Jump to content

Are These Calming Signals?


Guest CleverJason
 Share

Recommended Posts

Guest CleverJason

Baron, my five-year-old, has always licked his lips and swallowed continuously when I pet him, especially when he's laying down. I've had him for two years. It occurred to me at one point that these might be calming signals, so when he'd do this, I'd stop petting. Immediately, he'd paw at me or start squirming until the petting resumed, at which point he'd start swallowing and licking his lips again, often with his eyes closed.

 

Are these always calming signals? I don't want to keep petting my dog when he's showing me he's uncomfortable, but he apparently wants me to...and he appears to enjoy it. Could this just be a weird personality trait?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cole does that often too. Calming signals don't always signify anxiety, sometimes they can signify pleased excitement. I worried at first too and I'd stop petting him but then he'd paw at my hand and shove his nose under my palm so it was clear he didn't want me to stop! :D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

THANKYOU! My boy does this too. He is still new to me but seems to do it when happy. When stressed he yawns or shakes his whole body from what I can tell. He licks his lip very slowly like an old scholar thinking..LOL He paws the ground too and shows he wants MORE please, then leans against me for whole body hug.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You would see a big YAWN and an attempt to look away if it was a 'worried' calming signal.

Peggy will do that licking and swallowing when happy, and also nitting of teeth. Her calming signals are unmistakeable yawn and look away... look down and appear to be doing something else before meeting another dog etc.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Each dog will use they signals in their own way. You just need to pick up on what your dog is saying by his movements - which you've done well.

Chris - Mom to: Lilly, Felicity (DeLand), and Andi (Braska Pandora)

35764734494_93de5b5963_b.jpg

Angels: Libby (Everlast), Dorie (Dog Gone Holly), Dude (TNJ VooDoo), Copper (Kid's Copper), Cash (GSI Payncash), Toni (LPH Cry Baby), Whiskey (KT's Phys Ed), Atom

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You're going to have to forgive me for getting up on my soapbox a bit, but I really hate the term "calming signals". :sbox Outside of the terms related to (outdated, completely false) dominance theory, calming signals is high on my list to eliminate from our vocabularies. :) The things that Turid Rugaas labeled as calming signals can more accurately be broken down into 2 categories - stress signals and appeasement signals. Stress signals are things like yawning, lip licking, etc. I think of those as along the lines of us biting our fingernails when we're nervous, or twirling a lock of hair around our finger repeatedly. They're nearly subconscious gestures that we do in response to stress or anxiety, but we're not doing them to calm the person we're interacting with. Appeasement (or deference) signals are body language that tell the other dog that the dog doing them means no harm. These are specifically meant to avoid conflict - things like turning the head away, softening the eyes, lowering the body to the ground or rolling over onto the back, etc. This would be something like, if I bumped into you on the sidewalk and you turned angrily toward me, me backing up a teeny bit with my head somewhat lowered and my hands out saying "Sorry, it was an accident".

 

Yay Turid for drawing our attention to canine body language in a way that allows us to consider whether the dog is unnecessarily stressed, not so yay for mislabeling them and implying an intent that I suspect isn't really there.

 

Having said all of that, the thing about any of these signals is that it doesn't mean that EVERY time the dog does them they're stressed or anxious. But when you see a pattern of the dog doing it in response to the same thing, or especially when you see multiple signals at once, it's worth considering whether the dog is uncomfortable. The thing about lip licking in particular - I really break that down into more than one behavior. There's stress licking, which to me is a wider swipe of the tongue. But dogs can also do tongue flicks, where the tongue just pokes out a little bit directly through the front of the mouth, and I think these are often in response to something pleasurable for the dog. Wondering if perhaps that's what you're seeing with your dog since his other behavior - the pawing and so forth - clearly indicate he finds the interaction pleasurable.

