Sirius Training, Serious Fun!
Sirius Training, Serious Fun!

Why It's Hard Living With an ACD/Whippet #3

Inspired by a bunch of comments from yesterday’s post, I figured I’d write just how sensitive my Ri-monster really is.  He really wears his feelings on his sleeves but even more than that, he shows even the tiniest bit of stress in noticeable ways which is so very different than Shayne.  It takes a lot of stress for her to lip lick or yawn or do look aways which is very different from my expressive Rio.

Startline Stay—When I leave Rio on a startline stay he will yawn and lip lick as I walk away.  This is mixture of two stressful events… me walking away and the anticipation of getting to play agility!

Movement of leash–If i try to untangle a leash by shaking it a bit, that type of sensation will cause Rio to lick his lips and look away.  If I try to move him with the leash he will give a big yawn, lip lick, and sometimes whale eye.

Puppy Rio got told "All done" and he gave me a look away, ears back, and whale eye (i'd bet there was a lip lick either before or after this)

Tell him “all done” (no more ball throwing)–When I tell him that I’m not playing anymore he gives a very dramatic yawn/whine, lower his head, and will lick his lips.  If he is feeling particularly sensitive he’ll give a little whale eye and look away.

Going outside–As I approach the door to let him outside he starts lip licking, puts his ears back, and gets squinty eyes.

Not throwing the ball–If he gives me a ball and I do not throw it he will lip lick and yawn/whine at me and do look aways if I look at him (the picture of the top was taken while I held a ball but wasn’t engaging in the game).

Leaving Ritual–Rio doesn’t have any noticeable separation anxiety… no destruction, no apparent pacing, no barking etc.  When I’m getting ready to leave, however, he pulls his ears back, tucks his tail, lowers his head, and lip licks as I get ready to leave.

Returning home–When I return home, sometimes I will get a submissive grin, sometimes I get teeth chattering, sometimes I get lots of lip licking and yawning (along with barking).

Getting leashed up–When I leash up the dogs to go for a walk, Rio does lots of lip licking and frequent yawning and occasionally I’ll get some sneezing.

But I want it–If I cue him to “leave it” or expect an “it’s your choice”– be it a toy, food, agility obstacle, other dog, or leaf on the ground he may stiffen up, drop his head, lip lick, yawn, and potentially tuck his tail.  Apparently it is very stressful for him to see something he can’t have.

The freezer is stressful–I’d say 80% of the time when I open the freezer Rio gives a big yawn.

I could go on an on about his very sensitive nature and his really over the top communication.  It’s a far cry from Shayne who will lift a paw when unsure or stressed  but who rarely yawns and only occasionally licks her lips even when very stressed (other body language cues).  To people who don’t know him he must look like a nervous, stressed out wreck…  luckily I know him better than these people and can say, it’s just how he communicates.  He doesn’t appear to be overly stressed out… he just is very clear about when he’s feeling even the slightest amount of stress (good stress or bad stress).

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10 Comments
  1. This is a great list of calming/stress signals!

    I loved Turid Rugaas’ book when I read it, and started thinking about ways to teach dogs to communicate better using calming signals….and to communicate better with them by using them myself.

    Then I started wondering what they really mean to dogs–are they calming signals or are they stress signals? Do we want to encourage them if they are things the dog does when she is stressed?

    You may have covered this already–I need to spend more time looking through your old posts! Such a fascinating topic.
    Kirsten
    http://peacefuldog.blogspot.com/2010/11/another-calming-trick-yawning.html

    • I haven’t mentioned teaching a calming signal as a trick/behavior but it’s a good idea…. I taught shayne a playbow and to lick her lips. When I go in to evaluate a potentially aggressive or fearful dog I almost always chew gum to emulate lip licking and I have to remind myself to explain to my client why i’m chewing gum so they don’t think i’m totally unprofessional!

      I really prefer Turid Rugaas’ calming signal term more than stress signal though I use them both.

  2. Of course I will vote for you! I am all too happy to help, even in a small way. 🙂

    Shiva can be pretty obvious with her signs as well, though not to Riley’s extent. She has very expressive ears. I try not to worry too much if I see her displaying some of the signs, it all depends on what we are doing at the time. She will often scratch at the start-line in agility, which means she is over-stimulated and can’t focus. I need to pay attention then so that I can re-engage her and prevent a total zoomie attack. But otherwise, unless we are in a situation that I know she really doesn’t enjoy – like at a playground surrounded by children or being approached by a strange man – I try not to over-react about her stress signals. As with humans, sometimes stress is unavoidable, even necessary. We can’t always get what we want, right?

    • Thank you!

      I think that what we have to remember is that stress can be about good things and bad things … a life without stress is also a life without anticipation or excitement … and that’s no fun. It just goes to show how important it is that you know and recognize your dog’s typical communication and calming signals… it can prevent the zoomies on the agility field LOL!

  3. Whenever I ask Elli for a sit, probably 85% of the time, she’ll lip lick. I caught it on video, and have been watching her way more closely ever since.

    One of my exercises for KPA is to go to a correction-based trainer/facility (b/c apparently we won’t see as many signals in a clicker class) and audit a class in order to observe the dogs’ signals. I have this awful feeling I’m going to burst into tears just watching it. 🙁

    • I’m not jealous that you have to sit in on a more traditional training class, that’s for sure! it’s so interesting how different dogs are more expressive than others.

  4. I didn’t realize how sensitive he is. (He definitely has Risa beat.)

    I do remember making a mental note of how many lip licks, look aways, and other ‘stressed’ behaviors I saw from him when we last met up. I thought maybe Risa was being a bit too overbearing or giving off mixed signals that were setting him off. Glad to know it was probably nothing. I was worried Risa was upsetting him!

    • Honestly i’m not sure he IS that sensitive or if he is just very expressive. The calming signals often are very out of context from his behavior before and after…. if that makes sense. It’s like he’s the chic who cries at any on-screen tears in a movie… or something like that…the chic isn’t REALLY that sad but can’t hold back the temporary and superficial reaction to the on-screen situation. I think his calming signals were actually in response of the excitement of seeing Risa more than anything… like i said he gives calming signals like it’s his job!

  5. And I thought Dasy was sensitive. Does he grumble in protest at all?

    • Nope… i’m not entirely sure that his calming signals accurately represent how he’s REALLY feeling or if responds to the most minor feelings with calming signals… they just seem so out of context to his behavior before/after the signal that I just don’t think they are an accurate representation of the level of stress/anxiety/excitement he feels. His general happy-go-lucky nature and his silliness just doesn’t seem to mesh with the sheer amount of calming signals i get every day about any number of things… i really think he is just super expressive..

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