Secret Body Language

Even though they might not be able to speak English, dogs are able to speak to us through their body language! By decoding your own dog, you will be able to communicate with them better and keep them out of sticky situations!


Lots of people can recognise a growl or bite by a dog towards another dog or human, but did you know that our canine companions often show us a variety of signs before the growl? These signs are called “calming signals”, but are also known as “displacement behaviours” or “stress signs”. They are very similar to humans biting their nails, sucking their thumb, or twirling their hair.


Calming signals are used by dogs in a variety of different ways

  • To communicate to humans or other dogs that they feel uncomfortable
  • To let the worries go and have a bit of a time out
  • To reduce their own level of anxiety (a little bit of anxiety in every human and every dog is perfectly acceptable!)
  • To decrease aggression in another dog by showing them that they are not a threat


The most common calming signals seen in dogs are:

  • Lip licking (when no food is around)
  • Shaking off (when they are not wet)
  • Yawning (when they are not tired) – see the picture of Dr. Anna’s dog when there are two new and annoying little puppies hanging around him
  • Showing the whites of their eyes
  • Scratching themselves in the middle of play
  • Play bowing and stretching

As you can see, many of the behaviours can also be normal


See how many calming signals you can catch your dog doing today! Remember to always tell your dog that they are very good when they show you one, because you always want to ensure that they are communicating clearly with you! If you see them showing a lot of them in a particular scenario, you should try to move them out of it and back into a comfortable zone.

About Dr Kate

Perth vet and proprietor of Kalmpets Animal Behaviour Centre and Dog Day Care, Dr Kate Lindsey completed a first class honours degree in zoology and neuroscience at UWA, followed by a veterinary degree with first class honours, at Murdoch. Since graduating in 2005, Dr Kate has worked as a vet in small animal practices around Perth. As her zoological roots show, she has always had an interest in animal behaviour. Dr Kate successfully completed a post-graduate program in veterinary behaviour medicine and was admitted as a member of The Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists by examination in Animal Behaviour in 2012. She is a qualified veterinarian behaviourist. Dr Kate established Kalmpets in 2012, Western Australia’s only sole focus mobile vet behaviour practice that delivered comprehensive solutions to improve behaviour problems in dogs, cats and pets.

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