Boost Dog Training Success by Understanding Calming Signals

How much easier would dog training be if you could just talk to your pet?

When we interact with other people, we avoid tons of problems by talking. For example, if you want your kids to do the dishes or clean their rooms, you ask (or tell) them to and they understand your request – and if they’re unhappy about it, they let you know in no uncertain terms.

When you ask your dog for a specific behavior, however, it’s hard to know if the message got through or how he feels about the direction. Fortunately, if you learn to recognize the canine body language patterns known as calming signals, you can improve your non-verbal communication and improve your dog training success.

What Are Canine Calming Signals?

Animals communicate volumes of information with each other without the benefit of formal language. Wolves, the ancestors of our domesticated canines, established relationships and avoided conflict using a complex pattern of body language.

Your dog uses many of these same signals today, when interacting with you, with other dogs in the household and even with strange dogs he may meet.

Dogs use calming signals when they sense a situation may escalate, to help calm themselves and other dogs. But they display many of these same behaviors in their interactions with humans. They use this behavior to express a willingness to be cooperative, to calm themselves in tense situations and even to try to make you feel good!

What Are Some Specific Dog Calming Signals?

You have probably seen your pet display one or more of these calming behaviors many times, but didn’t realize he was trying to communicate with you.

Approaching on a Curve
Dogs rarely walk directly toward a strange dog or human. Instead, they approach in an arc or curve. This behavior, referred to as curving, is your dog’s way of saying, “I mean you no harm.”

Head Turning
Dogs consider direct eye contact as a potential sign of aggression, especially from a strange dog or person. By turning his head, he signals that he means no harm to the person or dog that is approaching him.

This is one of the most important calming signals you should recognize. When your dog yawns, it doesn’t mean that he’s tired. This behavior typically means that he is stressed, startled or frightened. Think of it as the canine version of the peace sign. Other doggy peace signs include licking the nose and a lifted paw.

Stretching/Play Bow
If Rover stretches or bows (lowering the front half of his body to the ground), he’s sending a clear signal that he means no harm and that he wants to play – especially if he jumps from side to side. Play bowing is also one of the most common ways that your dog will try to break the tension in what he feels is a stressful situation.

How Can You Use Calming Signals in Dog Training?

The first way you can use calming signals in your dog training efforts is to be on the lookout for them.

If, during a training session, you notice your pet yawning or licking his nose, try lowering your voice and slowing down your movements to make the situation less stressful. If your pet exhibits any of these signals while in the presence of other people or animals, he may view the situation as threatening. You can avoid problems by paying attention to what your canine companion is trying to tell you.

You can also use calming signals to communicate with your dog. If he jumps on you or becomes overly excited, try turning your head or your entire body away from him. Or, if your dog is fearful in a given situation, try yawning. You might be surprised to see him yawn back at you.

At Innovative K9 Academy, we understand that successful dog training requires listening to your pet as well as communicating to him. Based in Salt Lake City, we provide some of Utah’s most well-regarded dog and puppy boot camps, as well as individualized programs to meet your need. Contact us today to learn more and to schedule your first dog training session.