Calming signals are a natural way for your dog to communicate. They are used among dogs as well as most other animal species as a conflict solving method when faced with unpleasant things such as aggression, stress and fear, or to prevent these things from happening. Dogs are conflict solvers as this is necessary for survival. Calming signals are used to establish trust and security, but most of all, as a way to communicate and be understood. They are meant to keep order and to maintain a healthy social structure. Dogs of all breeds, shapes, sizes and ages use the signals all the time and in a variety of situations. We must learn to use this non-discriminative language in order to communicate clearly with our dogs. Using the signals will help decrease stress among our dogs and will help us see them in a new light for who they truly are; our most beloved friends.
Many signals can be seen clearly when you are looking. Others are very subtle, small and varied. Recognizing some signals comes with experience; sometimes, fast glimpses of a series of signals can be observed but if you are not paying close attention, they might not be noticed. Many misunderstandings or problems between owners and dogs happen because of language problems.
Some dogs with behavior problems can be helped tremendously by re-acclimatizing with their lost language. There is great confusion when dogs use the signals and we, the humans, don’t recognize them and even punish our dogs for using them because we think they are being bad, stubborn, or inattentive. By using calming signals with our dogs and recognizing the signs, we can prevent stressful situations, fear and aggression in our dogs.
Through the use of calming signals, your dog will become more social. He will grow more secure and therefore become a happier dog. He will cope better with a variety of situations and he will have a better ability to solve conflicts, a very natural instinct in dogs.
Calming signals will help you train better. When your dog is tired, stressed or unable to focus, he will let you know. In addition, the use of calming signals will help you to be able to calm down a dog who is becoming nervous or stressed. Because of your use of the signals you may be able to show other insecure or fearful dogs that you can be trusted. You can become a better friend to your dog by understanding him more. Calming signals are wonderful to use in behavior therapy to help dogs overcome problems. As a matter of fact, it is critical that they are used if long term success is to be obtained in behavior therapy.
Dogs may lose their language through our own fault. When no one in their surroundings uses the signals, they lose the ability to use them. We teach dogs all kinds of commands which in essence, become their new language. Unknowingly, we punish dogs for using calming signals. When you are training, for example, your dog might look away at some point, seemingly ignoring you, when in fact, he may be trying to calm you and to calm himself, as you may be making too many demands on him ( ie. training for too long) . If your dog yawns and turns away from you when you are tense and giving a command with a loud, angry tone, such as “HEEL! for god’s sake, HEEL!”, he is giving you calming signals, yet you probably punish him for being stubborn and ignoring you.