Dogs send many signals to express their well-being but also their discomfort or to calm a situation. These signals are called calming signals. What are they?
In a dog, soothing signals have two outcomes: expressing discomfort and/or calming an interaction with an individual. It is very important to know how to observe, identify and analyze these signals in order to adapt our situation if necessary and always better communicate with his animal.
A good understanding of a dog’s calming signals also makes it possible to better target what our dog prefers or doesn’t prefer because, unfortunately, he doesn’t have the words to express his emotions. Here is a list of the main calming signals and the meaning of each one:
Turn the head
Often imperceptible but nevertheless very clear, this signal can be very brief or, on the contrary, very strong. The dog therefore remains motionless while turning its head to the side.
This signal allows the dog to calm a situation with respect to an individual, be it a human or another dog. To put words on this signal, turning the head means for a dog “I come in peace”. It is mainly observed during first encounters.
As a human, you can use this signal when you want to interact with a dog. Don’t hesitate to turn your head before approaching a dog so that you don’t have to face it and give the impression of a “threat”.
This is a very clear signal that should not be overlooked. A dog that turns away (turns his back on his “interlocutor” and leaves) is a dog that wants to be left alone.
As humans we can also use this signal when we want to help our dog to calm down. Indeed, turning around and totally ignoring your dog when he gets excited allows him to understand that the interaction is over and that he needs to go back down under pressure.
As a form of politeness, dogs use this signal to make calm contact, whether with a human or another dog. It allows the dog, just like turning its head, to signal that it does not wish to come into conflict. It allows the dog to make the other person understand that he does not want to enter his living space too abruptly.
As a human, when you want to move towards a dog, it is preferable to use this signal to avoid arriving in a frontal way. In this way, you make the dog understand that you are coming as a friend.
Close / squint the eyes
This is a signal that I personally use a lot. I like it very much because it allows you to come into direct contact with your dog and to express an intention of appeasement quite easily.
Slowly closing the eyes, squinting, softens the look considerably and thus communicates a form of appeasement.
Try to look at your dog by slowly squinting your eyes, you will see that he will (almost) certainly respond to you with the same signal.
Lick the truffle
Very frequent and often not understood, this signal is very important to know and identify. A dog that licks his nose repeatedly (outside mealtimes) is a dog expressing discomfort.
If this signal is not identified and properly interpreted, the dog may move on to a higher stage and even end up biting in the most extreme cases.
This signal is mainly used by a dog to signal to the other (human or dog) that he is not a threat. It therefore seeks to calm the situation.
When two dogs meet, often one of them stays completely still, freezes, this allows the sniffer to understand that he will not have any particular problem with him.
Slowing down walking is a way for the dog to calm the situation and relieve the pressure (be it his own, his master’s or another dog’s).
We often notice this attitude in dogs that are a little “scolded” by their master (especially for recall), for two dogs that meet or for a dog that is in the middle of a situation that is very rich in stimuli. This signal can quickly turn into total immobility to really try to calm down a situation.
As a human being, you can obviously use this signal to make your dog understand that you are calm, relaxed and serene.
Calling the game
Here, this signal is called the call to play but it is actually a two-way signal: a dog that takes a call to play position by jumping from left to right is a dog that is really looking to play.
On the other hand, if he remains immobile in this position, it is more of a calming signal to make others understand that he is not dangerous and that he wants to create a happy atmosphere with his “interlocutor”.
As humans, we can totally use this signal by stretching our arms down.
Sitting down is a way for the dog to calm himself and also to soothe the other person, be it a human or a dog. It means that he is cool and does not seek conflict.
Don’t hesitate to sit close to your dog when you feel him a little irritated or anxious.
Lying on his stomach
Lying down is even stronger than sitting down as a calming signal.
During a play session between several dogs, when one of them is lying down, we can notice that, as time goes by, everyone eventually calms down and comes down under pressure at the sight of the signal sent by their fellow dog.
Contrary to what many people think, it is very rare for a dog to yawn because he is tired. Yawning allows the dog to communicate discomfort and it is very important to take this into account when interacting.
It is often noticed that a dog may yawn when he is petted (because he is uncomfortable with this contact), scolded, photographed, or when he gets bored with a long and repetitive training session.
As a human, don’t hesitate to yawn at the same time as your doggie to let him know that you understand his condition, that you take it into account and that you too want to calm the situation down.
A sniffing dog is a dog that seeks to calm itself. He is indeed on the lookout for a soothing scent that will calm and reassure him. It also makes him aware of the environment he is in.
This signal can also be noticed when you call your dog with a certain irritability. The dog first sniffs around him before coming back.
In the same way, during an encounter between fellow dogs, a dog that starts sniffing indicates to the other person that it is not looking for conflict.
Get in the way
This signal is often sent by dogs called “regulators”. They will in fact intervene between two dogs that start to conflict.
We can also observe this when the family dog interposes himself between his two masters who are arguing, just to say: “Eh oh! I’m here, look at me and everything will be better”.
Stir the pot
I often hear people say, “If he looks, he’s wagging his tail, he’s happy”… No No ! A dog wagging its tail is not necessarily a dog expressing joy. Excitement can be positive as well as negative.
On the other hand, a dog may wag his tail when “scolded” to calm the situation. This is often quite annoying because you clearly feel that you have no credibility or authority with your dog. But here, our dog is just waiting for us to relax.
Slow his breathing
Finally, we can talk about dogs who slow down their breathing to calm themselves. This is of course a very difficult signal to spot, unless you focus on the dog’s abdomen.
But what is important here is to understand that we can, with our own breathing, soothe our dog when he is in an advanced state of stress. So, place one hand on your dog’s chest and the other on his shoulder blades (on his back) and breathe very slowly. This will help him to calm down.
You now have all the weapons you need to better understand your dog and, above all, to communicate with him better thanks to this range of calming signals.