Many pet parents are perplexed by raised hackles, the fur on a dog’s back and neck. They might see them as an aggressive gesture, but that’s not always the case. Since they are an uncontrollable reflex brought on by something that aroused the dog, raised hackles are not considered behaviors. The reaction is known by the medical term piloerection (pilo referring to “hair in medical terms).
Raised hackles may indicate fear, anxiety, agitation, jitteriness, or even rage. If your dog develops elevated hackles, you must examine otherbody language and the surrounding circumstances to determine what is going on. Then, you’ll be able to decide how to reply.
Raised hackles as anxiety
Every time a new dog entered the room, my German Shepherd dog, Ginger, used to show elevated hackles. When she was 7 months old, I saved her. She wasn’t properly socialized because when she was a puppy, she got parvovirus and needed to be isolated from other dogs until she was well. She was past the crucial stage of puppy socialization when she was finally healthy enough to interact with other puppies, which is why I had to rescue her. She was also uncontrollable on the leash.
She experienced a lot of nervousness while meeting new canines, which as an adult showed as heightened hackles. Her other body parts all gave forth reassuring signals: a paw lift, a low horizontal tail wag, and squinty eyes. The good news is that I was able to interpret her behavior, and the better news is that the dogs we met were also able to interpret her body language: she was tense but amiable and eager to greet. This screenshot from my Dog Decoder app exactly captures Ginger’s current condition.
Within the first 60 seconds of meeting a new dog, Ginger overcame her initial apprehension and became the friendliest pup who enjoyed playing rough and tumble with the best of them. Her continued lack of socialization would have made her more uneasy and even violent, when that wasn’t what she originally intended, if I hadn’t understood her increased hackles and body language and seen it as aggressiveness that called for her to be removed from the environment.
Raised hackles as excitement
When he encountered another dog, Jack, another puppy I’ve worked with in the past, would likewise exhibit increased hackles, but for a different reason. His excitement was unbridled and pure, and he was constantly itching to play. He frequently turned off other dogs from wanting to meet him because of his too enthusiastic greetings.
Many dogs who engage in this type of behavior have heightened hackles, even when the rest of their body language signals play: a fast horizontal tail wag, ears facing forward, even barking and leash lunging. Due to the heightened hackles, some people could interpret this as hostile behavior as well, but for Jack in this circumstance, it wasn’t at all.
Raised hackles as aggression
The left dog is seen in the next image with slightly raised hackles at the shoulders and at the top of its back, as well as ears back and down, hard eyes, a high tail, a wide open mouth with teeth showing, and a more stiffly posed body. Raised hackles and aggressive body language are signs of canine hostility.
Raised hackles as predatory
As seen in the predatory stalking image below, when a dog gets extremely excited, their hair may stand up from the base of their neck all the way to the tip of their tail. However, there is no regular pattern connecting the location and amount of lifted hair to a certain action. Every dog and every circumstance are unique.
The bottom line on raised hackles
It’s crucial to understand your dog’s full body language and to analyze the situation if there are raised hackles. If you don’t, a problem can arise where none previously existed. Your response could cause a timid or nervous dog to become violent.
The best strategy to treat a dog that is acting aggressively is to divert his focus while you try to identify the triggers and discover a pattern. Consult a behaviorist who can assist you in helping your dog feel less of whatever is triggering them if the reaction continues and worsens.
To ensure that our dogs live emotionally fulfilling and healthy lives, it is essential to comprehend your dog’s body language.
Which dog breed’s back hair sticks up?
Does stress or excitement ever cause the hair on your arm, neck, or head to rise uncontrollably? Dogs refer to it as “hackles,” whereas humans refer to it as “goosebumps.” Piloerection is the medical word used to describe this condition in dogs. Although hair cannot speak, it can convey a dog’s emotional state. It is a dog’s method of expressing his emotions. Humans, cats, rodents, and birds all exhibit the same response. This serves as protection for porcupines by deterring predators.
A dog’s hackles extend from the base of its tail to the neck, backbone, and shoulder. All dogs have hackles, but some breeds make them more noticeable than others. Breeds with longer, fluffier hair make it harder to see hackling, whereas breeds with short hair tend to make it easier to see piloerection.
