On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals


SUMMARY: Observations on stress-indicating and appeasement body language in dogs by Turid Rugaas

AUDIENCE: For owners, it’ll be a real eye opener if you’re not all that familiar with canine body language. For professionals, it’s a milestone of a book in the field, and you don’t want to get caught not having read it.

REVIEW: I very much enjoyed reading this, although it totally lacked scientific rigour.

Turid Rugaas is widely accredited for discovering, or at least popularising, dogs’ calming signals. In fact ‘cut-off signals’, as they were then called, were already described in 1962 (Chance). Regardless, Turid Rugaas has had an incredible (and very constructive) influence on professionals in the field of canine communication.

Some professionals have put their allegiance in Turid Rugaas’ work beyond the topic of calming method, and rally behind her as a bona fide dog training guru. Such groups are flourishing all over Europe, and put great focus on the dog’s emotions, rejecting a purely scientific approach to canine behaviour, which they perceive to be reductionistic.

Reluctant as ever to accept anything on authority, I was bent on trying to disprove her observations – I hadn’t heard of Chance then. But I have to concede that my anecdotal observation match Mrs Rugaas’. Interpreting calming signals is now a tool I constantly use.

I have also observed a tendency by fellow dog professionals to take the concepts very literally indeed, running away with it the way most people did with dominance not so long ago. It is now common to see people who systematically interpret even gestures with a physical purpose (e.g. scratching because of an itch) as a calming signal (scratching as a diversion).

So, the book offers a very detailed analysis (with some, but not enough, illustrations) of dog recurring ‘calming’ postures in dogs. It will help you interpret dogs’ hitherto hidden messages, and help you put them at ease.

The author’s love for dogs is literally bursting out of the book, and it makes for a warm, uncomplicated read.

To be very critical about it, the book could be more thorough, comprehensive, and better structured if it is to become a standard academic reference. It could also do with a lot more illustrations given the subject matter.

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Author: Rugaas Turid
Genre: owner manual
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