I have just watched this DVD by Turid Rugaas the dog expert & author of the book by the same title, and I am totally baffled that this information is not more publicly available.
I am also amazed that a show like The Dog Whisperer which carries on and on about “calm submission” does not have anything to say about Calming Signals and how dogs use these to communicate their need for calmness and conflict resolution.
I learned so much from this DVD and it’s only 48 minutes long. In fact it answered several questions about Boogie’s behaviors that have been festering in my brain.
Here are some things I learned:
- Dogs are born with these calming signals. They are part of a dog’s natural makeup and heritage. Puppies know this stuff and as they mature they get better at it, if they are allowed to socialize frequently with other puppies and people.
- Dogs live in packs so *conflict resolution* is a highly important part of their natural behavior repertoire. Conflict resolution is more important that obedience. An example: If your dog is at the dog park surrounded by dogs and you call him to you and he doesn’t come straight away, acknowledge that he has to *peace-out* with the other dogs before he comes to you. This is polite social behavior.
- When a dog is wagging his tail, this doesn’t necessarily mean he is happy. A wagging tail = arousal and excitement.
- There are two types of Playbow. There is the playbow when the dog wants to play and he will jump from side to side in this position. Then there is the playbow when a dog jumps backwards and wanders off like he is not really interested in playing. In this case, he is doing the Playbow as a calming signal to the other dogs to let them know that he is friendly. Boogie does this all the time!!! Check out my earlier blog post and video.
- When dogs mark, there are several reasons –
1. He could be marking his territory
2. He could be stressed about something
3. He could be using this as a calming signal to another dog/person.
4. If two or more dogs are marking something together, this is “being social” together.
Did you all know this stuff about marking? I certainly didn’t. I always wondered why sometimes when Boogie sees another (friendly) dog the first thing he does is go mark a tree. He seems to mark more often when there are more dogs around. I always wondered if he was being “dominant” and showing the other dog who’s boss, but now it’s good to know that this could be a response to stress or a conflict-resolution behavior.
Turid also says that if we are walking our dog and if a stranger approaches and our dog goes off to one side to sniff or mark, we should let him do it. (According to BAT, this is a “functional reward”. I let Boogie do this anyway, and I also praise him because it is a friendly alternative to lunging)
- Because dogs don’t like conflict, sometimes when two dogs play too rough or get too close, a third dog will run in and split them apart. According to Turid, the dog who is splitting up the action is not “jealous” or trying to be party-pooper. He is doing his part to prevent potential conflict. He will barge in from either the side or the back, not front on. The splitting-up behavior is a calming signal to the other dogs.
- Another calming signal is to walk in a curve around another dog/person. This is a social skill that we can help our dogs develop by leading them (on-leash) in a wide curve around the other dog/person. The more stressed or agitated our dog, the wider the arc and the further the distance, and as he shows signs of being more comfortable we can make the distance smaller, but still in a curve, because in the dog world this is polite behavior and we want to reinforce it.
- Turid points out that most people greet dogs the wrong way and this is so true. Most people lean over a dog and pet him on the head or stick their hand in front of his face. To dogs, this is stressful stuff and the dog may then turn his back on you, lick his lips, turn his head away or walk away past you (as calming signals). Or in the case of Boogie, he will cower or bite you. The correct way to greet a dog is to give him your BACK or your SIDE and pet him on the side of his face or body. This communicates to the dog that you are no threat.
- As we learn to read a dog’s signals we can change our behavior. If we see that a dog is stressed, we can make the choice to change our position, turn our heads or turn our bodies around to make the dog more comfortable.
This information is so valuable! Thank you to Sarah for lending me this DVD.
P.S. The DVD is much better than the book because you get to see dogs moving and interacting. Just try to ignore the cheezy muzak soundtrack :)