Dog hackles could signal a lot of things

Dog hackles could signal a lot of things. Image: Unsplash

Dog hackles: Why does my dog’s fur rise up?

When a dog’s hackles are raised, it indicates heightened alertness, potential aggression, or fear, often accompanied by raised fur.

Dog hackles could signal a lot of things

Dog hackles could signal a lot of things. Image: Unsplash

Have you ever noticed your dog’s fur standing on end along their back? Those raised hairs, called hackles, are a fascinating canine communication tool. But what exactly do they mean?

Hackles: A Furry Signpost

Dog hackles are the fur that runs along the spine, from the neck to the tail. Unique muscles beneath the skin control these hairs, causing them to stand upright when stimulated. PetHelpful states that these hairs have a piloerection function, meaning that they have a tendency to raise under certain circumstances. This reaction is involuntary, triggered by the nervous system, and serves as a visual signal to other dogs and their humans.

What Do Raised Hackles Mean?

Contrary to popular belief, raised hackles don’t solely indicate aggression. While aggression can be a reason, hackles can also signal a range of emotions, including:

  • Excitement: Think squirrels or playful barking!
  • Fear or anxiety: Encountering something new or scary can trigger raised hackles.
  • Dominance: Especially in unfamiliar situations, dogs might raise their hackles to appear bigger and more assertive.
  • Alertness: Focused attention on something can cause hackles to rise.

Understanding the Full Picture

To decipher the true meaning behind raised hackles, look at your dog’s entire body language. Here are some additional clues:

  • Stiff posture and a lowered growl: Likely aggression.
  • Tucked tail and whimpering: Fear or anxiety.
  • Ears perked and playful body movements: Excitement.

When to Worry About Hackles

Raised hackles accompanied by growling, snarling, or lunging indicate aggression. If this is the case, remove your dog from the situation and seek professional help from a qualified behaviourist.

Keeping Your Dog Calm

A calm and relaxed dog is less likely to have raised hackles. Here are some tips:

  • Socialisation: Expose your dog to different people, animals, and environments from a young age.
  • Positive reinforcement training: Reward calm behaviour to build confidence.
  • Provide a safe space: Create a calm area for your dog to retreat to if feeling overwhelmed.

By understanding dog hackles and their accompanying body language, you can better interpret your canine companion’s emotions and ensure a harmonious relationship. Remember, if you’re ever unsure, consulting a vet or behaviourist is always recommended.


Artificial Intelligence assisted in compiling this article.