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Swagger Working Calming Signals

Posted on 03/08/11 19 Comments

Swagger had his fourth play date with the Labrador puppies.


It was by far the best to date. Many “firsts” were shown during yesterdays play date. For the first time in four visits he actually allowed the Labs to put him on his back and play with them from this position.

What was really cool was to see how when he first came into the group, he didn’t try to beat all the Labs up like he did on his first date. Likewise he didn’t freak out and become traumatized by all of the puppies’ attention like he did on trip three. He actually make some very wise moves, playing it cool until everyone was over the novelty of him being there (as shown in the video) before he started the play sessions. I have highlighted 10 calming signals (I now see 11) I am sure there are more . . . see if you can pick them out without reading my notations the first time through this video clip.

Besides the good calming signals, what I really liked was how Swagger worked the room. Being on top of one puppy to wrestle.

Then immediately allowing that puppy to be on top of him. It was a great give and take interaction that he shared with at least 4 of the Labs that I observed.

In the end is was a great session that ended with a big pile of tired puppies . . . this time including the Border Collie!

My initial vision finally coming true. Swagger curled up with the Lab babies.

Today I am grateful for Susie Bell and her great litter of PineBank Lab puppies. It takes a very experienced and laid back breeder to allow their litter to go through the torments of this Border Collie puppy has unlesahed. In the end it has become a Lab Experiment that has become beneficial to all of the puppies, not just the Swag-man. Next visit scheduled for this Thursday!


  1. Christine Schragel says:
    Monday, March 28, 2011 at 3:27am


    I do agree with Kim about her CS observations. I can also remeber seeing,slow motion sitting down, jawning,lifting paw, lots of turning away, blinking, putting head down and side,….

    I would enjoy getting to hear the next month how both Swagger and the labs develope (in best until they are social mature). Is there a webpage where one can see the pedigree of the labs?

    There is one thing that came to my mind watching is that I guess I would have found it better if pups had mor space to develope and escape.
    Knowing me at the moment, I guess I had interfiered more often in the beginning.

    Many thanks for sharing and I loved the lab/border pup pile.:o)


  2. Kim says:
    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 11:24am

    There’s what I think is a lovely little cluster of stress signs and calming signals around the 1:38 to 1:42 mark, when one of the black labs has a good hold on his ear. I see Swagger freeze (his tail gives it away), turn his head, and flash some whale eye. Then, from 1:43 to 1:45 he very obviously is curving away (or attempting to) from the lab. At 1:46 he can’t take any more and finally gives a yelp and once the lab releases his hold, at 1:49 Swagger completely disengages himself from the group and engages in some displacement sniffing.
    I’d love to know how everyone else interprets those moments.



  3. Alison says:
    Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 6:46pm

    Thanks Denise for the link about calming signals. It is the first time I’ve read about them, and I went back and had a look at the video.

    I was wondering – when Swagger raised his paws up to one of the puppies (it was at the 1:00 minute mark)on the video – is this a calming signal? I just saw from the link Denise sent that it mentioned lifting a paw (though, in this case it’s two).


  4. Tina W says:
    Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 1:12pm

    I have been reading this blog with fascination for quite a while now and finally logged in to post a comment!

    First congratulations to Susan on a healthy pup and mum, that must be a big relief! (and it’s certainly brilliant being able to follow Swagger’s progress, I’ve only relatively recently learned about calming signals, although my ‘club diplomat’ Collie- Springer cross did his best to teach me when keeping our club socialisations under control! so this has been really interesting to see at the puppy level.)

    Second many many thanks to Susan for all the wonderful tips books and dvds produced. I currently have 3 collies and we have all found such a benefit from everything, as have my agility club members who constantly hear ‘Susan Garrett does it this way…’ with intermittent ‘And Greg Derrett does…’ and ‘And Mary Ray’s freetime…! I refer to you as the Queen and First Lady of Shaping and Agility Handling, and can’t wait for the next dvd (having nearly worn out ‘one jump’ and ‘2×2 s’).

    I’m across the pond in England and coming to one of your camps is problematic for a number of reasons so I am especially grateful for your generosity in sharing advice and information. I thought I was reward based until I found your training and ‘Shaping Success’, and even now still have a long way to go but me and my guys are enjoying the journey 200%, so thanks once again, and also to all those who post on this site for their input. I hope I may be able to contribute some of our success (and not!) stories.

    And that brings me to – Third, I’m logged in with the generated password, which requires a better memory than mine to remember, but can only see the options of log out or post a comment now that I am logged in, nothing that appears to give me the option to alter my password to something I can remember easily ( I also can’t see the usual scrolling banner at the top of the page now I’m logged in). Does this mean I’m unable to alter my password or is this computer maybe blocking some option that should be there or am I just staring at something and missing it?!? Any help appreciated.

    Once again my thanks an appreciation,

    Tina W


    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 9:08pm

      @ Tina, thanks for your post I am unsure about any technical issues. You can try contacting Jason AT webmanna DOT com he may be able to help you. BTW shhhhhh — no one knows this just yet but I I will be teaching in the UK for three days in May:)


      • Tina W says:
        Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 11:23am

        Hi and thanks for the reply and the technical link, I’ll try again over the weekend.

        And THANK YOU for sharing the little secret about upcoming UK teaching, I won’t say a word to anyone!!! but will be very interested (very very very) in getting to that session. I’m assuming via UKA with whom I’ve previously registered, and have emailed for info when available.
        Thanks again and happy training and ‘pup rearing’
        Tina W

  5. Laura says:
    Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 1:09pm

    Why do you think ‘mouthing things in the environment’ (CS5) and ‘turning head to mouth distracting toy’ (CS7) were in fact calming signals?


