Dogs are emotional beings and need time and love. As their guardians, it becomes vital for us to understand their body langauge to know what they want to convey.
The emotional needs of your dog are as vast and complicated as the emotional needs of humans. Dogs feel grief and can take a long time to deal with the loss of a family member. At the same time, they feel the need to bond with their family members, need time to adjust to new family members such as a new partner or new baby in the same way we do. They also feel the need to belong within a family or pack and need to make choices. They need space as we do and need to feel safe and secure, to live in harmony with their humans and other pets within the family.
Dogs have a well-developed communication system in which they communicate with one another, other animals and to their human family. It is up to us to learn this communication system known as calming signals so we can develop a better relationship and understanding with our dog. Without some knowledge of this communication we are very limited in our understanding of what our dog is trying to tell us, how he may be feeling, his needs and when he is afraid or insecure. Much of the dog’s commu-nication is ignored or not understood by their human family, making it hard for the dog to try and communicate his needs to them. Learning your dog’s body language and calming signals is paramount to developing your understanding of your own dog, his stress levels and what he is trying to tell you.
Some of the calming signals your dog uses to communicate are: panting, blinking eyes, yawning, turning head, turning body, whining, barking, growling, wagging tail, sitting, laying down, urinating, splitting up, lip licking
and many more. Every dog is different and will use some calming signals more than others.
It is up to the owner to understand which signals their dog is using and what their dog is telling them by his body language. We must learn this body language if we want a good relationship with our dog and to meet our dogs’ needs in every aspect of his life.
One example of our dog using calming signals is when dogs go between partners. Two people may be sitting on a sofa and hugging each other, then suddenly the dog jumps up and goes between the couple. This behaviour is often mistaken for jealousy but, in fact the dog is splitting up a potential conflict.
Dogs are natural conflict solvers. If two dogs were too close together, then a third dog would go in between to split up a potential conflict. As their humans we can use this same behaviour with our dogs by walking between them to split up and calm a situation.
It is not normal for dogs to hug each other by placing their paws over each other or making contact the way humans do. The dog sees this as threatening and a potential for conflict and will come between in order to calm the situation and prevent conflict. Dogs prefer to live in harmony and to know their family members are not going to get into a conflict. This is the same in a multi-dog household when a family member pets one dog, another may rush over and come between in order to prevent a potential conflict and calm the situation down.
On Talking Terms with Dogs : Calming Signals – by Turid Rugaas (www.qanuk.com)Parenting Your Dog – by
Trish King (www.qanuk.com)
(Nicole Mackie is a dog-training instructor at the Sheila Harper Canine Education Centre in the Midlands of England. She also takes clicker-training seminars in New Zealand.)