If you love me, give me a sign!
All those lucky enough to share their life with a dog have noted that their loving companion has a cheerful nature and hates conflicts. When a dog has an aggressivity problem, this stems from an improper education. As the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as a bad dog; there are only bad masters!
Indeed, thanks to Turid Rugaas, a specialist in the world of canine education, we now know that dog language is made up of a number of signs and signals used to prevent conflicts. Canine educators call them calming signals.
According to the teachings of Ms. Rugaas, there are around 30 such signals ranging from yawning to licking of the chops. Dogs the world over, regardless of their origin or race, would seem to use them instinctively from their earliest age.
The good news is that we can also use some of these signals to communicate with our best friend! Here are three of them:
Yawning is used by puppies from their birth, and it is the calming signal that you can adopt most easily. In dog language, it means you can chill; everything is going well.
Your dog is terrorized by a passing train or nervous every time you vacuum? Even if you pet your canine companion and use soft and reassuring tones, shaking and panting are slow to abate. It’s time to showcase your very best yawn!
By yawning exaggeratedly a number of times, you let your dog know that relaxation is the order of the day and no danger is on the horizon. Repeat this exercise each time Fido is afraid and the phobia will be overcome in no time at all!
NB: Don’t confuse a calming yawn with a tired yawn. Yawning late in the evening means that your dog is tired and nothing else.
Turning our back
Here’s another calming signal that you can easily use. Dogs constantly do so to make canine interlocutors understand that their behaviour is inappropriate. In dog language, it means leave me alone!
In fact, dogs will always avoid an unpleasant situation before having recourse to aggression. When they’re uncomfortable, they prefer to turn away, look elsewhere, or sniff the ground.
Therefore, when your dog is overexcited and you want to show your dissatisfaction, it’s useless to raise your voice. Just systematically turn your back until the undesired behaviour is changed.
Legs forward in play position
Have you noticed that when two dogs meet for the first time, they study each other from a distance? If they decide to get to know each other better, one of them will adopt the playing position. In dog language, this means I’m a good dog; do you want to hang out?
So, if you encounter a dog in distress who refuses to be approached at first glance, don’t make any abrupt movements, and avert your eyes at the necessary moment. Then start by gently stretching your arms toward the ground, as if you were yourself a dog wanting to play with your new canine acquaintance. Stay still for a moment, then come closer by making a big roundabout circle. If you see that the dog is still uncomfortable, stay still, and turn your head in the opposite direction; after a little while, the reluctant canine should sidle up.
If you’d like to learn more about the subject, we suggest you purchase the book by Turid Rugaas.
In English: On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals
In French: Les signaux d’apaisement