Dog Talk Lesson: What Do Calming Signals Tell Us?

Looking to the side, sniffing the ground, or blinking your eyes – all of these behaviors are among the dog’s soothing signals. These serve to bypass conflict and relieve tension and are an important part of the canine language. Correctly interpreted, they tell people a lot about their dog’s state of mind.

“Dogs use calming signals to try to defuse certain situations, to resolve arguments, or to calm themselves down,” explains Erika Müller, chairwoman of the interest group for independent dog schools. “Dogs have a huge repertoire of soothing signals.” Licking the nose or flattening the ears, for example, are frequently observed. However, many dogs also turn their heads to the side or slow down their movements.

The pacification signals primarily serve to communicate with conspecifics. Dogs let each other know when something is bothering them, or when they notice another dog is upset. They appease themselves as well as their counterparts. “Therefore, dog owners should give their animals enough space on walks to show these signals and receive them from other dogs,” says Müller.

The calming signals are also important sources of information in communication between humans and dogs: “The animals show when they are uncomfortable with something if they are unsure or worried,” says Müller. For example, masters or mistresses learn not to cuddle their dog so tightly, not to look him straight in the face, or to gradually let go of the training at the dog training ground.

If you watch your dog carefully, you can quickly see which signals he is sending out and what he means by that. In this way, the four-legged friend not only feels better understood, but the human-dog relationship can also deepen.

Important reassurance signals are:

  • Turning body away: When a dog turns its side, back, or hindquarters toward its opponent, that is a very strong signal of calming and reassurance. It is also often shown when someone suddenly appears or approaches the dog too quickly.
  • Take a curve: Dogs consider it “rude” or threatening to approach a person or a strange dog in a direct manner. Dogs that want to avoid arguments will therefore approach a human or another dog in an arc. This behavior is sometimes interpreted as disobedient – and therefore completely wrong.
  • Looking Away and Blinking: Dogs find it aggressive and threatening to stare straight into someone’s eyes. The dog, turning away and blinking, wants to avoid conflict.
  • Yawning: A dog that is looking away and yawning is not necessarily tired. Rather, yawning is a sign of calming down the other person.
  • Licking Nose: When a dog begins to lick its snout with its tongue, it is communicating that it is rather uncomfortable in a situation. 
  • Licking people: Small dogs will frantically practice licking people when they are being picked up against their will. People often interpret this behavior as a gesture of joy and affection. Rather, licking it can mean: please let me down!
  • Ground Sniffing: Ground sniffing is also often used by dogs to defuse an uncomfortable situation and express embarrassment.

Ava Williams

Written by Ava Williams

Hello, I'm Ava! I have been writing professionally for just over 15 years. I specialize in writing informative blog posts, breed profiles, pet care product reviews, and pet health and care articles. Prior to and during my work as a writer, I spent about 12 years in the pet care industry. I have experience as a kennel supervisor and professional groomer. I also compete in dog sports with my own dogs. I also have cats, guinea pigs, and rabbits.

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