Calming techniques and noticing stress signals in your dog are critical tools for any dog owner to possess. Dogs – like people – don’t learn well while stressed. Sometimes it can be pretty shocking to realize how stressed an animal can be. And I realized we should be reminded of this frequently: knowing calming methods and learning how to spot stress signals in your dog.
Thanks for taking a moment to read my blog. I’m Nea DeMuri, the Dog Trainer & Behaviour Consultant at Furbaby Pet Care.
Learn to spot the stress signals
At first, being able to see signs of stress in dogs made ME stressed since I didn’t really know what to do about it. I felt guilty that I was making my dog unhappy, but I didn’t know how to adjust my training style for him yet. I felt paralyzed by the statement “don’t comfort a stressed dog, you’ll only reward the emotion!” So, I wanted to share some thoughts on how to spot stress signals in your dog and how to employ calming techniques to help them out.
I have always enjoyed observing animal behaviour, which is probably why I was so taken with two rather influential dog trainers who ended up inspiring me from afar as to how I think around dogs.
Influence matters, even in the dog world!
Turid Rugaas is a Norwegian dog trainer and a dog influencer who has been training since 1969. She started educating other dog trainers and giving seminars 1992. Since then, she has conducted workshops in 12 different countries with students from 24 countries. Her work has greatly influenced me. And the late Sophia Yin; a veterinarian, applied animal behaviorist, author and lecturer. She was a pioneer in the use of positive reinforcement for training dogs and was widely recognized as an expert in the training of pets. Dr. Sophia Yin’s work focused primarily on canine body language. I’ve included some posters here of each of these trainers who have influenced so many people worldwide.
What I’ve learned from my research into dog behaviour
- You can’t reward or punish an emotion, only behaviour. (Yes, emotion is attached to behaviour but it’s not a direct link.)
- Ignoring behaviours won’t stop the dog from feeling whatever upsetting emotion they are having, and if no alternative behaviour is taught the dog may escalate their behaviour in an attempt to soothe themselves or gain distance from the stressor
- Calming signals aren’t just a tool for dogs to communicated to you; You can use canine body language to communicate with your dog!
Techniques for positive training
One of my number one “punishments” in dog training is simply turning away. These are called “Negative Punishments” in psychology speak – remove something the dog wants such as attention to reduce an undesirable behaviour. You may have noticed a dog do this at the dog park! Dog 1 approaching, being exuberant and getting right up into Dog 2’s face. Dog 2 stands stiff and looks away.
When faced with something such as demand barking or jumping up I love to use this body language. If a dog barks to get a treat, toy, or cuddles, I stand up, and look away. Now, the key is that you can’t only punish the undesired behaviour; you need to also reinforce what you want the dog to do instead. So when a dog is barking to demand something I use exaggerated “I’m ignoring you” body language but I also mark and reward the behaviour I do want, which in this case is waiting quietly. At first your dog might go right back into barking, then you just whip back around and ignore again. The same procedure for dogs who jump up. This can be even easier to train since what jumping dogs really want is attention, and attention is what is taken away.
Understanding dog body language
Understanding dog body language can also help with meeting nervous dogs or new dogs. First off, it’s important to know that walking straight at a dog can be threatening, as is reaching, or bending over them. When meeting a nervous dog, crouching down, and facing away from them is the best option. Let them sniff your behind, and if they’re seeming comfortable you can gently pet them along their side or under their chin; putting your hand over their face to pet their head can be scary!
Reading canine body language can be difficult at first, they move and change expressions in the blink of an eye. The way I see it, dogs have to put so much effort into understanding us, we may as well put a bit of effort into learning their communication styles too.
Extra notes for you
I first learned of Turid Rugaas’ concept of “calming signals” back in 2010. And Dr. Sophia Yin’s work on dog body language has lots of info and free posters and such. Please check out both these sites.
Consider private training
If you think that group training may not be the right approach for you and your dog, please consider private training with me. One of the challenges of group training is the size and layout of the space often lead to dogs being too close to each other. And I need to be considerate of everyone’s safety. Although reactive dogs usually have no intention to harm, the stress and close proximity could put them over the edge to where they aren’t thinking clearly.
We can even conduct private lessons both in your neighborhood as well as work at the Furbaby campus to see how your pup is able to respond to you in different environments After an assessment and a couple private sessions we could also discuss semi-private lessons.
One more thing!
If you feel like your dog is ready for some training in a group, then please consider FOUNDATIONS FOR YOUNG DOGS which begins September 7, 2021. The class takes place every Tuesday and Thursday for 8 sessions. The cost is $250.00 and is for dogs 6 months to 2 years. This is a beginner level class – no previous training necessary.