Looking away, sniffing the ground, licking lips and seeming to ignore are polite, “calming signals” to dogs.
Just as we have information that can be helpful to our companion animals, so do they have some lessons for us. I have learned so much about myself and human behavior, from observing and interacting with animals.
My dog, Ginger and I recently moved into a new neighborhood. We go on numerous walks everyday. During our journeys we have met many neighbors. One new neighbor is a dog that barks at us, protecting her territory, every time we pass her yard. In response to the barks, Ginger, would promptly begin giving the dog “calming signals” to communicate that she is not a threat and she respects the dog’s territory. Ginger was using these behaviors and silent communication tools in an attempt to calm the other dog.
Calming signals are a communication from one dog to the other. At first glance they may appear to be one dog simply ignoring the other. In actuality, the dog that seems to not be interested or paying attention, is in fact very much aware. As was the case of Ginger in her attempt to calm the other dog. Ginger would get some distance from the fence and would look away and either keep walking by with her head looking forward, avoiding eye contact or she would sniff at the ground, while walking. When your dog looks like she isn’t doing much, she is often doing a lot! Ginger’s behaviors were clear communications to the barking, protective dog that she had no desire to harm or challenge her or invade her territory. She was a friend, not a foe!
These same interactions happened whenever we would pass and the dog was in her yard. I noticed that sometimes she had biscuits on the porch. She would stand on the porch and bark from there, very obviously guarding what was even more important than her yard; her tasty treats! Ginger never echoed the dog’s barking or responded in any excited physical, non-verbal or audible way. Then one day last week, everything changed.
On that particular day, as we began to pass by the house I saw that the dog quickly ate her biscuits when she saw us. Meanwhile, instead of slowly passing, my dog stopped. I saw that today was going to be a different type of day for these two beauties! I said to Ginger, “Oh. You want to say hi to the doggie today.” She wagged her tail as she waited for the other dog to approach. There were no barks from the other dog. She had protected her treats by eating them and then without any sound, came down off the porch. The two dogs met at the fence and sniffed each other, looking towards each other while both wagged their tails.
It took time and patience on Ginger’s part, but they were now officially friends! The dog learned that Ginger was not a threat and that it was okay for us to walk by and also to approach. I never tried to force the relationship or even encourage things one way or the other. I allowed them the space to work things out, not having any investment in whether it ever progressed beyond what it had been. On their own, they took the time they needed to get to know each other. Ginger helped create a safe place and when our neighbor dog felt safe enough, the relationship changed. The neighbor dog was able to let go of her fear, let down her guard, allow herself to trust and reciprocate Ginger’s friendly gestures.
There was something else that was different about this day. In the yard next door to Ginger’s new friend was another dog. Although he had a stockier build, he looked very similar to Ginger’s new friend, but I was told they are not related. After enjoying a few minutes of new found friendship with the female neighbor, Ginger and the male neighbor were instantly excited to see each other and approached each other with little hesitation. The two greeted, smelling each other through the fence, wagging tails and showing genuine excitement to have met each other. Ginger started bowing, exhibiting her desire to play. She went to the gate and looked at me, trying to convince me I should open it so they could play. Instant puppy love! Although I couldn’t open up the gate or take away the fence barrier between them, I did share in the excitement of this new bond. I enjoyed watching both friendships blossom.
How people express politeness when greeting, is very different from how a dog with “good” manners might greet another dog.
Obviously there are a number of lessons that can be taken from this experience. But the main one that I want to share is that all relationships are different. All friendships are different. Each individual soul is unique. It is the two unique souls coming together that create the interaction. Since no two souls are exactly alike, it is impossible for any union to be exactly the same.
Some meetings are immediate connections of kindred souls. Others have challenges and may take time, patience, kindness and compassion to work through. Even if there is fear, avoidance or not seeing eye to eye in the beginning, that doesn’t mean there isn’t the potential for friendship or at least, civil communication.
Below are some examples of canine calming signals. Watch dogs’ interactions to see if you can spot them while they are happening! You can even try them yourself, with your dog to enhance your communication and display greater understanding.
- Turning the head or body to the side or away
- Looking away or averting the eyes
- Licking lips
- Sniffing the ground
- Moving very slowly
- Moving in a curve or arc, not a direct path or head on towards another dog
My name is Sindi Somers. I am an animal communicator and energy reader with a desire to assist with people and animals understanding each other better. Instead of training, I like to use the word, education. Because that is really what I see it as. Using a foundation of energy awareness and positive reinforcement techniques, I approach each situation individually. No being is the same, regardless of the body it is housed in. Dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, rabbits, fish and people; regardless of the species, each soul is unique. I offer long distance sessions for anyone, anywhere in the United States and the world. However, at this time I am only able to conduct sessions in English, so an interpreter may be needed. I also offer in person sessions, including home visits in San Diego County, and at times other areas of southern California, including Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside Counties. I am available to travel to your location outside of southern California, in certain instances, depending on the situation and requested dates. Although I am available on short notice, at times depending on my schedule, advance notice is generally required for all appointments requiring short or long distance travel. I can be reached at 619-797-0705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading my blog!