Canine Calming Signals

Calming signals, as described by Norwegian ethologist and dog behaviourist, Turid Rugaas, are very subtle changes in the body of a dog which suggest building stress. These body language changes are used to diffuse conflict, before it happens. A calming signal is a polite request to another dog to change their behaviour and therefore prevent any dispute from occurring. Two of the calming signals people see most frequently are “licking of the nose” and “yawning.” Other signs that can be calming signals are; turn away, softening of the eyes (squinting), freezing, play bow, sitting down, lying down, sniffing, scratching and splitting up. Some key indications of stress, by body part, are shown below.


  • Dilated pupils.

  • Tightness around eyes.

  • Whale eye/ Half-moon eye.


  • Yawning.

  • Lip/Nose licking.

  • Panting.

  • Excess salivation.

  • Smiling.

  • Teeth chattering.

  • Cheek puffing.

  • Showing teeth.

  • Wrinkled muzzle.


  • Pinned back.

  • Upright and alert.

  • Out to the sides can be a gesture of appeasement.

  • The further back the ears fo the more worried a dog may be.

  • A worried dog with heavy ears (like a spaniel) will pinch their ears the side of the head.


  • Tense all over.

  • Stretching.

  • Excessive shedding.

  • Freezing – little or no movement.

  • Urogenital “check-out”.

  • Low body posture, weight shifted back.

  • Trembling/shaking.

  • Sweaty paws.

  • Tight brow.

  • Shake off.


When stressed, a dog’s behaviour will often change. Common behaviours that are often stress induced are:

  • Restless, inability to relax.

  • Poor sleeping habits.

  • Excessive sleeping, often due to exhaustion.

  • Jumpy/Hyper-vigilant.

  • Irritable.

  • Destructive.

  • Excessive self-grooming.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Obsessive/Compulsive behaviours.

  • Inability to focus.

  • Hyperactivity.

  • Increased urination and defecation.

  • Vomiting and diarrhoea.


Dogs may also indicate they are stressed through vocalizations. Some of the more common stress related vocalizations are:

  • Barking – low pitch = threatening, high pitch = fear/stress

  • Growling.

  • Howling.

  • Whining.

Whilst the list isn't exhaustive, it's a really good idea to look out for these signs in your dog and if you see them - ask yourself what's triggering them and what you can do about it.

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©2020 by Sally Gutteridge.