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San Diego Humane Society

Understanding “Calming Behaviors”

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Training can be hard work for your dog, which can also be amplified by distractions in the environment. A certain amount of stress is normal when learning new things, but all too often people ignore the warning signs that their dogs are experiencing an overload of pressure during training. With this in mind, the following outlines how to gauge your dog’s feelings and comfort level when interacting with you or participating in training sessions.

Your dog is an expert at “telling” you when he feels stress or anxiety. In order to do this, he displays what are known as “calming signals.” These actions are your dog’s way of relieving stress while also communicating to other dogs (and/or you) that he is trying to resolve some inner conflict regarding what is happening around him. It is important to watch for these behaviors in order to help your dog work through stressful situations — whether it’s a training setting or any other situation in his daily routine.

Calming Signals

Animal trainer Turid Rugaas coined the term “calming signals” and spent many years identifying the behaviors dogs employ when dealing with stress and conflict. If you see your dog doing any of the following, you should immediately stop and assess your dog and/or the environment. This is necessary in order to ensure that you maintain an acceptable level of comfort for your dog:

  • Lip licking.
  • Excessive water consumption.
  • Excessive urination.
  • Shaking body (the same as after a bath).
  • Averting eyes.
  • Sniffing the ground more than normal.
  • Excessive scratching.
  • Turning body away from you or something else in the immediate surroundings.

What to Do

If you see your dog displaying any of the above calming signals, you have a couple of options to help your dog become more comfortable. The first is to take a little break. Pet your dog gently or have a brief play session. You may also mirror some of the easier calming signals back to your dog by yawning or licking your lips a number of times until your dog can respond back with the same behaviors. These calming behaviors send the message to your dog: “I’m OK. You’re OK.”

Lastly, if your dog is still uncomfortable, remember that you always have the option of postponing your training session to a later date or removing your dog entirely from the situation.

Behavior Helpline: Contact our Behavior Team

Behavior Helpline

For behavior questions, please contact our Behavior Helpline either by calling 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, emailing behavior@sdhumane.org or filling out our Ask a Trainer form

Questions About Public Classes

San Diego Humane Society offers training classes and resources to address a variety of needs for companion animals.

Our training philosophy is based on the behavioral science concepts of positive reinforcement. Training your pet using these concepts will not only help them learn new behaviors more quickly, it will also strengthen the bond you share.

Our website includes a current schedule of training classes or call 619-299-7012, ext. 2398. 

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