On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals

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On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals

By Turid Rugaas

Someone asked me once if “dogs could communicate.” After I pulled myself off the floor, I recommended that they buy On Talking Terms with Dogs and read it cover to cover. Norwegian dog trainer and behaviorist Rugaas is an excellent observer of canine behavior, and her book was one of the first to teach humans how to “read” the visual signals of dogs. This small book is a treasure-trove of information about how dogs use body language to express stress and avoid conflict. Inside, you’ll find:

  • The expressions of benevolence in dog to dog greetings.
  • How to identify stressful situations and help your dog avoid them.
  • How to rehabilitate a dog that has poor social skills with others.
  • Using canine visual signals to calm your own dog.

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I was thrilled when Turid’s work first received the international attention it deserved. The book is a summary of exactly the kind of careful observations that I had been trained to make as an ethologist, applied to interactions between dogs. Rugaas describes behaviors that she labels as “calming signals,” like turning the head, licking the nose and yawning, and notes how owners can use similar behaviors themselves to influence their dog’s behavior. The second part of the booklet lists signs of stress in dogs, and how to help dogs that are distressed in some way. The revised edition, published in full color by Dogwise, has excellent photographs of important behaviors and postures that every dog owner should be able to recognize instantly.

One note: Recalling the importance of not making speculative attributions about a dog’s intentions, emphasized by both behavior analysts and ethologists, I want to caution readers to be careful about assuming they know what’s going on inside a dog’s head when it sniffs the ground or lip licks. I have heard some readers of this book talk as though a lip-licking dog is doing it to intentionally calm another dog. We don’t know that—we do know that dogs tend to lip lick in what appear to be stressful situations. When a dog turns away from another to sniff the ground after what looks like a tense greeting, we should all applaud it for doing something that results in calming down a potentially dangerous situation. We just need to be careful what “calming” actually means—“calming” signals don’t necessarily mean the dog giving them is calm herself, or is intentionally calming another dog. The author accurately makes it clear in her book that this isn’t always the case. For example, while “looking away” might avoid conflict with another dog, the dog doing it might be stressed herself.

That said, this little booklet had a profound effect on the training world, and is a wonderful example of the importance of observing your dog, and how what appear to be small, subtle movements can have massive effects on behavior. It is concise, clear, accessible and affordable—I wish every dog owner received a copy of this book when they got their dog!

Everyone. Really. If you ask progressive trainers and behaviorist what’s “one thing” dog owners most need to know, it’s how to “read” a dog. No amount of love can make up for misunderstanding a dog who is desperately signaling his discomfort while a three-year old child chases him into a corner. If dog owners just knew that a “look away” and a “lip-lick” meant a dog was uncomfortable, I’d guess that the number of dog bites per year would decrease substantially. As a matter of fact, I’d bet the farm on it. (Which is saying a lot, since I actually have a farm.)

Poor dogs—they live with aliens, most of whom don’t speak their language. But we can learn, and it’s actually easy. Because this book is short, beautifully illustrated and right-on accurate, I wish every dog owner in the country read it. If I was a billionaire I’d buy a copy for every person who gets a new dog. (Admittedly, along with Love Has No Age Limit or the The Other End of the Leash. Sorry, just saying.)

“Invaluable! The insightful observations of Turid Rugaas can help all of us have a deeper and more meaningful relationship with our dogs. This beautifully illustrated book belongs in the home of dog lovers everywhere.”
Patricia B. McConnell (from the back cover of the book).

  “I personally owe Turid a great debt of gratitude because her work validated my observations that dogs are trying very hard to ‘talk’ to us. This book was my guide and added amazing volume to my knowledge base.”
Brenda Aloff, author of Aggression in Dogs & Canine Body Language  

“For the first time, I am now able to understand my best friends. Not only my dogs, but all dogs. This books should be read by all people, not just by persons who love dogs.”
C. Sherman, Amazon review  

Publisher: Dogwise Publishing
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1929242360
ISBN-13: 978-1929242368
Product Dimensions: 8.25 x 5.75 x 0.25 inches
Author: Turid Rugaas
Publish Date: 2006
Number of Pages: 78


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