Communication and reading your dogs stress signs.
Dogs actually have a very large vocabulary and use numerous signals to each other (and us) in combination to communicate. I like to think of it as sign language and we can learn to listen with our eyes!
Calming signals are little signs that your dog will use either to calm himself or herself in a confusing or stressful situation, or to calm another dog that may pose a threat. There are 48 different calming/stress signals that your dog may communicate – but many of us miss them! None of these are in isolation though and are perfectly natural reactions. The key is to read the situation and the rest of the signals that may accompany them. Sometimes they will happen in a flash and usually the dog will combine a number of these signals together.
- Head turn or body turn (from direct eye contact or a person/dog approaching)
- Avoiding eye contact or blinking (dogs rarely look each other in the eye, but we teach them this is ok with humans as puppies)
- Howling (usually in separation anxiety to call their pack (human family)
- Growling (never tell a dog off for growling as this is an important warning signal that they don’t feel comfortable. By punishing this you may remove warning signals and the dog will go straight into a bite)
- Yawning (calming)
- Licking lips (calming)
- Drooling (in a car or in separation – this is a sign of anxiety and stress)
- Spinning or circling another dog
- Panting/heavy breathing (not always to cool a dog down. In a stress pant the tongue and muscles around the mouth are tense)
- Sitting (in confusion or refusal) or lying down (in appeasement)
- Sniffing (sniffing the air can show fear or anticipation, and sniffing the ground when another dog approaches is a sign that the dog is easing the tension)
- Raising a paw (in fear, but in training or with food this can mean ‘I’m ready to do whatever you want!)
- Biting the leash (avoidance)
- Poop eating (in context)
- Grass eating (similar to sniffing the ground)
- Marking or pooping (when it seems out of place in the middle of play!)
- Hyper behaviour – over excitement (if your dog can’t cope with a situation)
- Slow, reluctant behaviours (avoidance)
- Play bows (inviting play bows are usually a snap second, but if your dog holds this slightly, it can be a sign of stress)
- Hackles raised (which can also be arousal or excitement)
- Splitting (when a dog walks between two dogs or people when playing or arguing, means your dog is trying to calm the situation)