Use of Canine Calming Signals Can Save Lives

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We’ve all been there and if you’re anything like me, when you see a dog obviously lost or out of place, you get involved and try to help. The “decision” to get involved is more of a reflex than a conscious choice for dog-lovers like us, so if you’re going to do it, the following tips are good to keep in mind.

1. Evaluate the situation – Does the dog look dangerous, aggressive or sickly? If so, the best help you can provide is to use your smart phone to find the local authorities who can safely get the dog the help he needs. You don’t have to personally, “save them all.”

2. If the dog looks approachable but perhaps skittish or shy and freaked out from being lost, hungry and alone use calming signals to communicate to the dog in “dog speak” that you mean him no harm. Calming signals* are ways of moving your body in nonthreatening ways that will help you get close enough to the dog to check for tags, ID and other information.

3. Calming signals that humans can use with dogs are as follows:

  •   Approach the dog very slowly via an arc pattern. Do not march in a straight line to him.
  • When you get fairly close, crouch down, turn sideways to the dog, turn your face away from him and toss a treat gently his way without making direct eye contact.
  • Yawn
  • Talk sweet to him
  • Continue to toss treats his way and see if he’s calm enough to eat them
  • Continue use of calming signals as dog relaxes or moves toward you
  • If/when the dog approaches you (not you approaching him at this point) if it’s safe to make contact, gently pat him on the back or shoulder, not on the head/face

4. Things you should never do when approaching a strange dog include:

            Run toward it in a straight line

            Stare directly into his eyes

            Reach out and try to grab him

            Loom over him and pat him on the head

            Make loud, boisterous noises

            Disrespect or disregard his communication of fear to you such as growls, hacklesup, barking, etc…

            Remember – he may have been on his own for awhile and he’s not necessarily going to act like he might later on when he’s more comfortable.

            Do not allow your own dog to interact with the stray dog until you’ve had a chance to evaluate the situation. The stray may be diseased or contagious.

5. Things to have on hand in your car to accomplish unplanned rescues include a cell phone, spare leash, doggie treats and water.

6. What to do now? If the dog has ID tags you can try to contact the owner and if not, the best bet for the dog is to contact local animal control or to take it to a local animal shelter where they can check for a microchip and help market the dog so he can be reunited with his owner. If you are worried about what might happen to the dog at the shelter once his time has “run out,” you can always place a hold on him and come back for him if he’s not claimed. That’s the best of both worlds. It’s important to fairly give the owner a logical place to search for him where stray dogs are supposed to be taken. Then by putting a safety net of sorts in place with you as the “net” you can help find him a home (if not with you!)

* Calming Signals or “On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals” by Turid Rugaas is a wonderful book I highly recommend for everyone who interacts with dogs.



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