Monday, September 12, 2011

Book Review: On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals, by Turid Rugaas

This is a very small book, with a lot of information in it.

There are certain behaviors dogs will use when they want the one they're communicating with (dog or otherwise) to understand that they're stressed, and to calm down, back off, and take it slowly. Turid Rugaas describes these, and illustrates them with fantastic photographs, in this book.

Some of these signals are subtle, and can be misinterpreted by we humans.  If you give your dog a cue, and she starts sniffing around on the ground instead of performing the action, that's a little bit frustrating, yes?  What happened on the ground that's more interesting than all of the training and motivation you've tried to instill?  Well, "sniffing" can be a calming signal; your dog might not exactly know what you mean by the cue, or know why you're asking for it in that particular place.

Yawning is another one.  Granted, not every yawn is a calming signal; Elka has a high-pitched, very loud yawn that she performs in which it seems as though her head has become entirely flip top.  I call it her "Raptor Yawn".  That's one that she does to get our attention, typically if she needs to go out, at which point I cue her to "tell me what she needs".  I think a calmer (and quieter!) yawn is the calming one, used to diffuse overly exciting situations.

And, the last one I'm going to list here (you should really read the book, after all) is what Patricia McConnell calls the "tongue flip", and what's listed here as "licking the nose".  Both amount to the same thing, the dog's tongue coming out at a stressful time.  Even if you don't notice head turning, and slowed movement, watch, at least, for the tongue flip, as though you're watching for a white flag of surrender.  

Sometimes our poor dogs just don't know how to deal with we humans and our wackiness, and understanding the body language that they use to communicate that with us is tremendously important.  On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals is a very clear, if brief, window into the world of communication that dogs have, and I strongly recommend it.


  1. This is the third mention I've seen of Rugaas' book in the past couple of days. It's such a good guide to reading dog body language.

  2. I wish my library system had any of Rugaas' books, I really enjoyed this one and would like to read more of her works. I know (or I assume) they're in translation, but still, the descriptions are extremely good and precise, and the pictures are fantastic! Plus, I like the use of anecdotes to illustrate points.

  3. This sounds like an extremely resourceful book! So many cues our dogs give us, if we only learned what they were - we could have a much better relationship with them! Thanks, Jen, for this wonderful recommendation!

  4. Our trainer recommended this book the very first day she met with us and I think it is pretty essential for every dog owner. Anything that helps me understand my wacky dog is brilliant! Thanks for the great breakdown.

  5. @Kim You're welcome! I hope you track it down (maybe at your local library?) and enjoy it!

    @Kristine It's amazing how brilliant our wacky dogs are, isn't it? It really helps when there are books like this, that help us understand

    @Jana Until I started talking about it, not a whole lot of people have mentioned it to me! It's neat to me, to find other people who have read the same books (and enjoyed them!)

  6. Sounds like a good read -- thanks so much for letting us know what you think! :)

    Woofs & hugs, <3

    ~Bailey (Yep, I'm a girl!)