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Healthy Dogs

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Dog Body Language

Dog Hair

Although dogs don’t communicate much with it, you can discern some things from a dog’s hair. First, a scared or stressed dog is likely to shed more than normal. It’s as though the scared dog is blowing his coat, and it suddenly comes out in buckets! You may have seen this if your dog gets nervous during visits to your veterinarian. After the examination, you, the vet and the table are covered with your dog’s hair.

Dogs may also stick up their hair to communicate how they are, which is called “piloerection,” or more colloquially, “raising the hackles.” Although dogs’ hair is most often raised over the withers (the area where the tops of a dog’s shoulder blades meet), dogs can raise their hair all along their spine. Dogs raise their hair when they’re aroused about something. It’s comparable to a person having goose bumps. Raised hackles can mean that a dog is afraid, angry, insecure, unsure, nervous or wildly excited about something.

Overall Body Posture

Dogs also use their bodies to communicate their intentions. In general, dogs either try to look normal, smaller or larger. If your dog’s feeling happy and contented, he’ll look normal-relaxed muscles and weight evenly balanced on all four feet. Similarly, when he’s playful, he’ll look normal. He may be bouncing around or running wildly with exaggerated movements, but his facial expression and his muscles will be relaxed and nothing about his body will look unnatural.

This is quite different from the overall appearance of a scared dog. When your dog is scared, he’ll be hunched as though trying to look small. He might lower his body or even cower on the ground. His head will be held low as well. If he’s frightened by something or someone, he’ll recoil away from it. For instance, if your dog is scared on an examination table, he’ll pull away from the veterinarian and lean into you. If your dog is uncertain but curious about something, he might approach it tentatively, with his weight centered over his rear legs so that he can retreat quickly if he needs to.

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