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Translating Puppy Talk


35. Keeps the hair on his back standing on end. Called piloerection, this is sort of like goose bumps. It’s not something a dog can control. Consider that a dog’s hairs have little muscles attached to them called the piloerectile muscles. When his sympathetic nervous system, involved in fight or flight reactions, releases epinephrine, those muscles contract, in turn raising the hairs. It is assumed that nature programmed dogs to raise their hackles when faced with danger in order to make them look bigger and fiercer. A dog’s hair will also stand on end when he is very, very cold. Again, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, this time to help the dog burn fuel faster, but the muscle-contracting action in the hair takes place, too. If the hair stands up, an insulating layer of air gets trapped between hair shafts, so the cold air cannot get so close to the skin. It works like a down jacket.

Excerpted from Puppy’s First Steps: The Whole-Dog Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy, Well-Behaved Puppy, Edited by Nicholas Dodman with Lawrence Lindner, and the Faculty of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University; Copyright © 2007. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, used with permission.




This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 41: Mar/Apr 2007
Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, is a world-renowned animal behaviorist and the best-selling author of several books, including The Dog Who Loved Too Much, Dogs Behaving Badly and The Well-Adjusted Dog. He is director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

Photograph by Ana Abejon

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Submitted by small dogs | April 8 2010 |

love this article. will certainly save me a lot of frustration from now understanding what my dogs are trying to tell me. will definitely share this at my blog.

Submitted by Australian shepherd | June 6 2012 |

This furthermore prooves that my puppy is needy....

Submitted by Bex | April 8 2014 |

There is a reason Aussies are known as the velcro dogs. Lol my Aussie is mixed with Rottweiler and boy do both personalities show. Needy or not we wouldn't have em any other way right?

Submitted by Anonymous | October 21 2012 |

I feel like this article is focusing far too much on an outdated concept of "dominance" - a puppy that climbs on a couch is probably not trying to assert his dominance, he just wants to be where the people are (not to mention that it's more comfortable up there). The information on calming signals is good though.

Submitted by Nikki | March 31 2013 |

Why does my dog like to be "swaddled" like an infant? He whines for me, I'll wrap him in a blanket and he will go right to sleep. So spoiled.

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