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“Calming Signals” – What Is Your Dog Really Telling You?

Turid Rugaas, a Norwegian Dog Trainer and Behaviour expert studied dog body language and noted that dogs often display ‘calming signals’ to deal with situations they feel uncomfortable in. Her book ‘On Talking Terms With Dogs’ is a fantastic insight into understanding our dogs better. Here’s a sneak peak at a few common calming signals. Interestingly, you’ll notice that humans share quite a few of these habits. ... maybe we’re not so different to our dogs after all?!

Dog Calming Signals


Wide, sometimes shakey yawns; not necessarily tiredness. it can be an excited response eg yawning just before you head out for a walk or an appeasement gesture.

Tongue Licking

Quick flicks of the tongue outside the mouth, like licking lips. This article gives some examples and variations of tongue flicks and how meaning varies with context. safford

Sniffing The Ground

A kind of ‘displacement’ activity; a bit like us scratching our heads or pretending to check our phone!

The Shake- Off

When dogs shake themselves as if they were wet (but they’re dry). You’ll often see this after a dog has had an altercation of some sort.


Multiple eye blinks; human also do this sometimes when they are worried or confused.

Averting Eyes

Not making direct eye contact; ignoring the other dog/person thus effectively removing themselves from a confrontation. Humans do this too!

Head (or body) Turns

Dogs are masters at manipulating space. They frequently make use of slight head turns to increase space from another dog and to indicate they don’t want to continue an interaction.

Calming signals are so called because they help the dog calm itself. As humans we deploy similar strategies, for example, those ‘nervous habits’ we sometimes exhibit; gestures we use to (try to) manage our feelings for example biting our nails, rubbing our forehead or tapping our feet. In dogs, calming signals are also deployed to appease the other dog (or person) and communicate the dog wants to avoid conflict ... if only humans could do the same!

If you’d like to learn more about this topic take a look at Turid Rugaas’s website

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