    • Mary M says:
      Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 9:47pm

      @ Laura – I would think these behaviors would be considered “calming signals” because the pup is using displacement behaviors, finding something else to focus on and not engaging in the interaction with the others until things settle down and play gets invited.


  6. Mary M says:
    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 11:06pm

    Susan – I LOVE IT….very nice calming signals and general correct dog communication (crisp, clear, and relaxed, like he owned the place!)

    And showing some true alpha ability (I don’t mean “alpha crap”, i.e. bullying stuff) But instead the true ability begining for him to ignore, remain calm, then engage play and also correct appropriately by correcting annoyance behavior from the bully puppy in the group and leaving that pup alone after one clear correction…..REALLY GOOD STUFF!

    Lots of sniffing lots of sideways movement, much more relaxed behavior, as evidence by rolling over to play and OMG sleeping with the other pups, this is the icing on the cake (or maybe โ€œmoney in the bankโ€ like in recallers LOL).

    Wonderful work I say, he will have better dog communication, then most, in no time!

    Really can’t say enough about how happy this makes me for him, you, and Penny (if he heads her way).

    BRAVO ๐Ÿ™‚


  7. Jenny Yasi says:
    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 10:10pm

    Awesome post, and the whole series is really interesting. I have often sympathized with owners of teeny dogs, that it can be hard to read their body language because they move so fast and they are so small, it can be hard to see what is going on. It’s been really impressive to see right from the beginning how good you are at catching every little (teeny-weeny) nuance! Wowza, you are so good at that. Awesome that now they are able to sleep all together, and so true that this has got to be GREAT for those labs! Really interesting to see the behaviors that I am used to seeing in bigger/older dog-play happening in these tiny pups. I wonder what all that clambering over is really all about, in someways it can seem like a calming signal,in that I have seen dogs “flatten” dogs to get them to stop playing so rough. What do you think of the “climbing over the other puppy” behavior? My older dogs do that a lot, to me it looks friendly, sort of like human children do when they climb all over each other.


  8. Suzanne Wesley says:
    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 6:31pm

    I saw most of your CSs. First and foremost the initial curling away/avoidance behavior, yawning, non-interest in play with the pups etc. Not sure if you mentioned this but I noticed his ears pinned back until around CS6 when the ears make final take off from landing position :)) Interestingly enough his tail gives good information. Mostly always up but there were a couple of times he was unsure and his tail dropped slightly. Shows a nice amount of confidence there. After the ears came up all bets are off though ๐Ÿ™‚ Interesting too, I didn’t see him presenting any glaring submissive behavior!


  9. Terri Schmidt (CA) says:
    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 5:40pm

    Wonderful video! I have not heard the term “calming signal” before. (Maybe I need to re-read “Ruff Love”?) I thought that averting the eyes, disengaging and yawning were considered signs of stress. If you have time, would you please write on this topic?

    Like Denise, I am wondering if you will be using or modifying your Ruff Love method of raise this or another pup.

    Thanks for letting us oooh and awwwwe over Swagger’s development!


  10. Trudie says:
    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 4:04pm

    Hey, what about those dramatic snorty play noises!
    Love your puppy sleeping picture. Look how they’re sleeping – the Swagger is curled up in a ball, (for security?) he’s on the edge of the group, (but still he’s touching two of the others) whilst almost all of the others are lying stretched out flat.


  11. Nelci O'Brien says:
    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 3:33pm

    Newsletter idea!

    Susan, a long while back I asked your opinion about why some trainers do not want to teach “control” behaviors to their puppies until they are 7 month or older. You mentioned this will be a full blog posting ๐Ÿ™‚ what about an article on your newsletter about this…




  12. Wendy says:
    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 3:12pm

    I love the video! I also saw him presenting his butt a couple of times somewhere around CS4 or CS5, and backing up a little in a couple of places too. I also saw him give a good yip when he got his ear bitten, and the bully girl backed off for a moment. Good Swagger man!

    I got the chance this weekend to let my 12 week sheltie pup have a playdate with a 14 week sheltie pup who was taller, but lighter weight – they were a good match. It was my ex-pen, so I got to watch this same sort of give and take, with my girl on the confident side and the other girl less so, since she was in an unfamiliar ex-pen. There was some unreturned play bowing, some curving, presenting of butts, yawning, then some submissive gestures, and finally full on rock and roll playing. So much fun to watch when you can ‘understand’ their language!


  13. Kathy says:
    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 2:59pm

    Newsletter ideas!
    I would love to see a newsletter about teaching the retrieve. My dog will retrieve anything I throw, but she does a ton of self rewarding on the way back to me. I”m not really sure how to “reteach” the rules of retrieving-and it makes it problematic for say, weave pole training.
    Another idea:
    Ideas for shaping the over the top dogs-the fly in a blender types who just throw a million behaviors during a shaping session.


  14. denise says:
    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 2:11pm

    What a big change from the last video….he tried really hard to calm everything down. Loved it when he dropped the bully puppy, he certainly got his point across without carrying on with any nastiness. Great to see the photos of all the pups curled up sleeping ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’m assuming you will raise whichever pup you end up keeping using your “Ruff Love” method, if you were to keep Swagger would you make any modifications to compensate for his singleton status? I’m thinking specifically of more time with your adult dogs??


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