Canine communication involves a lot of subtle gestures and signals, when we observe and interact with our dogs, we could save many stressful situations by understanding the following signals that dogs exhibit
Human Turning Head
This can be done when being approached, or when the dog is worried, it helps to avoid eye contact and can very often relieve tension in a situation.
Avoiding Eye Contact
Again this is used by dogs to show submission, to avoid a confrontation or diffuse a hostile situation.
Turning to the side, or back can be calming. Dogs at play usually begin by turning their side or back to the dogs, this denotes that they are friendly and wish to play.
Licking Lips or Nose
This is often a sign that the dog is frightened, worried or stressed, when you are correcting your dog, you will very often see the dog lick its nose or lips.
Dogs often show this signal when they are being sniffed at by other dogs, especially dogs that are larger than themselves. Movement could signal aggression so the complete stillness and avoidance of eye contact will very often diffuse, or prevent aggression.
Using Slow Movements
Dogs may use this when they see another dog, or if you call them back angrily, they move slower than normal on purpose to avoid the confrontation, or slow things down a little. This action usually demonstrates that the dog is under stress.
This is an invitation to play romp and have a good time. Dogs can use this when they meet; it is their way of saying, ‘I am harmless, let’s play’. This type of signal is also very often a precursor to sexual behaviour.
This can be a signal of a dog being uncertain of you, another dog, or the situation the dog finds itself in. Issuing the dog the command, to sit, is an excellent way of diffusing a stressful situation when a dog is under stress.
Lying Down, Stomach Showing
This is a signal of submission.
Lying Down on Stomach
This is a calming act and very often is used by strong dominant dogs to calm situations and let the other dog know they have no reason to show fear.
Dogs often yawn when under stress; it can act as a calming signal. We should yawn at our dogs when the situation is tense as it often helps them to relax.
Dogs may use this signal when being approached by another dog, their owner, or the situation. They will suddenly start to sniff the ground and again it acts as a diffusion device with the avoidance of eye contact.
This is not always a sign of pleasure or happiness. It could be a sign of a white flag, or dominance. Tail carriage is very important when understanding the dog’s intentions.
It is helpful to understand a dog by observing its body language before and during handling and training, as this is the best indicator of its temperament, personality and drive. Handling and training should begin from 8 weeks old, or when you first get the dog if a rescue, or adult animal that has been re-homed. What follows are tips for improving dog behaviour and handling.
- Set ground rules that must not be broken, no matter what the circumstances, i. e. never being allowed on the furniture etc
- Remember the golden rules of stopping dominance, i. e. regular handling, stopping pulling on the lead, do not allow dogs onto the furniture, regular grooming
- Insist on being able to handle, inspect and groom the dog as early as possible, even if the dog objects, never let the dog win or pull away from this type of handling
- If nervous behaviour is exhibited, i. e. around traffic, judges etc do not reward the behaviour by comforting the dog as this will compound the fear and make it worse
- If when the dog objects to handling, or is defiant, always make sure the dog follows your commands, or accepts the handling –never let them win, as this is seen as being submissive
- Always handle in a positive manner
- Never hit a dog
- Always use motivational training methods, rewarding good behaviour
- Understand and respond appropriately to a dogs body language
- Good socialization is the key to ensuring you have a well balanced dog who is able to cope with training and handling