About authors

Image of partner

Nathalie Sari - Tiertraining & Verhaltensberatung

This article was written by TOBALIE in cooperation with Nathalie Sari - Tiertraining & Verhaltensberatung

The so-called Calming Signals (there are different names for them) serve the canids primarily to de-escalate conflicts or even to prevent them from arising in the first place. They are shown to avoid threats, conflicts and problems. As very social beings they have a fine body language.

When does the dog show calming signals?

These are shown primarily as a preventive measure to avoid conflict. For example, if the dog sees a conspecific, he will immediately send a signal to show how friendly he is and approaches with good intentions. The oncoming dog knows that he has nothing to fear.

But also in case of loud noises, fright situations, restlessness, stress or unpleasant situations, the signals are shown to calm himself and all involved.

Where does the dog learn these?

This form of conflict avoidance is innate. Puppies show e.g. yawning from the first day of birth. However, in the course of their lives, dogs learn which signals make more sense to them than others. This is because their appearance was sometimes greatly altered by breeding, which meant that they had to adapt their form of expression. For example, a very hairy dog is more likely to turn away than to blink his eyes, because this signal is quickly overlooked from a distance.

Therefore a good socialization is essential, because only in this way dogs have the possibility to test their repertoire of expression and to use it later in a targeted way. The more breeds, types, but also environmental stimuli the young dogs get to know, the better prepared they are for life.

Dogs can “learn” and “unlearn” appeasement signals. Depending on how their environment reacts to the signals, the dog will show them more often or less often, if at all, and then go one step further on the escalation scale. This is why it is so important that you understand the signals and take them seriously! Here is an overview of the most common calming signals:

dog harness that fits your dog

ABC of Calming Signals

All signals can be shown fast, slow, short, exaggerated or in their own unique way. It takes some practice not to overlook them.

Blinking: Open and close eyes, often very quickly.

Crouch: The dog makes himself small. Sometimes only the head is lowered or the whole body.

Digging: For example, if a game gets too wild, you can often see a dog start digging.

Eyes: Look strongly to the side (often, if turning away is not possible or the dog freezes), roll to the left and right, squeeze, wink, lower the eyelids and make the gaze “softer”, even the eyebrows can be raised, for example.

Front body low position “Play bow”: Front feet stretched forward, upper body lowered, rear part in height. This is also a typical play invitation, but in some cases it can also be used for appeasement. 

Freeze: The dog freezes in his current body position and is passive. Like rooted he waits until the apparent danger is over, only then the dogs slowly dissolve this posture again.

Going in between or splitting: The dog gets in between the others. Mostly when a situation threatens to tip over. By this interposing, distance of the others should be created, like as a barrier to avoid conflicts. Dogs also do this when their owner comes too close to another dog or even people. We humans think of jealousy, but actually the own dog wants to save us from a conflict.

Ignore: If it becomes too much for the dog, he ignores the others and also uses other signals to express that he has had enough.

Licking: Sometimes you can see dogs held by the arm, for example, hastily licking people. This is usually not a sign of affection, but of stress. The dog wants to go down. If he is held, however, he can often show only few other signals.

Lying down: Lying down has a strong calming effect and can be seen well even from a distance.

Pawing: This is done by lifting one or both front paws in sequence.

Playing clown: Childish and exaggerated behavior.

Scratch: Scratching also shows good intentions. Our dogs often scratch themselves even in stressful situations.

Sit down: Suddenly sitting down, often turning over or slightly to the side.

Shake: This is especially observed after a stressful situation, to shake off the stress.

Smacking: Also ” flapping” with the tongue can express discomfort.Tempo: Slow movements, because fast ones seem threatening. Some dogs only slow down their  speed a little, others so much that we can hardly see any movement.

Sniffing: This can be a short or an extensive sniffing, usually on the ground. In either case, they keep the eyes focused on the surroundings to keep an eye on what is being tried to calm down.

Turn away: Here only the head or the whole body can be turned to the side.

Turn their back: Turning away and showing the back is intended to relax the situation.

Urinate: Marking can also be used for appeasement.

Waggle: This is when the dog licks its nose. The licking over the nose can be seen very often.

Walking in curve: Dogs do not usually walk towards something or someone head-on, but always in a light bow.

Waving: Waving can express many things. Together with other appeasement signals, it can also be used for appeasement.

Yawning: Usually there is an exaggerated yawning, sometimes with a long drawn-out sound.

“Skip action”: Sometimes dogs suddenly show an “inappropriate” behaviour, which seems not to fit the situation. Since this behaviour is mostly shown in situations that are unpleasant or tense for the dog, it can be counted as a calming signal. Because it is nothing else than an appeasement, which comes for us out of the blue, but on closer inspection it is very well related to the initial situation.

Possible situations in which the dog shows these signals:

  • In situations where the dog feels uncomfortable or insecure
  • You hug your dog and it gets too tight
  • A conspecific is approaching
  • Something or someone is approaching too fast or head-on
  • Someone bends over him and he feels threatened
  • He’s insecure
  • He feels threatened
  • He’s stressed out
  • He sees an object he is uncomfortable with
  • It’s too much trouble for him
  • Uvm.

How do I behave if I could notice a calming signal?

This depends on the situation. In any case, it is important to take it seriously and not to press the dog further or force him further into the situation. Find out what is worrying your dog and act on it. If your dog gives you calming signals, try to adjust your body language, voice or situation to make it more comfortable for your dog. If, for example, an object is uncomfortable for him, look at it together and reward your dog for every look and every approach to the object.

Beschwichtigungssignale Hund


Calming signals are an important part of the dog’s language. They are supposed to bring peace, calm down and avoid conflicts. Take the dogs’ signals seriously so that they do not have to resort to “harder measures” and get into aggressive behaviour. Observe the dogs in order to understand the language and to be able to assess it, this is the only way to prevent misunderstandings.