Apparently, there’s a little “controversy” going on regarding “calming” signals.
Some people call them calming signals, and mean that they are signals that the dog is calming down. As in, they are self soothing, and those are the “tells”.
Other people say that they are “stress” signals. As in, the dog is worried and feeling anxious, and those signs are their “tells”. I’m not talking about ALL “stress signals”. I’m talking about the overlapping ones. Obviously, “Whale Eye” isn’t a “Calming Signal”. The arguments occur in the overlapping ones. “Yawning”, “Shake Offs”, Etc…..
Still, other people say that they are trying to calm other beings down. This is popular socialization circles. They see the dog doing “Shake Offs” and feel like it’s not a “tell” of their feelings, but that they are actually trying to signal the other dog to calm down.
These discussions can get heated.
(Of course….. everything gets heated on the internet)
So…. Who’s right?
They all are.
Dogs use signals for all of those reasons.
Communication evolves. And here is my opinion of how these developed.
Dogs naturally display certain indicators of relaxation. These are the classic indicator type of calming signals. The dog isn’t consciously doing them. They are “tells” of their deepening relaxation.
When this is done enough….. Dogs have trained themselves in conditioned relaxation. As in, they associate those actions with a deepening sense of relaxation, and when they start feeling stressed, they do them in an attempt to induce the sensation associated with it. It’s the same signals designed to self soothe. Same signals….. Drastically different causes.
This happens when they interact with other Dogs. They feel stressed, and so they display those signals. The other dogs see this and (if they aren’t rude little shits) back off a bit. Dogs see the pattern, and realize that those signals can induce relaxation in others. Now they are using them as a communication. Same signals…. Another TOTALLY different cause.
That doesn’t seem helpful.
If they can mean all three things, how are you supposed to know what they mean?
Ah….. The same way that you know your wife is pissed, before she says a word. The same way you know your best friend has a secret they’re just dying to tell you. You get to fucking know your dog!
The same expression can mean they are getting calm, and that calm is leaking out. They’re getting stressed and trying to self regulate. Hell, they can literally be asking you for help with that same signal! As in “Mom….. help! I’m scared of that!”.
Your main job in this relationship (hell in ANY relationship) is to learn their communication. It’s about very subtle differences, and context.
If my dog is laying in front of a fire place and yawns….. He’s probably deepening into “relaxed”. That’s a calming signal.
If I’m having him face some of his issues during training and he yawns. He’s probably self soothing. And that’s a stress signal.
If he’s playing in the yard with dogs, and yawns out of nowhere, and that’s just before play stopped for a second. That was a calming signal as in “hey let’s take it down a notch”.
You have to go through training and life experiences with your dog until you “know” what they’re saying.
So, they’re all right.
Pay attention to your dog, and let them tell you what they mean.
Next time you are on the internet with someone over the meaning of dog signals….
Quickly look over your shoulder and see if your dogs isn’t sitting there just trying to tell you something.
It’s a relationship. Go relate.
2 thoughts on “Calming Signal Or Stress Signal”
a yawn can also be an implied threat showing disdain – a simulated relaxed attitude in the presence of a possible threat, and a display of sharp white teeth as an example of what can happen if attacked – it takes a very secure, very confident dog to make this display, but it seems to be very effective in preventing aggression – it’s sort of, “I’m not going to attack you, but this is what you’ll have to deal with if you attack me”
I found Dr. Jim Ha’s opinion on calming signals very helpful:
You have to search for the word calming signals in the thread. It helped me understand why there is a lack of meaning for the term calming signals and why we need to move back to terms that are used in classical ethological literature.