What Are Raised Hackles on a Dog?

You're walking your pup, and then suddenly, you realize the hair on his back, near his tail, is raised up. Is your dog scared? Cold? Excited?

Dog with Hackles Up
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One thing you've noticed is that your dog's hair stands up when he is near other dogs or sees a cat, so perhaps it's a sign of aggression. You know that when you see the hair standing up, your dog is about to get a lot more hyper.

This occurrence is called raised hackles. Learn all about raised hackles, what they signify and how you can handle your dog in this state if he is being aggressive or getting too excited.

All about hackles

Hackles are hairs that are located along a dog's spine. They start at the neck of the dog and go to a dog's tail, and there are muscles called arrector pili attached to them. When these muscles are activated, air is trapped between hair shafts, and that leads to your dog's hackles standing up. Raised hackles can be seen around the tail, along the back or in the shoulder area, and they are also called "piloerection."

Have you ever gotten goosebumps or seen your own hair stand up? That is also called piloerection. You can't control when your hair stands up, and neither can your pup. When dogs are full of adrenaline or in a stressful situation, their hair is automatically going to stand up.

nervous dog in front of gray background
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Decoding your dog's raised hackles

It's important to know why your dog has raised hackles just in case he is getting aggressive and could become engaged in a fight with another dog or a cat. To determine what raised hackles means for your pup, monitor what else he does when his hair is raised. Do the raised hackles occur when you're walking your dog and he sees another dog? Does he start to pull on the leash, growl or bare his teeth? If so, make sure you walk away from the other dog to avoid a confrontation.

Perhaps your dog has raised hackles when going to the veterinarian, since raised hackles can also signal nervousness or anxiety. If your pup is getting wound up as you approach your vet's office, make sure you comfort him by speaking to him in a loving tone and petting him. This reassurance can make the vet visit go more smoothly. If you have a new puppy, you may notice that he is experiencing raised hackles on a frequent basis. Training him, getting him used to your home and making sure he likes his crate is going to help him feel comfortable around you and in his new surroundings.

Another thing that raised hackles demonstrate is excitement. As long as your dog's excitement doesn't turn into aggression, then this is a good thing. Use the opportunity to run around with your pup, play ball or take a walk.

Corgi at the park
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One thing you may notice about raised hackles is that they are accompanied by a loss of hair. If you've taken your pup to the vet, you may have notice that he sheds a lot more than usual on the vet's table. Again, make sure you're comforting him in this situation.

When to call a professional

If you're concerned about raised hackles, need advice on how to curb your dog's aggression or you're worried that your dog is nervous or scared, make sure you reach out to your veterinarian as soon as possible. Some training from a professional may be in order to avoid risky situations, such as dog fights. You want to ensure your dog is experiencing positive emotions more than negative ones, and getting to the bottom of why raised hackles are occurring is going to help.