You may have noticed your dog’s hair standing up on end from time to time. Maybe when they have been barking, or when they seem anxious. These hairs are called dog hackles and they run from your dog’s head right to the bottom of their tail. Find out more about them, and why they present themselves.
What are dog hackles?
A dog’s hackles are the hairs that run along your dog’s spine and they are supported by a unique set of muscles. These muscles can cause the hackles to stand up and this can be a sign of excitement, fear, anxiety or aggression.
Dogs do not have control over these muscles as they are triggered by an involuntary reflex. They are reactionary, meaning they are stimulated by the dog’s nervous system. The hackles stick up when the muscles are stimulated, making your dog appear larger than they are during this period of fight or flight.
What causes dog hackles to stand up?
There are a few reasons why you may see this reflex response in your dog, and contrary to popular belief it’s not always a sign of aggression. These include:
If your dog has an exuberant personality, their hackles may rise if they become overwhelmed with excitement.
Hackles may also be a sign of curiosity. This can happen when they meet new people, a new dog or are taken to a new place with plenty of new smells.
Dog hackles going up is sometimes due to aggression. For extra clues to help determine the underlying reason, it is important to look at other elements of body language. Raised hackles due to dog aggression is usually accompanied by other behaviours such as barking, growling or showing teeth. If you have any concerns about your dog’s behaviour, it is best to seek expert help from a vet or qualified animal behaviourist.
Anxiety in dogs can manifest in various different forms. From a tail between their legs to their hair standing up. This response can be triggered by meeting a new person, being taken to a new place, or being taken to the vet.
What do I do if my dog’s hackles are raised?
Dogs pick up behavioural cues from us so it is important to try to remain calm and not overreact in any situation that is causing your dog’s hair to stand up. Determining why your dog’s hackles have gone up is important so that any behavioural issues can be addressed if necessary.
Consider the environment, whether it is familiar or new, or whether there are new people or objects surrounding your dog.
If you notice that your dog’s hackles have gone up due to excitement, then there is nothing to worry about. In this situation, the rest of their body language may suggest play – the play bow where a dog lowers their front end for example.
However, if your dog is feeling anxious or fearful or you are concerned that the signs may suggest aggression, always approach the situation with caution. It is important to pay attention to your dog’s body language in these situations to determine what has caused your dog’s hackles to stand up.
Are hackles more obvious in certain dog breeds?
Yes, there are some dog breeds that show their hackles more often than others. These breeds tend to have shorter, finer hair. Raised hackles in breeds with long, curly or thick coats will be much less obvious. Whatever the underlying cause, a dog’s hackles will subside and lay flat when the dog has calmed down.