Why does a dog furrow its brow? It is caused physically by an adrenaline rush. It can be brought on psychologically by excitement, fear, curiosity, or arousal. If a hunting dog detects its prey, its hackles may rise. A canine partner may perceive threat from an unfamiliar or foreign dog. A male in good health may notice a female in heat. A dog’s hackles may increase in response to fireworks or lightning. Your dog could be so thrilled that its hackles increase when you get home after a long day away.
A dog’s raised hackles often give him a taller, bigger, and more frightening appearance. This is a “fight or flight” reaction brought on by fear, designed to frighten off predators. A dog, though, may tense up for reasons other than aggression. Nobody is more familiar with your dog’s reactions than you are. As a responsible dog owner, it is your responsibility to understand your dog’s body language when its hackles are raised.
Take note of its tail, eyes, ears, and body posture in addition to his hackles. He can be feeling tense and hostile if he is standing erect. Observe his tail. Is his tail curled up in aggressiveness, tucked under in fear, or wagging with excitement? Is your dog playing with himself or does he appear to be about to lunge? His ears can also convey his emotions because they might be relaxed, flat, up, or in the back position. Is his expression calm or is he gritting his teeth or growling?
You need to be aware but not tense when your dog starts to get nervous. Your dog may be acting aggressively because he is scared and wants you to reassure him. Take him away from the incident and bring him to a peaceful location.
Always be conscious of your surroundings and how your dog is behaving when you are out walking your dog. If he becomes nervous, find out what is going on in the area. Try to divert him if something is worrying him.
Note: The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a breed of dog that has permanently raised hair on its back. Raised hackles should not be confused with this. It is merely a characteristic of this breed of dog.
What draws dogs to you?
For dogs, licking comes naturally and instinctively. It serves as a means of self-expression, bonding, and grooming for them. Your dog may lick you to express their affection for you, to attract your attention, to help them relax when they’re upset, to demonstrate empathy, or simply because they like the way you taste! It’s possible that excessive licking is an indication of anxiety, discomfort, or pain in your dog. Always get guidance from a veterinarian or behaviorist if you are worried about your dog.
What are a dog’s initial indicators of stress?
The word “stress” is frequently used to refer to pressure or strained feelings. There are a wide variety of stress-related factors. Maybe your job is making you worried, maybe you get uncomfortable when you meet new people, or maybe you get anxious when your daily routine is interrupted.
You can find comfort in a number of methods to lower your stress levels. You might find comfort in the companionship of a reliable friend. Perhaps you get stress relief when engaged in common tasks like housecleaning. Or perhaps you work out to let off some steam.
Even our dogs are susceptible to stress. Since we are aware of how stress affects us, we undoubtedly want to assist in reducing stress in our pets. However, how can we tell when our dogs are stressed out when they don’t express their emotions, slam the phone down, or throw a fit? In dogs, worry frequently shows itself in subtle ways. In actuality, certain stress-related behaviors resemble those of unwinding.
What are some of the indicators of stress in dogs?
shaking or pacing After a bath or a roll in the grass, you’ve probably seen your dog shake. Except when it’s a reaction to stress, that whole-body trembling can be funny and quite acceptable. Dogs, for instance, frequently experience worry when visiting the vet. When they land on the ground after leaving the test table, many dogs “shake it off.” Dogs pace when disturbed, just like people do. While they wait for the vet to enter, some canines circle the examination room repeatedly.
barking or whining. In dogs, vocalization is a common form of self-expression, albeit it can become more intense under stress. Dogs who are anxious or fearful may whine or bark to attract your attention or to calm themselves.
licking, yawning, and drooling. Dogs yawn when they are exhausted, bored, or under stress. A strained yawn is longer and more powerful than a sleepy one. Additionally, anxious dogs may lick and drool excessively.
eyes and ears change. Like agitated individuals, stressed dogs may exhibit dilated pupils and fast blinking. They could appear shocked by opening their eyes extremely wide and exhibiting more sclera (white) than usual. Normal alert or relaxed ears are pressed back against the head.
alterations in posture. Dogs often support their weight evenly on all four legs. A healthy dog that has no orthopedic issues may be showing signs of stress if he shifts his weight to his back legs or cowers. Dogs may tuck their tails or become very rigid when they are terrified.
