Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas
Video version (right)
The video is rated 4.8-stars, while the book only merits 3.5-stars. I’d recommend purchasing both as I did, but I was not as impressed with the book until I watched the DVD. Yes, they contain the same basic material, but the book, at 80-pages seemings like a glancing blow. The 48-minute video feels more complete and it is hard to illustrate dog behavior with still images.
Calming Signals is a concept created by author Turid Rugaas, a Norwegian dog trainer so noted that she was awarded a medal for achievement by her King. Most of the video cuts have a 1992 date on them, so the concept has staying power. As does canine behavior, worked out over millennia.
I learned about calming signals in Kat Albrecht’s Missing Animal Response course for pet detectives-in-training. Kat teaches these behaviors — how dogs communicate with one another — as methods humans can use to calm frightened and/or agitated dogs so they can (eventually) be captured. They are, however, much more broadly useful in understanding how dogs — all dogs — behave and why they do what they do. I’ve posted a video clip below.
The video and book are about dog/dog interactions, with only a sprinkling of complementary human behaviors included. These are canine interactions you see all the time, but the point of the video is that everything a dog does has meaning. Yawning? Calming signal. Licking its lips? Another calming signal. Small play bows? You guessed it.
Everything dogs do when approaching one another is intended to communicate something. The most important signals are intended to communicate, “I mean you no harm and, maybe, we can even be friends.” Rugaas teaches humans not to interfere with calming signals and to, when necessary, make a wide curve to pass another animal. Another calming signal.
Last week, I used calming signals — approaching slowly (walking, no car which would send the animal running), sitting a distance away (40-50 feet), pretending to eat (while scrunching a noisy bag), and eventually tossing food, over about 10 minutes to get a missing, and very fearful dog to take food from my hand. I did not catch the dog — that took a trap and different rescuers the next day — but I am sure their calming signals helped capture the animal. Who we know for sure was more than 30 miles from his old home.
I make no claim to animal behavior expertise, but I often work with dogs in various emotional states and the better I understand what they are telling me and the better my ability to communicate back, the more successful I’ll be. You may think you know and understand what dogs are telling one another, but this video and book have helped me a lot.
Video on right
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