Posted by: Linda Trunell | July 19, 2013

Calming Signals

Dogs communicate a great deal to each other with body language.  If we learn this language we will understand what our dog is saying and feeling.  I posted some videos on dog body language in a previous post (March 16, 2013) showing playful and aggressive body postures.  What I want to share with you here are the various body postures dogs use to calm themselves and other dogs when they are feeling stressed.

nose to nose

Turid Rugaas is an expert on canine body language and has done much work with fearful dogs using what she calls “calming signals”.

Turid Rugaas: “To be able to communicate, to be actually understood by dogs, that is a wonderful feeling for people and dogs alike.  Calming signals are the key and seeing through that opened door has been looking into a childhood dream of talking to the animals.”

Terry Ryan, Legacy Canine wrote the referenced (below) article about Turid Rugaas’ work.  The signals noted and explained are:

  • Moving Slowly – A dog intending to use signals, upon seeing another dog in the distance, will start to move slowly.  This exaggerated slow motion is a calming signal, and one which can be used early and effectively when meeting.
  • Moving in an arc – Rarely upon first meetings will dogs approach each other nose to nose.  Only dogs which are very sure of the outcome of a situation will attempt to meet head on.  More frequently dogs approach each other in curving lines, walk beyond each other’s nose to sniff rear ends while standing side to side.
  •  Sniffing the ground – Dogs use their noses to explore their environment, but at times sniffing seems to have a different significance.  Owners have attributed out of context sniffing to lack of concentration or stalling.  Some say it’s a displacement activity.  Turid categorizes sniffing during times of stress as a calming signal.
  • Sitting, lying  – These positions are probably the most graphic calming signals of all.  You can see them being used in active play sessions.  A dog will spontaneously drop when things get out of control.
  • Lip licking – This quick little flick of the tongue is language which often goes unnoticed because it is shadowed by more overt signals.  It is yet another way for a dog to convey the same message, for everybody to calm down.
  • Blinking, averting eyes, turning awayWhen a dog approaches another, it’s a very interesting moment in time for those individuals.  Why then, do we see dogs looking away, exaggerating an eye blink or turning their heads away from approaching dogs?  Is it disinterest, distraction or a calming signal?
  • Yawning – Perhaps the most intriguing of all signals is yawning.

Go here to read the entire article posted  in CANINE COMMUNICATION Calming Signals.

In a future post I would like to explore more about what happens when dogs do not understand or read another dog’s body language – and why they don’t.  There is so much we as guardians and teachers need to know to help our dogs live the best life and be the best dog they can be! The more we know about how our dogs think, learn and feel the better our lives together will be.

Here’s to being our dog’s best friend,



  1. Leaving the URL for your previous post here – – totally great videos to check out. I definitely learnt something, particularly for the 2nd video on dog play, since Donna does not have much chance to play with other dogs. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!


    • Nice of you to post the link – I think those videos are great, too. Many people don’t have the opportunity to observe several dogs interacting off-leash and they are very educational. Maybe Donna will meet some new friends to play with and you can translate the body language for the other humans! 🙂


      • Yah, been trying to arrange a play date. Am thinking she may be antisocial because she doesn’t have any friends where we live. It’s kind of hard to meet any one except at the dog park but she’s afraid of that… oh well slowly, slowly…



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