Get that tongue back in your mouth, missy! (What your dog’s tongue action actually means)

How many of you guys have a picture of your dog looking like this:

Everyone? Believe it or not, this is not a coincidence!  Your dog is actually sending you a signal – a calming signal.

Calming signals are how dogs resolve conflict amongst themselves.  Dogs don’t use verbal communication – they use body language.  (In other words, barking is not speech.  Dog’s don’t bark to get their message across.)   I know you will be shocked – but a “calming signal” is used to CALM a dog (and those pups around him) in stressful situations.  There are tons of calming signals your dog is probably throwing at you every day.  Learning what these sometimes easy-to-miss signals mean will help you better understand your furry friend – and both of you will be happier for it!

This post is specifically on the tongue flick calming signal.  A pup might tongue flick when approached by another dog.  (Translation – “I’m just chillin’!  No need to get stressed out around me; I’m relaxed and not a threat.)  Another pooch might tongue flick when you take her to the vet for a check up.  (Translation – “This is making me very uncomfortable, but I’m going to stay calm….for now.”)

I take a lot of puppy pictures, and I’ve found that a good percentage of dogs do not like to have cameras up in their face.  (I am very much like these dogs.)  This means I have literally captured hundreds of tongue flicks on film.  Instead of running away, most good-natured dogs will simply tongue flick at the lens of the camera as if to say “I trust you, human… so I’m going to let you put that THING in my face….but I’m still not sure what the heck that THING is!”  I’m guessing a good number of people reading this have similar pictures.

Scarlett, one of the dogs my mom and I rescued. This was right after we got her - she was hungry, hairless, and very scared! Now, she NEVER tongue flicks!!

Often when I’m walking a new dog, he or she will tongue flick with their head down while I go to leash them up for the first time.  More often than not, this all happens with a tail wag – so I know the pup is unsure, but not necessarily scared.  In play groups, be wary of a dog that every other pooch tongue flicks around.  This dog is sending out some sort of message that is making his playmates feel they need to calm him – or that they need to make sure he knows they are submissive.  (A.K.A. He’s a bully!  Best to keep an eye on him!)

Some more submissive dogs will tongue flick to almost any dog (or human)  – and often pair this calming signal with the lowering of their head and/or gaze.  Other dogs will never do tongue flick.  This, along with most behavior and body language, is something that is very unique to your dog.

Keeping a mental log of your dog’s tongue flicking habits is just another way you can understand them better.  When you understand them better, you won’t unknowingly force them into any stressful situations.  More importantly, when you know and understand them better – you will begin to “speak” their language.  Once you two are speaking the same language – that’s when the bonding, the loving, and the fun really begin!!


(This picture below has nothing to do with tongue flicks or calming signals.  It is just because the picture above is SO depressing.  That pic was taken the day we brought her home.  She is purebred, but she had been on her own for a while.  Here is Scarlett now – ruling my mom’s house with a bit of a belly and long luscious locks!)