SECTION 2: Dog Communication Systems
6: Learning To Interpret The Signals – Dog Communication Systems
‘Dogs make endless effort to communicate with humans. Lack of awareness and misinterpretation occur between us because dogs do not understand our language intuitively, and we do not understand theirs.’ (p47)
‘Sure, dogs bark, but most of their communication is done silently, through “dog dancing.” Dogs are excellent observers of prey animals and of each other, and body language takes precedence over spoken language.’ (p48)
‘Your dog doesn’t “express” his emotions as much as he “lives” them. It is crucial that you understand that your dog does not have a “Hidden Agenda.”’ (p48)
‘In order to manage and modify aggressive behaviour efficiently, you need to gain expertise in recognizing the topography of behaviour so you can ascertain the dog’s emotional state. This helps you decide what your next action will be. To avoid clouding the issue with emotional overtones and moral judgement, think of aggression as being one possible strategy to gain or insure exclusive access to a Resource (food, toy, couch).’ (p48)
‘Recall that much of a dog’s language can be divided into Assertive behaviours and Yielding behaviours. Assertive behaviours are ritualized patterns used to gain resources, social or physical distance and, if unheeded, often lead to aggression. Yielding behaviours are signals that are the opposite of aggressive. These signals are used to appease another dog or human, and appear via lowered body posture or a submissive roll. These behaviours are Ritualized Patterns that are used to inhibit aggression.’ (p48)
‘In some cases, selective breeding has altered the physical and visual signals that a dog is capable of giving.’ (p49)
7: Dog Signals & Stress
[Categories of] ‘...intentional Signals that dogs use specifically for Conflict Resolution:
1.Stress-related topography (observable behaviours, behaviour sequence or physical reaction) is that which is primarily reflexive – the Physiological symptoms of stress.
2. Displacement Signals are behaviours done “in place of” something else, and are specifically out-of-context. The dog may be using a familiar activity to “comfort” herself. These signals indicate to others that the dog is feeling stressed.
3. Calming Signals are used as a way to avoid threats and to communicate a wish to prevent confrontation. The dog uses these signals both to calm himself and to communicate to others nearby that he wishes them to remain calm also. These signs indicate that the dog using them has an awareness of personal space infringement (either his own or the other dog’s), and he wishes to communicate his own non-aggressive intent or good will.
4. Distance Increasing Signals (from your dog’s point of view), which say, “Please move out of my personal space,” or perhaps, “Move right on out of my territory.” Maybe even, “Move right on out of my life.”
5. Distance Decreasing Signals are an invitation from a dog to approach. A Yielding behaviour would be one type of Distance Decreasing Signal.’ (p51)
‘It is important to recognize the overt signs of stress, because, at this point, our dogs are telling us that they are in a reactive state. [...]
Signs of stress include:
- Sweaty paw prints
- Vocalization – whining, growling or frantic barking
- Dilated pupils (the physiological response to an adrenaline “dump”)
- White rim on eyes
- Flaring whiskers
- Body tension (stiff, rigid appearance and movements; slow movements)
- Muscle ridge around mouth
- Muscle ridge around eyes
- Dog uninterested in food
- Excessive or frantic activity level
- Increased or decreased energy level
- Shallow breathing
- Rapid breathing or panting with the corner of the mouth drawn back and facial tension
- Holding breath (often a precursor to a bite)
- Excessive, sudden hair loss or exfoliation (dander appearing on the surface of the coat)
- Hypersalivation (drooling)
- Freezing – a dog holding very still with rigid body
- Increased heart rate and respiration
- Flight reactions
- Fight reactions
- Any behaviour you have never seen before may be an indication of stress’ (p52)
8: Displacement Behaviours & Calming Signals
‘[Calming Signals] are used specifically and deliberately by a dog to “calm” down others in the environment. This implies that the dog is aware of personal space (his own and others) and is making an intentional endeavour to communicate with others.’ (p53)
‘Displacement behaviours are used to “distract” the other dog (or person) by using a totally out-of-context behaviour to divert the other dog’s attention – rather like a tap on the shoulder and a “Hey, did you notice this really interesting smell?” in order to divert the other dog’s attention momentarily. It allows a “time-out” from the current activity.’ (p53)
‘Displacement and Calming Signals are often used for the same purpose by the dog: both may indicate stress caused by invasion of personal space past that dog’s comfort zone in this particular context, and a wish to avoid aggression. [...] It is important to note that the same signal can be used to convey more than one meaning.’ (p53)
‘Displacement and Calming Signals are therefore used by dogs to:
- Signal non-aggressive intent
- Indicate stress
- Calm other dogs
- Serve as a familiar “comfortable” behaviour that alleviates a dog’s feeling of insecurity’ (p54)
‘Some common displacement activities are:
- Marking territory
- Increased activity level (fooling around – the equivalent of nervous, inappropriate laughter in humans)
- Looking in a direction away from the threat’ (p54)
‘Dogs use Calming Signals to communicate non-aggressive intent. These signals are used with others who are an unknown entity, with a known entity in potentially volatile situations, and in play situations where the play is beginning to make a dog feel uncomfortable with the direction the play is going.’ (p54)
‘Dogs use the following signals both to indicate stress or a personal space violation, while at the same time to communicate: “I’m friendly – I mean you no harm.” Or perhaps, “You look really nervous, I am not threatening you. Return me a signal so I understand you are not threatening me.” [...]
