or fear (submissive urination). This is a puppy behaviour that some adult dogs will engage in when over-excited or fearful. It's a way to convey puppy-like intentions and that it isn't a threat.
Sneeze: during enjoyable activity - laughter. (When sniffing pepper, a sneeze).
Bowing: Back end in the air, front paws on the ground and spread apart. Playful.
Not to be mistaken for the front leg stretch: Back end in the air, front paws on the ground and either together or level with body. Stress relief,
Breathing: Through stomach - relaxed. Through chest - excited.
Panting: Cools body down, excitement, fear. stress relief.
Scraping Earth With Paws After Elimination: Insecurity, Bullying. Marking both visually for other dogs
to see and with sweat glands on its paws.
Sweaty Paws: Dog is overheated, fearful, stressed. Often observed in the crates of dogs that have fears of confinement.
Sniffing Ground: Calming signal. Peaceful intentions, stress reliever.
Freezing: (stiff) Point of reactivity/threshold. Contemplating situation, warning. Not to be mistaken for the stop a dog will offer when out walking, this is simply a calming signal. Almost saying I'm no threat, not moving towards but not moving away either.
Drooling: (dog looks to be chewing on a shoe lace), anxiety, very stressed. Stressful situations.
(Dripping from mouth) - Anxiety, fear. Also often precedes vomiting.
These are just a few common calming signals, please try to learn as many as you can. I use many when I'm working with dogs as it's their own language and easier to understand than ours.
One very useful way of telling what your dog is thinking or feeling is through their body language. Dogs naturally communicate to each other (and other animals) through their body language, and so please familiarise yourself with the calming signals listed above.
Main Possible Problems
Aggression towards children
You should never accept that the dog appears threatening to or snapping at children in the family - even if it's their own fault, or it only happens once in a while. You should immediately seek behavioural advice to solve the problem if your dog is behaving this way. Both children's behaviour towards the dog and the dog's behaviour towards children should be addressed. You must remember that children are particularly vulnerable. If it bites, their face is exposed, as children are often at head height. Never let small children and dogs are together without them being under supervision. Most of the reasons for a dog to react to a child are through teaching; a child holds the same energy levels as a puppy. A dog will use body language to teach a puppy and if this has not stopped the behaviour, they will then use their mouth. For the most part a dog will use their mouth as their hand and it is mostly the front teeth that are used to nip, similar to a slap or smack if you like! So a dog doing this to a child’s hand that is stroking their head would in fact be a "slap on the wrist" and this is because many dogs do not like their heads being stroked, this can be confused as bullying to a dog and bullying is not respected in any language.
Aggression towards strangers
If the dog is aggressive towards strangers it is usually because that they are timid or afraid. If it is timid with strangers, there may be several reasons for it. Maybe it has not been sufficiently socialised around new people or environments, or the dog has unknowingly been trained to protect their environment. This protective instinct within dogs is one of the main reasons dogs were brought into the human community in the first place, they will instinctively protect their main food source. If a stranger has a fear of dogs, a well-balanced dog would generally try to get the stranger to stroke them as this would usually calm us humans. Have you ever seen a dog stroke another dog? But a dog that has a responsibility of protecting or is fearful of an unfamiliar environment, this fear or responsibility can cause them offer what may be considered aggression towards strangers (or dogs).
You must remember that your dog is very attentive to the signals you send. For example simply tightening the lead when you are out walking the dog as you meet strangers or dogs, it may be perceive as, there is reason to be on alert. This will have an effect on your dog’s behaviour with strangers or dogs. The dog will immediately know if you are unsure or tense. You must therefore try to understand your dog to help you stay calm, i would always recommend a loose lead and if your dog is willing to walk behind you, your dog feels that you have control over the situation and you have helped your dog feel safe.
You should never ask it to be watchful of strangers and protective of the family without the correct training. Not even if you believe that your dog will not bite. If the dog believes it must act aggressively to defend the family, this responsibility will cause fear and this fear can cause the dog to bite your own family. Please try to remember that it is the family that should protect the pet dog - not the dog who must protect the family. It is possible to train a protection dog but again I would recommend the correct training that is taught through play, as this will help the dog understand it’s a job more than a way of life!
Aggression towards other dogs
Males are not usually aggressive towards females, and adults are not normally aggressive towards puppies, however, any dogs acting aggressively towards each other are a sign of stress. Even if it is usually over quickly!
In many cases of what would be considered the first sign of aggression within dogs that know each other, this is usually an argument that should stop quickly if we do not intervene and in most cases, none of the participants are harmed. However, it may escalate if we were to intervene, especially if we were shouting and screaming. I would first recommend that you walk away calling your dog’s high pitched (facing away), this would usually make you more exciting than any argument the dogs are having. If this doesn’t work then I would recommend you DO NOT pull them apart!
The dog’s mouth is their hand and if they have a grip of the other dog for whatever reason and you pull apart then that grip is going to tighten, this is usually when the skin is pierced and then tears as you continue to pull.
I would first remind you that you entering into the argument could escalate it and make the situation worse as well as get yourself bitten. But if you feel you must then I would recommend you hold the aggressor (dog on top) either side of their head to stop them from shaking their head and simply wait until they decide to separate. They will not let go until the argument is finished but keeping the dogs still is a calming signal and will help limit the damage.
If your dog is likely to react to other dogs or people I would recommend you do not take the dog out and seek behavioural advice immediately or if it is offering any of the following behaviour:
* It sometimes provokes or lunges other dogs or people
* Often acts arrogantly and aggressively towards other dogs or people
* Often mounts other dogs or people - even if they are the opposite sex
* Bites, nips, snaps, growls or grabs other dogs or people whether it lunges towards them or not
* Act aggressively towards puppies
* Appear inferior and timid with other dogs
* Often triggers aggression from other dogs
In all the above cases, you should immediately seek help by a reputable behaviourist to understand the behaviour and help to retrain the behavioural concern. Although your dog in the last two cases is not acting aggressively, you should seek help anyway - both because it is a problem for the dog itself and because the dog can develop fear and aggression.
A barking dog is a stressed dog, regardless if the dog is barking at the door, other dogs, animals, people or in the garden.