Reading dog body language


​​​What is a Dog calming signal?


Calming signals are set of body language skills which dogs use to maintain healthy relationships and resolve conflict without having to resort to aggressive behaviors. Calming signals can be very subtle or overt from a slight head turn away and sniffing the ground or scratching themselves to a large vocal yawn. Calming signals both help dogs calm themselves and others when dealing with stress or over excitement. Dogs use these signals in early in interactions such as passing another dog on the side walk, responding to a dog charging them in a field or meeting a dog for the first time. Many dogs make use of calming signals in an effort to simply show goodwill or to ask the other dog for more information. 'I am calm and will be respectful tell me that you are going to be calm and respectful.' All breeds of dogs have calming signals; however docking a dogs ears, tails or wearing clothing can hinder a dogs calming signals and make it hard for approaching dogs to read how your dog is feeling. Puppies and dogs need the opportunity to practice their signals. An example you are approaching another dog on the sidewalk and your dog stops and sniffs the ground or stops and scratches allow your dog to keep scratching or sniffing. Don't force or coax your dog into the greeting. Definitely don't punish your dog for using calming signals.

Looking for a webinar?

The ASPCA has put together a Canine Communication Webinar which is informative and a great resource. Click here Dogs with the inability to use and understand calming signals struggle in socialization.

Calming signals for dogs

  • Looks away” (turning the head to the side, away from the other dog or person)

  • Yawning

  • Large sigh

  • Sniffing associative (becoming very interested in not much of anything)

  • Paw raise is like a question... tell me more? are your cool? (raising one of the front paws off the ground)

  • Shake offs (can be a slight head shake off or entire body, as if wet)

  • Scratching (many people think their new puppies have dry skin)

  • Blinking slowly

  • Lip licking (or nose licking)

  • Tongue flicks

  • Moving in an arc (approaching or leaving a wide berth moving in a semi-circle,

  • Sitting or lying down with their back to the other dog

  • Stretching (usually with their front paws down and rear high) similar to but is not a play bow

  • Making a “soft face” – ears back, soft eyes, etc.

Using calming signals with your puppy or dog

Calming signals come in handy when training your puppy or dog when they get over excited.

If your puppy stops performing his cue or command and stops and turns away from you and scratches

Turn your head, a loud sigh or yawn and take a break.

Your puppy will be happy that you understand what they are trying to say.

What are stress signals in dog body language?

Displacement Behaviors (also known as stress signals).

Early signs are the same as calming signals remember that your dog is telling you that they are uncomfortable

  • Lip licking

  • Shaking (as if wet)

  • Yawning

  • Inappropriate licking of owner or self

​How dog body languages progresses as the stress heightens and can turn aggressive

​Lowered body posture

  1. Ears flat back

  2. Averted eyes (looking away, or darting in directions (Hyper vigilant) Whale yes (eyes wide and whites of eyes showing)

  3. Hackles up - must be observed with other body language as it could be excitement, fear or aggression

  4. Leaning back on haunches

  5. Backing away

  6. Hiding

  7. Shaking or shivering

  8. Whining or growling

  9. Air snapping no context

  10. Snapping or bite with connecting with skin or clothes

  11. Lunging with growling

  12. Lung with snapping (no contact

  13. Biting while back is turned to bite the backs of legs, or pants when human is walking away

  14. Tooth Display

  15. Defensive - has most of their teeth showing front and back

  16. Offensive - only front incisors showing including the canines

  17. Submissive Grin - similar to defensive, but coupled with submissive body postures.

​Never approach, advance or use force on a dog displaying an highly stressed or aggressive body language.

Seek processional help from a veterinary behaviorist who can diagnose aggression.

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