Dog Calming Signals Confusion
Using a holiday gift card, I bought On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugass. It’s a tiny book, full of photos, so it’s a one-sitting read.
Many of the signals she writes about, I already knew — yawning, lip-licking, etc. But, it made me realize that what I’ve been calling “shutting down” or “going flat” is like the Mother of All Calming Signals.
And, if you follow her logic, it might be Lilly’s way of telling ME to calm down. Oh my! The book, however, left me with questions. Maybe you can help.
First, let’s continue with the DOWN as a major dog calming signal. Rugaas says, “Lying down with his belly to the ground is an act of calming. It’s a very strong one too…”
I’ve described before what I mean when Lilly shuts down, but suffice it to say it’s a pretty dramatic down, like this show dog moment captured on TV. It’s getting less so with the medication routine (clomipramine and alprazolam twice a day, every day) and the behavior modification work we’re doing to help her not be so afraid, but until I read this book, I’d never thought that Lilly might be signaling for ME to calm down too. I’ll have to work on that — maybe with deep breathing, softer eye focus, and such.
Dog Calming Signals Confusion
But, now to my confusion. I get that dogs look away or even turn away from one another as a way to communicate. I also get that it’s similar to when we turn away from dogs to teach them not to jump up on approach, but the book often recommends using various calming signals (including looking or turning away) to get shy or fearful dogs to approach. Again, I understand and have often used such body postures with Lilly and other dogs, but I never thought of it as using Dog Language per se.
So, here’s the thing … how can the same Calming Signal both get wild dogs to go away and fearful dogs to approach? And, if turning away (or leaving the room), as I had to do to break Lilly’s attention seeking pattern, is often done as a mild “negative” consequence, is that still a calming signal.
Maybe it’s all the same thing, just used in different situations, but I’d always thought of them as different processes or strategies.
When I first learned that lip-licking or yawning were signs of “stress,” I guess I thought that meant they were things you did NOT want to see in your dog, but the book seems to say that dog use these things to communicate with each other, to help calm themselves and others down. We played with this a bit by putting several signals (lip-licking, raising one paw, sniffing the ground) on cue in 2007, but now I’m thinking about it differently.
I’m going to start observing Lilly’s dog calming signals, and I’m going to experiment with giving some back. For example, next time she goes flat in public, rather than getting all jolly and trying to cajole her into moving, I might throw some signals back at her (no words) and see if I can get her moving again that way. Should be interesting.