 

My last caveat so to speak - I remember sitting in an seminar on dog body language that I organized with a well regarded dog training & behavior expert for my greyhound group. When she got to the licking part, there was something of an uproar because so many people had seen their own greyhounds doing it in response to petting and it just wasn't possible that their dogs were stressed by petting. I suspect that in many cases there dogs were slightly conflicted by it. These are dogs who are used to sleeping undisturbed and that's been the case for years once we get them. So even dogs who come to enjoy the act of petting I think can still remain somewhat conflicted by it, especially depending on how it's initiated. It doesn't mean the dog is going to bite you, but it's worth being aware of. Zuri, my 11 year old greyhound to this day will lick his lips if I start petting him when he's resting on a bed or furniture, but he stops fairly quickly and I'm quite sure he does enjoy the petting based on his willingness to snuggle up into me and put his head in my lap for more pets (if he repositions himself with his head away though, I will stop). I just think it's that initial moment of being disturbed that throws him just a tiny bit - and he is a dog who had sleep startle issues when I got him so that makes sense.

 

So yeah, like I said, soapbox. Probably much more info than you needed, but I'm throwing it out there anyway. :P To your original question, I certainly don't think you need to be too concerned. :)

Edited by NeylasMom

gallery_12662_3351_862.jpg

Jen, CPDT-KA with Zuri, lab in a greyhound suit, Violet, formerly known as Faith, Skye, the permanent puppy, Cisco, resident cat, and my baby girl Neyla, forever in my heart

"The great thing about science is that you're free to disagree with it, but you'll be wrong."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Neyla's Mom... Appeasement actually involves 'calming' :sbox

 

There are many different kinds of tongue licking too not least in terms of frequency as well as amplitude, same with tail wagging. I'm quite good at spotting delinquent dogs with ill-intent from the slightest signs, good at spotting Greyhound 'park boredom' too with annoying and almost obsessive ground-sniffing, good at knowing when 'statueing' is about to occur and the cunning thoughts behind it (going the wrong way, want to hang back and then chase, just plain cussed because you told me off earlier etc)

 

I'm quite for reinventing the the wheel when it comes to animal behaviour studies. Many years ago I studied Zoology at uni and some of the nonsense they were peddling about herd behaviour in cattle made me so mad. We had around 200 of them on the farm and I'd grown up with them. Many ideas fall out of favour for a few years and then come back in when the most vociferous deniers' new ideas themselves become passe. Damming is one of them... there has to be a release that means something to the animal or it will become dysfunctional. Same for people if we keep putting them down just a little bit too long. Dominance theory too will be become un-denied and most likely return as 'tough-love bullying'. Still... it's interesting to see what we see and then work out how the magician tricked us.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thankyou for that explaination :) It makes MORE sense now. I let sleeping greys sleep in my house. (as one who is a super grump if woken up myself..LOL) He comes to me for pets, cuddles and rooing. I can tell him he's a good boy when laying down on the ground and he'll lick his front lip, like an inch of tongue out, then back in. Tail can be wagging too. his lips do this shivering thing as well. (I got told thats a happy thing?).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest CleverJason

You're going to have to forgive me for getting up on my soapbox a bit, but I really hate the term "calming signals". :sbox Outside of the terms related to (outdated, completely false) dominance theory, calming signals is high on my list to eliminate from our vocabularies. :) The things that Turid Rugaas labeled as calming signals can more accurately be broken down into 2 categories - stress signals and appeasement signals. Stress signals are things like yawning, lip licking, etc. I think of those as along the lines of us biting our fingernails when we're nervous, or twirling a lock of hair around our finger repeatedly. They're nearly subconscious gestures that we do in response to stress or anxiety, but we're not doing them to calm the person we're interacting with. Appeasement (or deference) signals are body language that tell the other dog that the dog doing them means no harm. These are specifically meant to avoid conflict - things like turning the head away, softening the eyes, lowering the body to the ground or rolling over onto the back, etc. This would be something like, if I bumped into you on the sidewalk and you turned angrily toward me, me backing up a teeny bit with my head somewhat lowered and my hands out saying "Sorry, it was an accident".

