Do dogs appease each other—or us? Veterinary research focuses on watching and labeling canine interactions - DVM
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Do dogs appease each other—or us? Veterinary research focuses on watching and labeling canine interactions
Careful observation can provide clues about how a dog may react in specific situations.


Do true appeasement signals exist?

At least two of the four common definitions of appeasement may fit responses of dogs in controlled situations established to cause stress or anxiety. The behaviors identified most consistently as appeasement behaviors in such research (lifting a paw, looking or moving away, licking the lips)4,8 are all commonly reported stress- and anxiety-related behaviors.

Ethological definitions of these behaviors routinely characterize them as intention movements, withdrawal from social interaction indicators, and indicators of uncertainty, respectively.7 Such descriptions may be more unbiased than a label such as "appeasement gesture," especially when in a controlled study these behaviors are associated with such a complex physiological profile. However, in the restrictive context of this careful study, there is a pattern of relatively narrow behavioral responses and activity that appears to meet two of the four definitions of appeasement. In this study, one could justify the carefully restricted use, as do the authors.

But should we in the world at large accept that appeasement is driving all canine behaviors and accept the term as a descriptor of canine behavior in the absence of more nuanced information? Absolutely not. We can see in Table 1 the wide number of possibly co-varying responses that are part of any anxiety, stress or distress response.

The message from all of these studies is that patterns of co-variation of all behavioral, physiological and neurochemical responses matter, and the context in which they are exhibited is key. If we can start to think this way, we may be able to figure out how to measure and compare individual responses in a practical way that allows us to anticipate when certain interactions or situations will change a dog's behavior in ways injurious to the dog. And that would be priceless.

Dr. Karen L. Overall is a researcher, editor of The Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, and author of more than 100 publications, dozens of chapters and a new book, The Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats.


1. Maynard Smith J, Harper DGC. Animal signals: models and terminology. J Theor Biol 1995;177:305-311.

2. Hasson O. Emotional tears as biological signals. Evol Psychol 2009;7:363-370.

3. Rugaas T. On talking terms with dogs: calming signals. Wenatchee, Wash. Dogwise Publishing, 1997.

4. Pastore C, Pirrone F, Balzarotti F, et al. Evaluation of physiological and behavioral stress-dependent parameters in agility dogs. J Vet Behav: Clin Appl Res 2011;6:188-194.

5. Wosegien A, Lamprecht J. Nodding: an appeasement behaviour of pigeons (Columba livia). Behaviour 1989;108:44-56.

6. Koolhaas JM, Korte SM, De Boer SF, et al. Coping styles in animals: current status in behavior and stress-physiology. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 1999;23:925-935.

7. Overall KL. Manual of clinical behavioral medicine. St. Louis, Mo. Elsevier, 2013.

8. Kuhne F, Hö ler JC, Struwe R. Behavioral and cardiac responses by dogs to physical human-dog contact. J Vet Behav: Clin Appl Res 2014. [In press]


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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