Dogs make use of calming signals to show that they are not a thread or being aggressive.
They even use it with us, but we seldom notice this.
So what do they do to show this?
Things like shaking their body, licking lips, blinking, looking away, yawning, paw lift, walking while sniffing, nose licking, moving slowly in an arc approach and sitting or lying down.
This does not mean your dog can't be scratching because of an itch or licking his lips to get food off his mouth.
Next time you are in a situation where your dog looks stressed try one of the following: yawn while looking away or lick your lips a few times. Your dog can give you any calming signal, but would be likely to look away, lick lips, yawn or blink his eyes.
You should immediately see the relieve on your dogs face.
When you approach a strange dog it's good to do the yawning and looking away signal as it can be intimidating to look a strange dog in the eye. Dogs see this as a thread, challenge and think it's pretty rude.
Watch your dog giving these signals to other dogs. Some dogs are not well socialized and could not have "manners" and not use these signals or not read them right. But sometimes it stops an ill mannered dog wanting to attack right in his tracks.
Have you maybe seen dogs playing and maybe getting a bit rough? Notice that maybe one of the dogs would stop and start sniffing the ground; this is to tell the other dog. Listen buddy I am not your prey and you are playing to rough cool it!
When you take your dog with to a friend’s house your dog jumps out of the car and shakes his whole body as if when he was wet. This is to calm himself and tell your friend and or your friend’s dog I am not a thread, please be nice.
Dogs can also use these signals to calm another dog. My dog Gephetto uses this to calm his "sister" Ice who scares easily. This lets the other dog know its okay this is a safe environment. This is what you can do for your dog too.
If you see your dog being either very vocal at a new environment, not being able to sit still for one second, pulling his ears back and tail dropping reassure your dog with a signal that he is safe.
If this interests you the following are good reads about the subject.
Turid Rugaas: On talking terms with dogs and Patricia B.McConnel: The other end of the leash; why we do what we do around dogs.
May this help you to be able to bond with your dog even more by entering into your dogs world.
My dogs keep me on my toes, just when I think okay now I get you I realize there are so much still to learn...