Calming Signals

As we have been discussing Turid and her calming signals, here are some snippets I wrote once before, after doing a course with her. Some quotes are taken from her book “Calming Signals” but it gives you a taste and a little understanding, although I strongly recommend the book, this lady’s methods work brilliantly.

Turid believes that dogs, being flock animals have a language for communication with each other. It consists of a large variety of signals, using body, face, ears, tail, sounds, movement and expression. If we study the signals dogs use with each other and use them ourselves, we increase our ability to communicate with our dogs. In order to maintain a healthy social hierarchy and resolution of conflict within the pack.

The signals are used by both Wolf and domesticated dog alike, except in wolves the signals come over in capital letters due to them being in a life situation, in domesticated dog they come over in smaller letters if you like. They are used to prevent things from happening, avoiding threats from people and dogs, calming down nervousness, fear, noise and unpleasant things. They are used for calming themselves when they feel stressed or to make others around them feel safer and understand the goodwill the signals tell about.

As Turid rightly says “Wolves and dogs try to avoid conflict, they are conflicting-solving animals. It is usually us, the human species, who make conflicts between us and our dogs”.

Lets look at that communication within a scenario:

Your dog comes up to you and fusses around you, you command him to SIT. The commanding tone makes your dog yawn before he sits down.

You go out the door, he pulls a little and you jerk him back, he then turns his back on you and puts his nose to the ground.

You let him off leash at the park and when its time to go home you call your dog. Was your voice a little stressed? Your dog starts moving towards you slowly and in a curve. You think he does it to annoy you and you yell at him. He sniffs the ground, curves even more and looks away from you. He finally comes to you and you scold him or, even worse, you shake him up. He turns his face from you, licking his nose or yawning.

Dogs use the signals as soon as there is anything to calm down. Often signals come in quick movements and you have to really look to see them. By experience you will learn to see them, just as other dogs see them, even other animals, like cats. All it takes is a little patience and practice.

Just imagine being able to travel the world and everywhere you go you speak the same language! No matter what size/sex/breed/colour/shape all dogs inherited this language.

Dogs and Wolves have strong instincts for conflict solving, communication and cooperation.

The calming signals
Turning of the head This can be swift, turning the head to the side and back, or held to the side. This is a sign the dog is not comfortable. Examples of this are often seen:

  • His head may turn if you stoop over him
  • If another dog approaches him to fast
  • If she finds a camera being pointed in her direction scary

You can use the turning of your head to communicate to a dog that seems scared and starts to growl or bark at you Sometimes its not the head, but the eyes only from side to side and look away to avert a direct stare. Your dog may use it if you stare at him or approach front to front.

Turning away

Turning the side or back to someone is very calming. When dogs play and that game gets wild some of them will start turning their side or back, just to calm the game down a little. Your dog may use it if another dog acts threateningly, or growls at him.You can use it when a dog shows signs of nervousness or aggressiveness to you. If he jumps at you, turn away and most times he will stop. If your approaching a strange dog and you see the dog getting nervous, turn your back and more often than not the dog will come to you.

Licking Noses

A quick movement of the tongue, so quick it is often missed. Your dog may use it, along with other signals when approaching another dog, if you the owner bends over the dog, holds him tight, grabs him or talks to him angrily. It is one signal we as humans can not use, we are not quick enough!


The most intriguing of the signals, at least people seem to enjoy using it. Your dog may yawn when you visit the Vets, when you fight or quarrel in the family, when you hold your dog to tight, when a child comes up to hug him, and many other situations. You can use it when your dog feels uncertain, a little scared, stressed, worried or when you want him to calm down a bit.