Calming Signals or Stress Signals?

Take a deep breath... Hold it... Release slowly...

Do you feel calmer or more relaxed?

We all pretty much know - or have heard - that deep breathing helps us humans relax and that if we are getting tense or angry that taking a deep breath can help us get our focus back. (It also raises our endorphin levels and lowers our adrenalin levels.) You may also have noticed that if one person starts taking slow deep breaths, others around them often will also start breathing slowly and deeply. You may also have noticed that people who are relaxed tend to breath more deeply and slowly.

So if people are breathing deeply and slowly, is that a sign of stress or relaxation? It can really be either one. A better description might be that the person is either relaxed or self-aware and in control of themself.

Dogs have a number of behaviors that they use similarly to how humans use deep breathing, such as yawning and nose licking. They will use these behaviors when they are stressed to calm themselves, but they also use them to tell others to calm down and they do them naturally when they are relaxed. I often see these behaviors referred to as stress signals - particularly on the internet; but I think that Turid Rugaas' interpretation of them as calming signals is much more appropriate and meaningful.

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