Dogs speak to each other through body language, and when one dog won't look at another dog, he is sending a message. Norwegian dog trainer and behaviorist Turid Rugaas has studied the signals dogs use, and she explains how dogs look away from others to avoid conflict and to send calming signals in her book, "On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals." Observing and understanding these signals can prevent problems between dogs, and by copying the signals, people can create a better relationship with their canine friends.
For dogs, direct eye contact can be threatening. When two well-socialized dogs meet, to show they are friendly, one will turn his head away, the other will do the same and then they can meet happily. They might repeat the process several times before starting serious sniffing of each other.
When a dog rushes head on toward another, the dog being approached in a rude manner might look away as a calming signal. This looking away can be a quick flick of the head, or the dog might hold his head to one side for several seconds.
Sometimes a stronger signal is needed. If one dog growls at another when they meet, the threatened dog might turn his head away, then put his side or back to the aggressor to avoid the threat. This can have a calming effect on the growling dog.
Dogs will look away to negotiate with others. A calm, confident dog who wants to walk past a dog chewing a bone in an enclosed space will use looking away to negotiate a safe passage. The dog with the bone is tense because she is in possession of a valuable resource and likely wants to protect it. The confident dog looks away and adds emphasis to his signal by curving his body away from the dog with the bone, as if to say, "I won't make trouble and I don't even see your bone." He continues to look away until he is safely past her.
When a dog is afraid, and stressed by the presence of another dog, he won't look at the other dog as a form of avoidance. The looking away would be accompanied by other body language, such as lip licking, that shows the dog is stressed. His body also might appear tense, with his tail down or tucked, ears held out to the side. He also might press his body against a wall or other object; anxious animals will often move into solid surfaces to create pressure on their bodies.
By observing these signals it's possible to prevent trouble when dogs are together. For example, if one dog is staring and barking at another, the owner can turn her barking dog away to calm the situation. Similarly, the person with the dog being barked at can move her dog away from the possibly tense situation.
People also can use the same signals with their dogs. A dog that jumps up excitedly at people can learn to calm down if people turn their backs to him when he jumps. When people and dogs speak the same language, or as close as they can get, misunderstandings can be avoided and problems become easier to solve.
- On Talking Terms with Dogs:Calming Signals Second Edition; Turid Rugaas
- Canine Body Language A Photographic Guide Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog; Brenda Aloff
- Calming Signals:What Your DogTells You DVD;Turid Rugaas
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