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.