Shedding. When show dogs get anxious in the ring, they frequently “blow their coat.” Dogs shed a lot while they are at the vet’s office. Even while it’s less obvious when the dog is outside, like when visiting a brand-new dog park, anxiety causes more shedding.
Panting. When they are overheated, excited, or stressed, dogs pant. Even when he hasn’t exercised, your dog may be stressed if he is panting.
alterations to how the body works. Like anxious individuals, anxious dogs may have an unexpected urge to use the restroom. Your dog may be claiming his territory and responding to the stress at the same time when he urinates quickly after meeting a new canine friend. Food refusal and gastrointestinal dysfunction are further signs of stress.
Displacement or avoidance behavior. Dogs may “leave” an unpleasant circumstance by concentrating on something else. They might sniff the earth, lick their private parts, or just walk away. Even though ignoring someone is not courteous, it is preferable to becoming aggressive. Do not push your dog to engage with people or other dogs if they avoid it. Observe his decision.
hiding or running away. Some anxious dogs literally move behind their owners to hide as an extension of avoidance. Even so, they might nudge their owners to get them to move on. They may dig, circle, hide behind a tree or a parked car, or engage in other diverting behaviors as a means of escaping.
How can I help my dog handle stressful situations?
You must be familiar with your dog’s typical behavior in order to distinguish stress symptoms from routine activity. Then you will be able to determine whether he is licking his lips out of anxiety or desire for a treat.
He will have semi-erect or looking forward ears, a soft mouth, and round eyes when at ease. He’ll balance himself equally on all four paws. You may alleviate an uncomfortable situation fast and efficiently by distinguishing between normal behavior and stress symptoms.
Remove the stressor from your dog if he’s stressed out. Find him a peaceful area to rest. Refrain from trying to soothe him too much. Make him work for the attention or rewards you wish to give him by engaging in an activity first (e.g., sitting). The dog is diverted and given a sense of normalcy when it responds to routine commands. Amazingly, the commands sit, down, and heel may sooth a distressed dog.
Visit your veterinarian if your dog exhibits signs of stress on a regular basis. Your veterinarian might suggest hiring a trainer or veterinary behaviorist to assess stress-related problems after making sure that your dog’s behavior is not caused by a medical condition. If necessary, they could also recommend anxiety drugs.
Just like with humans, exercise has a powerful calming effect. Walking or playing fetch are two exercises that might help you and your dog relax. It’s also a good idea to give your dog a secure area of the house where he may retreat from stressful events. A serene setting is appealing to everyone.
Finally, keep in mind that stress is not necessarily negative. Stress-related emotion called fear makes us steer clear of potentially unsafe circumstances. Therefore, stress might really be a safeguard. Whatever the case, stress is a normal part of life for both us and our dogs, therefore we should acquire effective coping mechanisms.
Does a raised hackle necessarily indicate hostility?
Although your dog’s raised hackles are not a sign of body language, this action worries and perplexes many dog owners. Although hair cannot speak, it can convey a dog’s emotional state. Piloerection is the medical term for raising one’s hackles. Pilo is the medical term for “hair.” Therefore, although a dog’s raised hackles are a kind of communication, they are actually an involuntary response brought on by an unknown rapid event that made the dog aroused. It conveys arousal and can indicate that the dog is scared, ecstatic, uncertain, apprehensive, or angry. To understand and assess what is happening and determine how to react, one must take into account the other bodily parts that are speaking as well as the context in which this is taking place.
Although a dog’s hair can stand up from the neck all the way to the tip of its tail when it is greatly aroused, the hackles can only rise to the level of the shoulders. Do not mistake the rising hackles for hostility. Given that aggressiveness is a fear-based behavior, a dog that is initially fearful may suddenly become violent due to uncertainty at a time when it is highly aroused.
Understanding canine body language and emotional states is essential for understanding dogs and determining how to best assist them when they are experiencing anxiety, fear, or insecurity.