An example - Ben starts to run with his handler but suddenly runs off, eagerly sniffing the ground. This is a classic Calming Signal.
Sniffing the ground is a form of redirected behaviour. Ben can sense his handler's excitement, nervousness, or worry, and is trying to calm the handler by moving away from the stressful equipment (and handler) and concentrating on doing something far more pleasant instead - using his nose.
Little does he realise that his behaviour is having the opposite effect on the handler! Rather than defusing the situation his running off is making his handler even more nervous, irritable or overwhelming.
The handler may try to call Ben in a happy, exciting voice to catch his attention. Ben interprets their body language and tone of voice as being even more stressed/over the top, and so he "shouts" even louder Calming Signals (perhaps even lying down and turning his head away) to try to calm the situation.
Alternatively the handler may go up to Ben and drag him by his collar back towards the agility equipment. If you look at this behaviour from Ben's point of view, the handler is ignoring his signals and forcing him into a situation that Ben had already indicated was too stressful for him. Ben looses trust and confidence in his handler's judgment and is far more likely to "do his own thing" rather than obey commands in the future - he becomes a Lodger.
The best option that the handler can do is to walk away from the agility ring, calmly calling Ben's name to follow them. Ben looks up and sees that his Calming Signals have been effective - the handler is no longer stressed, or anxious and is obviously walking away from the situation that he cannot cope with. Ben happily follows his handler towards their car or the exercise area, building up trust in his handler's judgment for the future.
The handler experiments over the next week or so to find if there is any specific trigger that has prompted Ben to show such strong Claming Signals - is he stressed around certain pieces of equipment such as the weaves or contacts? Did the handler over excite Ben by playing chase games in the exercise area, just before he was due to run (see 10 minute rule)? Was Ben tired from too much stimulation in the car or caravan area? Or was it the handler's own body language and scent that caused the problem to arise in the agility ring?
By monitoring Ben's Calming Signals in various situations and keeping an eye on his long-term stress symptoms, the handler is able to pinpoint the most likely causes and manage the situation for the future. Ben is calmer and more willing to run with his handler because his signals have had a response, and he is less likely to feel the need to show further Calming Signals in similar situations.
This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).
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