A close-up of a dog's face.

Puppy Pointers: Identifying calming signals

By Kezia Gray, Puppy Raising Supervisor, CNIB Guide Dogs

Although dogs can't verbally communicate with us using words, they can communicate effectively using their body. In fact, dogs are masters of body language. They display an array of “calming signals”, a term coined by Norwegian dog trainer, Turid Rugaas. Calming signals are physical movements that are often overlooked because most of us simply don’t understand the language of dogs. When a dog displays calming signals, they are attempting to either calm themselves or to calm a situation that is causing them to feel some level of stress. Therefore, calming signals are often referred to as “stress signs” because they also indicate that the dog is stressed.

The first calming signal that a puppy will display and one of the most common, is yawning. Puppies will often yawn when they are experiencing something new. It is important for us to notice these signs, assess the immediate situation and decide what course of action to take so the puppy feels relaxed.

Calming signals to look out for:

  • Yawning
  • Looking away
  • Lip licking
  • Sniffing
  • Scratching
  • Curving around something
  • Softening of the eyes
  • Pinned ears
  • Stiffening of the body
  • Shake off

A puppy may display calming signals when they are learning a new command such as “sit” for the first time. In this case, the puppy is not in any danger, they are just expressing their frustration with having to learn something new, so make sure you keep the session short to keep the experience positive.

However, if you notice your puppy displaying calming signals when there is something in the environment that might be scary for the puppy, then we need to act. In most cases, the puppy will just need more space from whatever is causing them to be uncomfortable, so he or she can feel safe.