Calming Signals in Dogs: What are They?

Lip-licking is one of the most common calming signals. (Photo Credit: Dave Lindblom)

What is a calming signal?

Calming signals are behaviors that dogs naturally exhibit when they are feeling stressed and are trying to diffuse a situation. Norwegian dog trainer and author Turid Rugaas coined the phrase “calming signals” and she has identified approximately thirty behaviors as such. These behaviors include: licking the lips, showing the whites of the eye, sniffing the ground, turning away (either just the head, or the entire body), lifting a front paw, yawning, full-body shaking (as if the dog is trying to dry herself off after a bath), and panting. These are documented in her excellent book, On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals.

Clearly, these signals need to be taken in context. A dog that is panting on a hot summer day, or a dog sniffing a popular fire hydrant, is probably not stressed out. Look for these signs when there is a sudden change in the environment, like a person or dog approaching.

Calming signals are crucial during interactions between two or more dogs. A thorough understanding of these signs can help owners prevent altercations and keep dogs safe. Dog fights rarely, if ever, happen “out of the blue” – video analysis almost always reveals multiple calming signals given by one or both dogs prior to the incident.

Also watch for calming signals if your dog is struggling during a training exercise. Someone or something may be stressing him out to the point that he is unable to focus on you. Take note if you see multiple signs at the same time, like panting and sniffing the ground.

Why do I need to know about calming signals?

Dogs naturally use […]