Dog Calming Signals

Dog Calming Signals


Have you ever wished you knew what was going on inside your dog’s mind? If only they would tell us! Would you be surprised to know that our dogs talk to us all the time? If we just knew what to pay attention to, our dogs worlds would open up to us.

Dogs have a universal language that they use every day. It does not matter what part of the world they are in, it is genetically programed into them. It is so universal even other species of animals can understand them. Mostly what I want to talk about today are dog calming signals and how to not misinterpret them. Most dogs are conflict solving animals. They try to stop a problem before it starts and they use body language to try to calm them selves and others.

There is a great book called On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals written by Turid Rugaas. In it she tells a story….”Imagine you wake up a little late in the morning and you tell the sleeping dog to get off you with annoyance in your voice. Your dog turns his head away from you and licks his nose. You hurriedly grab his leash and take him out for his morning exercise and he’s excited so you say SIT in a rough tone and your dog yawns before he sits down. When you go out the door he pulls you a little so you yank him back and he turns his back to you and puts his nose to the ground. You let him lose at the park and before long its time to go. You call your dog but there’s stress in your voice. Your dogs starts walking towards you slowly in a curve. You think hes doing that just to annoy you so you yell at him. He sniffs the ground, curves even more and looks away from you. He finally comes to you and you scold him or even worse, you shake him. He turns his face from you licking his nose and yawning.”

He’s been talking to you from the moment he woke up, you just didn’t know what to look for. I think a lot of times people put human emotions onto dogs but that’s not fair to anyone. Dogs are not the manipulative creatures we sometimes make them out to be. They truly are just trying to make us happy and keep themselves comfortable as well. The following is a brief overview of some commonly used calming signals your dog is probably using every day..


Head turning;  

A dog will turn her head to the side to tell you when she gets worried or frightened or someone approaches her impolitely. . It can be a slight movement or a clear deliberate movement. When 2 dogs meet they usually both turn their heads for a second then greet each other happily. If a scared dog growls or barks at you, stop moving towards him and turn your head to the side to make him feel better.

Softening of the eyes;

Lowering your eye lids and not staring in a threatening way are signals your dog may use when he wants to look at someone but does not want to seem threatening.

Turning away;

Turning the side or back to someone is calming to dogs. If play gets too rough, a dog will turn his body away to make things calm down a little. You can use this signal when a dog shows nervousness or aggression towards you. If he jumps at you, turn away and more often than not he will stop.


Licking the nose;

This one can happen so fast its hard to see. You dog may use it when approaching another dog, When you bend over your dog or hold her too tight.


A dog will yawn when they are nervous or scared. You can calm your dog down by yawning. Yawning seems to be contagious so your dog might answer your signal with a yawn of her own.


Sniffing a can be a swift fast movement or the dog may keep her nose to the ground until the problem situation is over. When you call your dog and your tone is full of annoyance your dog may sniff several times as she comes to you.

Lying down;

Lying on their back, belly up is a sign of submission. Laying on their stomach is a  very strong  calming signal. If a dog is scared of you, lay down. He will likely come to you in a few seconds.

Play bow;

A play bow can be an invitation to play or a way to relieve tension. You need to look at the other body language involved. If a dog is jumping around excitedly then offers a bow, he most likely wants to play. If a dog is standing still and bows he is nervous. He may do this when his is unsure of someone and wants to become friends.


A dog will freeze and not move a muscle when a big dog approaches or when an owner yells.

Moving slowly;

A dog will mover slower as a way to calm others

Move in an arch;

A dog will walk in an arch to calm others or to seem less threatening

Can you think of a time you thought your dog was being stubborn or maybe you thought your dog looked guilty? Hopefully you can see now that maybe he was just communicating to you that he was scared or nervous and not being naughty at all.

Since we are talking about signals, I should not that not all signals that a dog uses are calming signals. Some threatening signals are staring, walking straight towards someone, standing over another dog, showing teeth, growling, barking. And when a dog is feeling excitement or arousal his hackles and tail will go up.

Hopefully you can learn these signals and incorporate them into your training and every day life and build stronger communication with your dogs.