 

Yay Turid for drawing our attention to canine body language in a way that allows us to consider whether the dog is unnecessarily stressed, not so yay for mislabeling them and implying an intent that I suspect isn't really there.

 

Having said all of that, the thing about any of these signals is that it doesn't mean that EVERY time the dog does them they're stressed or anxious. But when you see a pattern of the dog doing it in response to the same thing, or especially when you see multiple signals at once, it's worth considering whether the dog is uncomfortable. The thing about lip licking in particular - I really break that down into more than one behavior. There's stress licking, which to me is a wider swipe of the tongue. But dogs can also do tongue flicks, where the tongue just pokes out a little bit directly through the front of the mouth, and I think these are often in response to something pleasurable for the dog. Wondering if perhaps that's what you're seeing with your dog since his other behavior - the pawing and so forth - clearly indicate he finds the interaction pleasurable.

 

My last caveat so to speak - I remember sitting in an seminar on dog body language that I organized with a well regarded dog training & behavior expert for my greyhound group. When she got to the licking part, there was something of an uproar because so many people had seen their own greyhounds doing it in response to petting and it just wasn't possible that their dogs were stressed by petting. I suspect that in many cases there dogs were slightly conflicted by it. These are dogs who are used to sleeping undisturbed and that's been the case for years once we get them. So even dogs who come to enjoy the act of petting I think can still remain somewhat conflicted by it, especially depending on how it's initiated. It doesn't mean the dog is going to bite you, but it's worth being aware of. Zuri, my 11 year old greyhound to this day will lick his lips if I start petting him when he's resting on a bed or furniture, but he stops fairly quickly and I'm quite sure he does enjoy the petting based on his willingness to snuggle up into me and put his head in my lap for more pets (if he repositions himself with his head away though, I will stop). I just think it's that initial moment of being disturbed that throws him just a tiny bit - and he is a dog who had sleep startle issues when I got him so that makes sense.

 

So yeah, like I said, soapbox. Probably much more info than you needed, but I'm throwing it out there anyway. :P To your original question, I certainly don't think you need to be too concerned. :)

 

You described exactly what Baron does, and now I know not to worry about it. Thanks for setting me straight on the "calming signals" term, too!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yawning and lip licking can be used in a variety of ways by canines. It can depend on who or what they are dealing with. My dog uses them for people only, never for other dogs. If I hold a peice of meat in my hand the lip licking goes into overdrive. It is a clear "don't worry, I won't attack you and take your meat, but I am so polite that you should give me some". When I hug him it is almost constant yawning. If I let go and move away he follows and puts himself back "into my arms" and then starts yawning again. Not an ounce of stress, not conflicted, just pure joy. The dog just feels the need to let me know that he is not a threat. Part of his routine involving contact with me. (He does not yawn with other humans.)

 

When he greets other dogs (he ignores most), I only ever see a quick turn of the head from him and he always makes the first move. Approaching dogs must then also turn the head, or lick lips, or sniff the ground, or drop to the ground. Failure to comply brings a fearsome response which is always followed by compliance and then happy bum sniffing.

 

and BTW, calming and appeasement are the same thing, at least as far as the terms are used here.

Edited by KickReturn
Link to comment
Share on other sites

:lol I think it is hilarious that you think his lip licking is about conveying that detailed message and not because food causes a physiological response - salivating - that then leads to lip licking. Occam's Razor friend. Or the law of parsimony if you prefer.

gallery_12662_3351_862.jpg

Jen, CPDT-KA with Zuri, lab in a greyhound suit, Violet, formerly known as Faith, Skye, the permanent puppy, Cisco, resident cat, and my baby girl Neyla, forever in my heart

"The great thing about science is that you're free to disagree with it, but you'll be wrong."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

:lol I think it is hilarious that you think his lip licking is about conveying that detailed message and not because food causes a physiological response - salivating - that then leads to lip licking. Occam's Razor friend. Or the law of parsimony if you prefer.

