Why Do Dogs Raise Their Hackles?

Why Do Dogs Raise Their Hackles?

If you’ve owned a dog, you probably would have seen them raise their hackles. Hackles are the long, stiff hairs that grow along a dog’s back, and when they’re raised, they make the animal look larger and more threatening. But what does it mean when your pooch does this? Is it angry or scared?

In this blog post, we’ll explore why dogs may raise their hackles and what it means for their behavior. So if you’re curious about this canine body language, keep reading!

What are Dog Hackles?

If you’ve ever seen a dog’s hackles stand up on end, you know it can be a bit scary. But what exactly are hackles, and why do dogs have them?

Simply put, hackles are the long hairs that run along with a dog’s back and neck. They are part of the dog’s coat and serve both functional and aesthetic purposes.

First and foremost, hackles help protect a dog from the elements. The long hairs provide insulation against cold weather and help deflect sunlight in hot weather. In addition, hackles can help a dog blend in with its surroundings – for example, lighter-colored hackles will help a white dog blend in with snow.

Hackles also play a role in communication. A dog’s hackles often stand up when feeling threatened, aggressive, or defensive. This is known as “piloerection” and is the dog’s way of making itself look bigger and more intimidating.

So, next time you see a dog with its hackles up, don’t be alarmed – it’s just nature doing its thing!

Reasons for Dogs Raising Hackles

As mentioned, raised hackles are a way for your dog to communicate their feelings. Let’s explore all the reasons for dogs raising hackles so you know what your dog is feeling the next time it raises its hackles.

Dogs Raise Hackles Because of Anxiety

There are a lot of things that can cause a dog to raise hackles. One of the most common reasons is anxiety. Dogs may feel anxious for several reasons, including being in unfamiliar surroundings, being around strange people or animals, or experiencing something that has scared them in the past. When dogs feel anxious, their sympathetic nervous system is activated, and they may start to pant, shake, or pace back and forth. The hair on their back may also stand up to make themselves appear larger and more intimidating.

So, if you see your dog’s hackles start to rise, it’s essential to take a step back and figure out what might be causing their anxiety. Once you know the trigger, you can work on helping your dog feel more comfortable in that situation. If you’re unsure what’s causing your dog’s anxiety, it’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian or a certified animal behaviorist.

Dogs Raise Hackles Because of Excitement

When a dog is excited, its hackles (the fur along its spine) may stand up. This natural reaction occurs when the dog’s sympathetic nervous system is activated. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, and when it is triggered, the body prepares for action by releasing adrenaline. The adrenaline rush causes the blood vessels to constrict and the fur to stand on end, making the dog appear larger and more intimidating.

Dogs Raise Hackles Because of Arousal

When a dog feels aroused, its hackles (or the hair on its back) will stand up. This natural reaction happens when the autonomic nervous system is activated. The autonomic nervous system controls the body’s automatic functions, like heart rate and blood pressure. Something stimulating this system can cause physical reactions like increased heart rate, sweating, and dilated pupils. In dogs, one of the most common reactions is hackle raising.

Dogs Raise Hackles as Aggression

Dogs are territorial animals by nature and often raise their hackles as a sign of aggression when they feel their territory is being threatened. This can be anything from another dog encroaching on their territory to a person or animal they perceive as a threat. While hackles don’t always indicate aggression, it’s important to be aware of this body language cue to avoid potential conflict. If you see a dog with raised hackles, it’s best to give them space and avoid sudden movements that could be perceived as threatening.

Dogs Raise Hackles as Predatory

Dogs are predators by nature. When they see their prey, they will instinctively raise their hackles. This is a natural reaction that helps them to appear larger and more intimidating to their prey. Hackles also help to deflect blows from the prey’s teeth and claws.


While hackles may seem scary, they are a significant part of a dog’s predatory behavior. By raising their hackles, dogs can better protect themselves from injury and increase their chances of capturing their prey.

Dogs Raise Hackles as Defensive Behavior

When a dog raises its hackles, it’s doing so as a defensive behavior. By making itself appear larger and more intimidating, the dog hopes to scare off whatever it perceives as a threat. Hackles can also be raised in response to something that startles or surprises the dog, even if there’s no actual danger.

While it’s not always easy to tell why a dog has raised its hackles, there are some common triggers that you should be aware of. If you see your dog’s hackles start to rise, take a step back and assess the situation before approaching.

Our Final Thoughts

So, if you ever looked at the raised hair on your dog’s back and wondered why dogs raise their hackles, now you have multiple reasons to think about. Assessing the situation and finding out the real reason will allow you to help your dog in the best possible way – be it stepping back to give them space or offering comfort.

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