Book Review: On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals

I’m excited to offer my very first book review of a terrific book!  I have many great dog books on my shelf, and this book is a staple that should be on every dog owner’s shelf!  I won’t say that about very many books, but this one is really very good!  If you’re the owner of a high needs or special needs dog, you’ll likely read this book so often that you’ll wear the cover off!  Yes, it’s that good!  I promise!

The author, Turid Rugaas, is Norwegian dog trainer and behaviorist who has really made her splash by educating dog owners in the fine art of how dogs communicate with each other through body language.  She has spent many years studying canine social interaction, and she discovered that dogs often use “calming signals” to avoid conflict with each other, invite play and simply just to communicate with dogs and humans alike.

The problem with humans, is that we live in a very noisy world.  We like to talk, and we tend to think of communication as verbal…whether we’re speaking to other humans or to our canine friends.  Dogs spend the vast majority of their lives using body language to communicate to each other, and if you don’t know how to “read” your dog, you might be adding to the very problems you’re having in living with him.  Even a novice dog owner can learn really valuable communication skills so that you’ll know how to “speak dog.”  This will be not only important to the way that you interact with your own dog, but also when you meet other dogs on walks or in their yards.

I find that many dog owners I work with honestly have no idea what their dog’s body language means.  They don’t have any idea how to read their dog’s anxiety or fear, and, as a result, they continue to put their dogs in situations far beyond what their nervous dog can manage.  To a dog, this must feel like their owners are throwing them under the bus over and over.  It erodes trust between a dog and owner.

I think that was a big factor in working through trust issues with Rugby.  For far too long, I continued to take him on neighborhood walks that were so very scary to him, and too much stimulation all at once for him.  I kept thinking that if we kept doing that, over time, he would get used to seeing things and be able to cope with it.  I think with my dog, it had an opposite effect. Instead of Rugby getting better and better, he reacted more and more quickly, and became more aggressive in his response.  Now I see that he had tried to tell me how stressed he was, but I ignored his signals, and so he escalated his stress to strongly make his point.

Once I really learned what he was saying in his body language, I had a much better idea of how to help him, and that’s made a huge difference for us!  Once I knew his early signs of anxiety, I could quickly offer my own calming signals and help him to calm himself.  I also learned to back off at appropriate times, which gave Rugby confidence that I could and would protect him.  I’ve learned that my dog needs and wants a small world, because that’s all he really can manage.  Even though I’d love to give him a big, safe world, Rugby can’t manage that, and is very happy in his home and yard with occasional outings that are few and far between.  He loves a carefully planned occasional outing, and we have fun and it leaves a positive experience in his mind, versus a daily stress beyond what he can manage.

Once you finish reading this book, I strongly suggest that you simply go to the dog park without bringing any dogs and just observe dogs in play. Do it multiple times to get an understanding of what you’re seeing and it will build your confidence in understanding your own dog.   You’ll learn how different breeds express their body language, much like the dialects of any human’s language.  You’ll see so many of the calming signals at work, and it will really help you to understand what you’re seeing in your own dog.

This book is written in a very casual style, and is “user-friendly” in its language.  The author does a wonderful job of explaining terms through photos and also through written descriptions.  When possible, she offers a suggestion that will allow you to mimic the dog’s behavior in a way that a dog can understand, even though a human offers it.  I’ve used these suggestions many times with Rugby and I’ve had good success with them.  Dogs try so very hard to figure out what we are saying to them non-verbally!  The trouble is that sometimes we can use threatening body language while also using a soothing voice at the same time, which sends a very mixed signal to that dog!  No wonder they sometimes just shut down and refuse to participate with us!

Dogs are such smart and complex critters!  Yes, they have simple needs and wants in life, but they are so very good at how they communicate.  This book has helped me to have eyes to see, and an understanding heart, and in turn, that’s enabled me to be so much more helpful when I’m training dogs.  I’ve also been able to teach owners what to look for in their own dogs as we’re training together, which has been invaluable to me!

The author has no knowledge or approval of my review….the comments and opinions expressed here are all my own.  This book can be found in many places, online or in local bookstores .  I purchased my own copy several years ago, and I refer to it over and over.  If you’re interested in ordering a copy online, one place you can order from is “Dogwise.” There’s a link on the right side of my blog, if you’re on a laptop.  It’s at the bottom of the blog if you’re on your phone.  I have an affiliate relationship with Dogwise, which means that if you click on the link provided in this blog, they might offer me a small commission for mentioning them.  It’s a small way that I can earn some income for writing this blog.  But feel free to get your copy anywhere you like!  You won’t be sorry, because it’s a wonderful book!






    • Sally says

      Awww.....Sarah, you're the BEST!!! I think your purchase will provide my very first paycheck for writing the blog....a milestone first for me, and very exciting!! Thank you so much for doing that for me!! Aside from that, I think this book is really going to be a wonderful resource for you in dealing with your sweet Marley! You'll have to let me know what you think of it once you read it! I'll be interested to know! Belly rubs to your little guy! 🙂

      • Sarah Thomas says

        No, Mama Sally, THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!! You and Rugby help me with Marley, and plus, Rugby's adventures, floofs, and chocolate drops really fill my heart with joy. His Friday post today on FB was the first thing I saw when I woke up today; it's a great way to start the day with lubs <3 Here's to helping you make a million!!!!!

        • Sally says

          Sarah, you have made my day. I can't tell you what it means to know that you enjoy my little dogger so much! People like you are the reason I keep writing and posting!! So glad it's making a difference for you!! Cookies to Marley! <3


Leave a Reply