Listen to Your Dog

Dogs talk!! Can you believe it? They tell me things! I told my mother this the other day, and I think she just about blew her gasket. She looked at me real concerned, yet entertained, tilted her head and said, “Oh yeah…what DO they tell you?” I told her they tell me lots of things. They tell me they are hungry, tired, scared, nervous, and when they want to play!

I want to share some information on “calming signals” coined by the famous Turid Rugaas.

“To be able to communicate, to be actually understood by dogs, that is a wonderful feeling for people and dogs alike. Calming signals are the key and seeing through that opened door has been looking into a childhood dream of talking to the animals.” -Turid Rugaas

We have to realize dogs are not humans, and yes we have to accomodate them like they accomodate us. They don’t understand english and don’t have the ability to speak it. However, we have the ability to LISTEN to our dogs, just like they listen to us when they understand what we are saying.

For example, if you tell your dog to sit, and they have never learned the command, they will look at you like you are nuts. If you taught them other tricks they might try some of them to try to please you (dogs love to please)! This would be like someone telling you to sit in another language and you wouldn’t understand. How would you feel if someone just pushed you down to sit? Not very good I bet. Dogs don’t either. We need to communicate more effectively. One way is to use treats to mark their behavior. If your dog sits…click and reward! Eventually you catch the behavior and click it and add a name then reward. The dog will associate the word with the action. Just like if that person who told you to sit gave some positive praise when you sat down and said the word again. That would probably be annoying, unless we got some sort of “treat” from the person, like we would give to dogs. There are many ways to teach tricks, but we need to be patient and realize they don’t speak english people!

When dogs are reactive, calming signals are very important for the person and the dog. There are different types of training including BAT where people click calming behaviors, but the most important thing is to recognize them. When your dog is nervous, you should know. Especially if your dog is going to explode. If you have a reactive dog, you know what I mean. You don’t want your dog to reach threshold (where they can’t think they just explode—barking lunging, growling, etc).

Some calming signals I see my dog use frequently is licking her lips, tongue flicking, head turning, and laying down. She knows our neighbors dog is SUPER shy…so she lays down when she sees the dog to calm it down and say, “Hey, it’s okay!”

At training over the weekend, a neighbors dog was barking it’s head off and I knew she was nervous. Not only did I notice her tense body and stiff curled tail, I saw her tongue flicking and licking her lips. If my husband gets too close to her face, she turns her face to say, “I’m nervous, I ned to calm down.” Sometimes dogs are telling others it is okay, and sometimes they are telling YOU they need more space or are nervous.

At first I thought this was not true, I never heard of these calming signals. The more I paid attention to my dog, the more I noticed she did communicate to me…and I wasn’t listening. After more practice I noticed she was telling me things, and I could actually communicate too. Yawning and body shaking are also calming signals. Oreo frequently uses body shaking when she gets out of the car at training to calm herself down. As I’m writing my husband dropped something upstairs and there was a loud noise. Oreo just licked her lips to calm herself down.

You can also use calming signals with your dog. For example, a few minutes ago I did a tongue flick (oh how silly we look to humans) and Oreo responded by laying down saying, “It’s okay mom! Be calm, I am!”

Try and it will amaze you!!

*On a side note, Oreo had training on Saturday and did great! She wanted to play with another dog, but when getting closer, she sat a few feet away. The woman with the other dog was feeding her dog treats and Oreo would look at the woman, then at the dog getting the treat. She would repeat this, taking everything in, trying to understand and watch. She did this all herself with no commands or anything! Then she moved up a few feet and sat right next to the dog (1 foot away). The woman fed both dogs with treats and they were both great! Yay! This is a big landmark for Oreo. Not just because she wanted to play at first, or because she was near the dog without reacting, but because she was CALM. She was focused and didn’t mind the dog was there. In the past she would want to play with the dog and wouldn’t be able to control herself. Puppy Oreo would jump all over the dog. Reactive Oreo would be lunging and putting on her tough act. New Oreo is calm!

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