Our four-legged friends like us get stressed from time to time and show it mainly through body language.
It is important that we humans learn our dog’s many ways of communicating so that we can reduce their anxiety and prevent potentially disasterous situations from happening. In this post we will go into exploring…
1.Repetitive Lip Licking
3.The Head Turn
4.Growling and Barking
5.Repetitive Lip Licking
When dogs are confronted with a situation that they perceive as threatening or stressful, they carry out various ‘calming signals’ or ‘appeasement gestures.’
In order to calm down a perceived trigger. When two dogs communicate with each other, if one of them starts excessively licking his/her lips, the other dog reads it as a signal to calm itself down and ward off a situation where the use of aggression needs to arise.
If the dog #2 reads this well, he/she will typically back away from the dog that is licking its lips; however, a dog that has had improper socialisation may not interpret these cues, and invade the space of a stressed dog, creating a situation of panic for the other dog which could lead to a messy situation.
Now, when dog’s communicate with humans, they carry out the same body language cues, only humans ignore these small things and don’t interpret them correctly most of the time.
If you notice your dog licking his/her lips excessively and turning their head away from you, you are most likely making them uncomfortable with whatever you are doing at that moment and you need to take a step back.
In this photo, I pointed a finger gun at bear, that always stresses him out, he doesn’t like fingers being pointed at him and he shows me very clearly that it is making him uncomfortable by licking his lips and turning his head away from me.
If I didn’t know how to interpret this small calming signal, and I kept pushing my fingers into his face, and making him feel unsafe, he would probably have to resort to snapping at me to get me to back off.
I have seen pet dog’s exhibit these minute gestures most commonly when their humans try to squish them or hug them too much, pick them up and when they are around someone that makes them feel unsafe.
When a dog does this, he/she is just saying ‘Hey this situation is making me uncomfortable, please back off and don’t push my boundaries further,’ and it is our job as their humans to understand that and give them the space they need.
Dog’s speak, but only to those who listen…
Dog’s yawning can also be a calming signal, it’s their way of saying they’ve had enough of something and they’re running out of patience.
When dog’s deal with stressful situations like going to the vet or getting into elevators you may see them yawn repeatedly as a way of calming themselves down and managing their nervousness.
When dogs communicate with other dogs, they often turn their heads away and yawn if they feel threatened by the other dog as a way of telling the other dog that they are not going to attack.
Dogs do yawn normally as well when they’re tired, but the situation is paired with other calming signals, you might want to figure out what’s stressing them out.
When humans bend over to hug and kiss dogs, it stresses them out quite a bit and this is often the time that I see the dog yawning or licking their lips to calm themselves down.
It is definitely not recommended to bend over and hug random dogs unless you know the dog, and they’re comfortable with you.
The Head Turn
Dogs turn their heads away when they’re feeling stressed. They do this to diffuse the situation. It is both to calm down the person/dog that is stressing them out.
I have most often seen pet dogs do this when people point cameras/phones at them, when they are hugged or kissed all the time against their will and when someone is making eye contact with a dog that is not comfortable with sustained eye contact.
Dog’s show these subtle body language cues to us when they are stressed out and it is so important for pet parents to be able to understand these cues and make sure they don’t push it with a dog that is showing these calming signals leading to an uncomfortable situation for both parties.
Growling & Barking
Growling is a sure-fire way to tell that your dog is feeling uncomfortable. It could either mean that someone is in their space, they feel threatened, or that something hurts.
Remember growling should not be classified as a dog being aggressive. Sometimes most often than not it is a warning sign that your dog is either in discomfort or pain.
Pet owners condemn their dogs from growling and punish them for doing so, but it is important to let your dog growl. The more you punish them the more likely they are going to skip your future warnings and go straight in for a charge or bite.
Don’t punish your dog for growling or even barking.
It is important to respect their space or figure out a different way to get what you want from them. For example: if your pooch is growling over a bone and you need to put the bone away, trade them for a smaller high value treat so you can take the bone away safely.
Barking is similar, in that pups can’t always control it, but they’re trying to tell you that they’re stressed about something.
Prolonged Eye Contact
You can even tell a lot by your dogs eyes, what they are thinking and feeling. As they often say, ‘eyes are windows to the soul.’
For humans direct and prolonged eye contact is considered a form of being respectful and polite.
However, in the dog world when a dog is offering direct and prolonged eye contact it means that they are feeling threatened, and the correct response to a direct stare is to look away and not challenge them.
By looking away you are communicating ‘I am not trying to challenge or hurt you, please don’t hurt me.’
Training your dog to make prolonged eye-contact is a different thing altogether. Teaching our dogs to look at us when we are training is important because it helps us work with them and listen to us.
If we can keep their attention and help them maintain eye contact through the face of distractions, then there is nothing like it. Teaching your dog to maintain eye-contact is a huge accomplishment and should not be taken lightly.
It needs to be taught with positive reinforcement training and complete patience.
‘Calming signals,” was a term developed by Norwegian dog trainer Turid Rugaas.
Rugaas realized that dogs have more than 30 ways to avoid stressful situations and try to calm themselves.