 

When he is dealing with his saliva it is a totally different type of licking, more of a sweeping around the lips with the tongue. The calming licks are smaller darting movement just at the front of his mouth. I assume you are very familiar with the difference.

 

And to make matters even more interesting I see the calming type when there is no food - pretty much whenever I look at him. Also, if he knows the food is his and not mine (despite the fact that I may be holding it) then there are none of the "little" licks. He just goes over to his bowl to wait for me to drop it in.

 

I guess the assumptions are somewhat fewer than you might have assumed lol.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the biggest thing about canine body language is also the one that gets most neglected, because it's the most subtle: stiffness or tension throughout the body. Tail-wagging, lip licking, and yawning are easier to talk about because they're clear actions, but identifying tension takes time and familiarity with your dog. I find that being able to identify tension will also help you figure out whether a dog's specific behaviour falls into the category of calming/appeasement signals or not.

For example, Sam will lick his lips and yawn when stressed by a person, wag his tail furiously when he is concerned by another dog, and growl low and soft when he feels that someone is in his personal space when he doesn't want them to be. He will also lick his lips after he's eaten something delicious, yawn when he's tired, wag his tail when he's happy or excited, and let out a big deep groan when he's contented! Over time, I've learned to distinguish between instances of the first type and instances of the second type (it took a few warning nips!) by paying attention to what his WHOLE body is doing. Are his ears perked up? Is his mouth tight and hard? His lips and jaw? Are his shoulders tense? Is his breathing shallow and fast? Are his eyes wide open, showing the whites? These are all signs of a tense dog, and a tense dog who shows behaviours that may be considered calming signals is more likely to be using them as such.

 

I also consider the context for the behaviour. Has he just eaten when he's licking his lips, or just woken up as he yawns? You can sometimes identify a calming signal by whether or not the behaviour is actually effective at what it would otherwise be trying to accomplish. Sam's nervous lip licking are shallow flicks of the tongue up over his nose: if he were trying to actually lick something away, he wouldn't be doing a very good job. Simlarly, his nervous yawns are exagerrated but just for show: with a wide open mouth, a noisy little sigh, but they're shallow (not a deep breath) and much quicker than a regular yawn.

 

Basically, contextualizing a behaviour into what your dog's whole body is doing at any given time is important. But more important is learning about your specific dog, with all his quirks and unique attributes, so you can learn to read his specific language. And it seems like you're doing just that!

GT%20Sig_zpsykmtirf5.jpeg

 

Sam, formerly known as Macabres Mandate

Featuring his humans Alexandra & Paul

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great observations Samwise. :)

gallery_12662_3351_862.jpg

Jen, CPDT-KA with Zuri, lab in a greyhound suit, Violet, formerly known as Faith, Skye, the permanent puppy, Cisco, resident cat, and my baby girl Neyla, forever in my heart

"The great thing about science is that you're free to disagree with it, but you'll be wrong."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cole (and other dogs I've had) raise their noses and lick the air when getting bum scritchies. I have to assume on that one it's a response to it feeling so good. Usually dancing from back leg to back leg too :D.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cole (and other dogs I've had) raise their noses and lick the air when getting bum scritchies. I have to assume on that one it's a response to it feeling so good. Usually dancing from back leg to back leg too :D.

I saw a fairly well done infographic on stress signals by a good trainer going around that listed teeth chattering as a stress signal. Have you met a greyhound? :P

gallery_12662_3351_862.jpg

Jen, CPDT-KA with Zuri, lab in a greyhound suit, Violet, formerly known as Faith, Skye, the permanent puppy, Cisco, resident cat, and my baby girl Neyla, forever in my heart

"The great thing about science is that you're free to disagree with it, but you'll be wrong."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I always think to myself it's like a person's laugh. A person might laugh when they are happy, amused, nervous, or even angry and aggravated. It's all about context :). The thing I love about Patricia McConnell's writings is how she brings up human and primate behaviors and studies along with that of dogs and points out similarities and differences. I will always have more to learn!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...