Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sarah Kalnajs Seminar: Appeasement Signals

Appeasement signals, also called cut-off signals or calming signals, are what a dog does when he wants to say “I'm not comfortable right now, but I mean you no harm. Please stop what you're doing.” In other words, these signals are used to diffuse a tense situation. As a result, they are often offered during greetings. However, they do not necessarily mean that the dog wants to get away from the dog (or person) the signal is given to entirely, only that the dog is feeling a bit pressured with the situation itself. Sarah said that this means that appeasement signals often display a lack of confidence. Further, they are meant to be reciprocal. The dog feeling uncomfortable offers the appeasement signal, and the other dog replies in kind to communicate that he understands, and that he, too, is no threat.

As I've said previously, I've included photos when I've had them. If you have a picture of your dog doing one of the signals for which there is no photo, please email it to me (address is in the contact tab). I'd love to post it (with credit, of course!).

Look Away or Turn Away
When your dog deliberately looks away from you (and not to look at some distraction in the distance), he's doing it to tell you he's uncomfortable. True to the category, this gesture communicates that the dog is no threat. Interestingly, every time I pull a camera out, Maisy looks away, and sometimes it's quite challenging to get her to look at me. Turn aways are similar, and include the whole body, not just the head.

Here's a great example of the look away in action. Via (the puppy) tells Maisy she's feeling stressed by licking her lips. Maisy responds by looking away in order to tell Via she's not a threat.

Paw Raise
This happens when the dog lifts just one front paw.

Although all signals must be taken in context, this is especially important with sniffing. Pay attention to what causes it, when it ends, and what else is going on. If there is truly a good smell, and the sniffing takes place independently of what's going on around the dog, then it's nothing to worry about. On the other hand, if another dog approaches, or something odd is going on in the environment, and the dog begins sniffing at nothing, it's probably because he doesn't know what else to do.

Trust me- the ground is not that interesting! 
This picture was taken during the middle of an over-the-top play session.
Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche.

Sneezing is another signal that can have multiple meanings. Sarah said that if the dog gives fast, repetitive sneezes, it's probably excitement, not stress. However, if there are just one or two large sneezes, it's probably appeasement.

This dog is about to sneeze. Photo courtesy of Sara Reusche.

Again, this signal is very context-dependent, and you'll need to pay attention to what's going on when the dog scratches.

 This was taken during an off-leash hike with five other dogs, 
three of whom Maisy hadn't met before. Photo by Laura Waudby.

Although you might think it would be difficult to pick out appeasement blinking, Sarah said it really isn't because you won't notice a normal rate of blinking. Therefore, if you notice blinking, you can assume it's an increased blink rate, and an appeasement gesture as a result.

Jess blinking following a too-long photo session. Picture courtesy of Sophie.

Shaking Off
Sarah said this is a very common gesture, and perhaps the most common appeasement signal. She said it is akin to a “reset” button, which is a very apt description.

In this video, Maisy's play with Malcolm gets a bit intense, so she sniffs the floor, shakes off, and then sneezes before resuming play again. What a great combo of appeasement gestures! She uses them to say she's just a bit uncomfortable. Like Sarah noted, it's not that Maisy wants the play to end. Instead, it seems more like she just needs a bit of a break before it continues.


Karen said...

Perfect timing! Rainy, my Springer was disqualified on her mock CGC test last night for sniffing! Granted, this test took place at a doggy daycare with lots of new smells but I think it was mainly due to stress, as she barely acknowledged me. (she passed the other 9 stations perfectly) How do I get her attention without treats or tight leash, so we can get her title next week?

Sophie said...

This is a great outline/list of appeasement signals!

I've got a couple of photos that I've taken over the last week or two that you can use if you want :)

Lola - lifting paw (during too-fast fetch).

Jess - blinking (during too-long session of photoing with the flash on).

Millie (my friend's dog) - turning her head from the camera, as she's unused to them. There was nothing exciting that she was looking at, as the street was empty and Lola was next to me on the opposite side.

Crystal Thompson said...

Karen, which station did she get all sniffy on?

If the sniffing was stress-related, you may not be able to fix that in one week. Definitely worth trying though. :)

First: make sure you don't get nervous during the test next week. Whenever I stress, Maisy gets EVEN worse. Take deep breaths and relax. You can always test again in the future.

I'd try teaching a whiplash turn. http://reactivechampion.blogspot.com/2010/08/cu-seminar-whiplash-turns.html

Basically, you're trying to create a conditioned reflex to the sound of her name (or any other word you want), so that she responds without thinking about it.

I've also had some success with weird noises: meowing or the word "kitty!" seems to get Maisy's attention really well. You'll look silly, and I have NO IDEA if that's allowed in the CGC, but that's the kind of thing I'll do sometimes. :)

Crystal Thompson said...

Thanks Sophie! That blinking photo is awesome!