The Dog I've Always Wanted

Canine Behavior, Training and Photography

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On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals Turid Rugaas

May 2nd, 2008 · · Book Reviews, Quotations

This extremely useful book is notable for its simple clarity of language and its informative photographic illustrations. Turid Rugaas is a Norwegian dog trainer and behaviorist who has spent her life in close proximity to animals. She has a profound respect for dogs and consequently has learned that listening and watching are key to developing communication across the species divide.

The author espouses a completely nonviolent approach to dog training and management which is informed by her knowledge of their language. “You always have a choice. Whatever the situation, dog or incident you have always the choice of what to do. You can make tiny changes like looking away instead of staring, walking slowly instead of marching or running, turning away or standing still. Or you can accept that your dog is giving you a calming signal to tell you that he is tired,or cannot concentrate any more or that he needs a break……If you want your dog to respect you, you must also respect your dog. A good relationship is based on two-way communication, and living together in a well-balanced togetherness. Leadership does not solve anything, it only creates problems, in our lives as well as in the dogs lives.” To say the least the foregoing is controversial; what about the whole concept of pack leader? Is it really possible to completely sidestep the entire issue of dominance and submission? I suspect that it is not possible for most of us. However for Turid Rugaas whose conceptualization of human to dog relations seems to be a kind of gentle anarchy based on mutual respect, rather than a desire on either side for control, it does seem viable.

All that being said on the philosophical front I still recommend this little book quite highly. The reason that I do is that the calming signals she describes and advises the use of are extremely effective. I can attest to this as I have experimented extensively with them on nervous, reactive dogs one of whom is my own. It is remarkable indeed to see a dog’s mood shift and to watch the dog relax as it recognizes what you are saying to it. It gives one an amazing feeling of being in communication with the dog in quite a different way than running through some obedience routines does; although it is true that that can also be calming to a stressed dog. This book is certainly worth studying; even if you don’t find yourself in perfect alignment with the author’s philosophy of training there is much that is valuable to be learned here.

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