E ditor's Note: Dog lover, trainer and behavior therapist Jody Rosengarten has made dogs her life's work since 1980, when she opened her practice, The Bark Stops Here . She teaches puppy behavior and socialization classes in Southport, as well as working one-on-one with clients and their pets of all ages. An Easton resident, Jody is uniquely gifted at communicating with and teaching dogs. She's also deft at instructing their "humans" how to understand, respect and develop pets' strengths. Following is her answer to a frequently asked client question about pet behavior.
Pet owner : Why does my Australian shepherd, Red, raise her hackles when she meets another dog? Does it mean she's going to fight?
Jody : Raised hackles ( piloerection ) is a misunderstood facet of canine body language. Dogs involuntarily raise the hair on the back of their necks, and sometimes all the way down their spines, in an attempt to look bigger and more threatening. It's a psychosomatic expression of arousal, usually in response to being surprised. More often than not, it's the subordinate dog who raises her hackles -- almost as a bluff -- in hopes of buying time to ward off a more dominant dog. Misinterpreting this causes many a dog owner to yell at or otherwise penalize the fearful dog. This not only disables her further, it might actually elicit a fight.
If you know the other dogs are friendly and there is a secure place for Red to meet them off-lead, give it a go; perhaps you could set it up with a friend whose dog has a reliable track record. While you're matchmaking, you might as well look for a boy, as dogs of the opposite sex are less likely to fight. Act calm and reassure Red in anticipation of encountering her date. Make the whole event happy. "Look at that devastatingly handsome Boxer coming our way!" You could give Red a special treat upon first viewing her intended. The message being that the presence of other dogs makes liver bits happen. After they've had a moment to check each other out, start walking. Keeping track of you will give Red a dignified out if she's not yet ready to brave it on her own.
It is the most natural thing in the world for animals to be attracted to their own kind, especially young ones. Without a hint of human intervention, platypuses commiserate in Australia, as do Reticulated giraffes in the Serengeti Plains. Proportionately more people hurt one another than animals do, so perhaps we're not the best keepers of the peace.
Please ask Jody your pet behavior questions here. Maybe she'll answer them in her next column.
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