Calming “Signals” are not Intentional

I excerpted the following from a dog discussion site:

“I have an interesting question, which I’m not sure there is a definitive answer for, but may lead to some interesting discussion.   How do dogs learn calming signals (appeasement behaviors, etc)?   I know there are lots of terms used for these behaviors, but calming signals seem to be a widely used one.”

“Is it by observation?  Trial and error?  Is it genetically based?  Are there any scientists in the group who know of studies relating to this?  Has anyone studied calming behaviors in dogs blind from birth?  I’d love to see some studies.”

“My dog that has been both blind and deaf from birth has some of the clearest calming signals that I have ever seen.  She obviously did not learn them through the senses of sight and hearing.  Did she learn them tactically?  Perhaps these behaviors come genetically pre-programmed?  Are these behaviors that are triggered when a dog senses certain pheromones or other changes in its environment?   There is still so much we don’t know about our dogs.  To me, it’s so exciting to learn more about how they think and how their brains and bodies work.”

“Does anyone else find these questions intriguing?  Has anyone else had a dog blind since birth that shows great calming signals?  Does anyone have thoughts?”


If calming signals are intentional, then observation and imitation would be required. This isn’t possible with a deaf/blind dog and yet they manifest very good signals. There is a better explanation.

Whenever an animal is stimulated, it wants to move. This begins at the instant of birth. If an animal can’t move, it experiences stress. Movement, an actual physical momentum, thereby becomes associated with a stimulus and through the power of Pavlovian Conditioning, the two become inextricably linked. The dog associates the physical momentum that his own body generates when stimulated, as being an actual property and characteristic of the stimulus itself. Again this is due to the power of Pavlovian Conditioning on the mind of a newborn which is experiencing movement  and being acted upon by external forces well before his central nervous system is developed. Therefore a tennis ball crazed dog, unlike a tennis player, becomes jittery and obviously pressurized the instant he sees a tennis ball. Until the releaser for movement is provided, the ball crazed dog is internally swirling with that same degree of momentum he would be experiencing were he chasing the ball. In other words in such a dog’s mind a tennis ball has emotional momentum as the most prominent feature of its makeup. This for example is why dogs are such prolific barkers, it’s a physiological means of relieving the pressure of emotional momentum when physical movement is constrained.

What we call “calming signals” is really how the dog is responding to the emotional momentum that he associates with any given stimulus as for example when he sees another dog. Some dogs are projecting emotional momentum, ears forward, tail high, shoulders tight (i.e. putting out a “PING”).




Some dogs are absorbing emotional momentum, ears back, tail low, shoulders ready to lower (i.e. putting out a “PONG”).






An exchange of virtual emotional momentum precedes an exchange of actual physical momentum, like two fax machines ping and ponging as the prerequisite for exchanging digital information. This transfer of a virtual energy works out the kinks before contact is made, at a safe distance, so that actual physical forces can be exchanged. This mitigates violence and ultimately enables sociability. It is not an intentional signal. It is a feature of the animal mind, a part of its very architecture which is why a blind and deaf dog is fully enabled without actually seeing and practicing said signals. Yes while an animal is genetically encoded to develop the emotional capacity to participate in such an exchange, this capacity isn’t genetically based per se any more than we can say the blueprints for a radio are responsible for the signal that is received and then translated into an actual sound wave.

All animals are able to physically respond to actual forces. It’s how their minds are configured because movement and responding to forces is the basis of every organisms’  evolution. An exchange of emotional momentum is what we’re observing in the so called calming signals. And it’s not that some dogs are better at reading the signals than others, again this is belied by the capacity of a blind dog. The emotional momentum in a given stimulus can either be absorbed or it cannot, it can either be leveraged or it cannot, it can either be coupled with or it cannot. The above criteria is the basis of body language and is a function of emotional capacity not mental comprehension. So if a blind dog can move and respond to forces acting on its body, then it is experiencing physical momentum and it will come to associate this with whatever it finds itself attracted to, and through whatever faculties of perception are available to it, some of which might not yet be even understood by science.

This should also put to rest the notion that some dogs are better at reading the signals than others. This would only be true if said deficient dog was’t capable of getting out of the way of a brick coming at him. The variation between dogs in responses to social situations is due to emotional capacity, the capacity to absorb, leverage and couple to forces.

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Published June 25, 2015 by Kevin Behan
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3 responses to “Calming “Signals” are not Intentional”

  1. Rip says:

    “This should also put to rest the notion that some dogs are better at reading the signals than others.”

    I don’t follow. It is observably true that some dogs are “better” at it than others. The variations in emotional capacity (for whatever reason) equate to “better” and “worse” in the final analysis, don’t they? I’m not saying this is a permanent condition, just noting what I see.

  2. Kevin Behan says:

    Good point, I should have developed my statement further. Responses to emotional momentum may vary widely, but a bad response doesn’t mean the dog isn’t capable of picking up the signal, it’s just that he’s having to deal with more force than he can handle and so he responds defensively. For example, two people watching a game have placed bets on opposing teams. The one whose team loses reacts badly, not because he couldn’t discern the signal, but because he couldn’t handle the information. Furthermore, their respective net worths would be a financial capacity that determines how much defensiveness each bettor will experience given the outcome of the game. One can ABSORB the loss and the other can’t. Similarly the dog with a high emotional capacity is aroused by being destabilized by the force of another dog because he can absorb their emotional momentum, so we see that he collects rather than becomes defensive. Whereas a dog with a low emotional capacity is only aware of being knocked off balance and is sensitive to the force projected by the approaching dog and so he becomes volatile to keep that force out of his system. It’s not that he’s not capable of picking up the salient data points as the calming signal folks think about anti-social dogs, it’s that he can’t absorb enough emotional momentum and therefore is only focusing on the predatory aspect of the approaching dog. And sure enough later with a dog that he lives with and has established a high emotional capacity, he can pick up their preyful aspects as well as any dog and get along and play just find. Then the calming signal theorists say context is the deciding factor, when in fact it is always a principle of emotional conductivity. The deficient dogs have a low emotional capacity that once improves, improves their social capacity in the same stroke. That which used to be resistant, becomes conductive.

  3. Rip says:

    Good analogy. Thanks.

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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