There are some signals that transfer well to people. That is, there are some signals of non-aggressive intent that humans can make use of to reassure or communicate more effectively. The next time your dog is nervous, try looking away and yawning. Many dogs will show visible signs of relaxation instantaneously. [...]
Other Calming Signals include:
- Looking Away
- Paw lift
- Moving slowly in an arc on approach
- Sitting or lying down
- Slow careful movements
- Sneezing’ (p54-55)
‘[Looking Away and Lip-Licking] is definitely a polite and friendly gesture. This is a great behaviour for humans to use when approaching dogs who are unsure. If a dog is polite enough to give you a “look-away”, you should respond in kind. When approaching timid dogs, you should initiate this. [...] Remember, in a dog’s native language, immediate direct eye contact is rude and considered challenge or threat behaviour.’ (p57)
9: Distance Increasing Signals: To Minimize Contact and Interaction
‘Distance Increasing Signals are designed to gain social distance. Assertive, threatening and aggressive behaviours all fall into this category. [...]
Distance Increasing Signals include:
- Snarling. (Lips are lifted vertically. The line formed by the lips is short.)
- Ears erect or flat.
- Tension in the body or face.
- Stance. (Particularly changes in head/neck position, either raised or lowered.)
- Urination and Ground-Scratching; Marking territory.
- Tail straight or arched over back.
- Wagging just the tip of the tail, or wagging in a short, sharp arc with the tail held “up” over the back as much as the structure of the dog will allow.
- Brief “Look away” at a very tense moment.’ (p60)
‘A piloerector reflex is most often evident when a dog feels uneasy or uncomfortable, and is due to a lack of, rather than an excess of, self confidence.’ (p61)
‘Overt aggressive displays are designed to avoid aggression.’ (p64)
10: Distance Decreasing Signals: To Invite Interaction
‘The following is a list of Distance Decreasing Signals:
- Forequarters lower than rear-quarters (play-bow, greeting or yielding display).
- Avoidance of eye contact.
- Submissive grin. (Lips are pulled back horizontally. The lips look “longer.”)
- Ears slightly lowered, drawn back or drawn so that the pinna is held out to the side of the head.
- Lowering of body.
- Wagging tail.
- Flicking the tongue.
- Lip licking.
- Raising forepaw.
- Rolling over.
- Urinating while rolling over or on back.
- Lifting the rear leg when a human touches the dog near the flank, or when another dog sniffs the area to reveal the inguinal (groin) area.’ (p66)
11: Tails – The Other End
‘Remember to look for “clusters” of signals. Each signal may be a “word,” ut the various signals combined will make the “sentence.” Check the overall body posture and demeanour: look for tension, then look at details. Is the tail still, wagging, over the back, tucked or at half mast? If at half mast, or low – is it normal for that breed or dog?’ (p70)
12: Interpreting Intent Through Observations – Signal Clusters
‘When you observe dog body language, remember that the dog is the “native speaker.” You are learning from the dog and you are not a “native speaker.”’ (p72)
13: The Role of Play Behaviour
‘Playing with several dogs allows [puppies] the opportunity to learn that not all dogs have the same exact display and signals, which is how a dog becomes sophisticated with native language. This makes for a dog who does not get into trouble; in fact, it is hard to get this dog into trouble because he does not overreact to other dogs. Therefore, allowing a puppy to play with other dogs is a way to prevent aggressive behaviour later on in life.’ (p80)
‘A Play Behaviour List might include the following:
- Stalk, Chase
- Bared Teeth
- T position (head over shoulders of the other dog)
- Shoulder/hip slams
- Circling and pushing
- Boxing or sparring
- Mounting with or without pelvic thrust
- Biting littermates’ face/head/neck area
- Ears very erect or very flattened
- Growling vocalizations’ (p80)
‘Play can begin as play and escalate into an aggressive event. If there is going to be a change from Play to Posture, there is a subtle difference, initially, in body tension as the dogs approach. Then, as the interaction continues, rough behaviour escalates. The Posturing Dog begins to ignore signals of discomfort from the other dog.’ (p86)
14: Dog Parks
‘My biggest concern with Dog Parks is that dogs will learn inappropriate language and behaviour from dogs who are rude and unsophisticated with uneducated owners.’ (p89)