Calming Signals

Gulp. In it goes.

Sent in the non-refundable deposit to The University of Rochester yesterday on behalf of my oldest daughter’s entry into university life. Her intended major: American Sign Language. I embrace her interest in learning both a language and a culture that is beautiful to watch and the communication for an estimated half a million people.

There are about 75 million dogs in the U.S. (World estimates on dog population hard to tally but estimated at about 10% of human population which is nearly 7 billion now. )Dogs too have a culture, the same in every country, and a language. It behooves us humans — whether we have a dog in our life or not —  to take the time to learn it. The language includes a variety of behaviors collectively called CALMING SIGNALS [link to great video], coined and defined in part by Norwegian behaviorist Turid Rugaas. Calming Signals slow things down (whether obvious to the person observing or not) with the end result of  avoiding conflict. These include (but are not limited to) avoiding eye contact, licking lips, yawning, scratching (sometimes it’s about an itch, sometimes it isn’t!), and more. Here is a LINK to a gallery of photos showing calming signals.

My biggest pet peeve (pun intended) is young pups and dogs who are under socialized. Whether due to ignorance (“I didn’t know”), laziness (“it’s cold out”), ill given advice from veterinarians who err on the side of medical caution over emotional illness (“avoid socialization until 4 mos of age when all the immunizations are given”) or unfortunate circumstances, that lack of socialization can have life long negative repercussions.

DIP began almost a year ago in my backyard. An acronym for Drop In Play, DIP is like a dog park with lifeguards. Sometimes it’s like a calm summer day at the local quarry; other times it can be like rip tides or a threatening tsunami. But by watching, managing and patiently allowing opportunity for dogs to effectively communicate, I have had the distinct pleasure of watching dogs learn and recover — overbearing dogs learning manners, shy ones become more confident, emotionally damaged ones heal and recover their lost language, as well as observe the sheer joie dogs have when given the opportunity to play in an enriching environment with their own. It has been the single most important development in my ongoing quest to learn dog.

My most recent positive experience was for a 4 month old Lagotto Romagnolo. Imported from Italy via Germany this little puppy arrived in a state of shock. She was either completely shut down or spastic. Owners had seen video of her playing joyfully with other pups and dogs in her home country, but by the time she had travelled across the ocean and different environments with their own smells and sights and sounds, she had become shut down and confused. A case of PTSD (post traumatic shock syndrome). The owners, having little to no previous dog experience, did not realize how dysfunctional she was. I urged DIP visits and invited dogs I thought would help her get her mojo back.

It worked. Truffie’s first visit showed some erratic behavior with the other dogs — she either ignored them or found them terribly frightening which caused her to lash out.


Returning for a second visit the next day, Truffie got her mojo back.

What a nice sight to see. Next she joins group class and we’ll see how it goes.

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