Dr. Karen London, in a reprinted article in Bark Magazine, raised some interesting questions about the meaning of different patterns of raised hackles, or piloerection, in dogs. First off, note that many people associate piloerection with aggression, well illustrated in my search for photos of dogs with raised hackles in a commercial photo site: All 3 illustrations I have in this post were labeled as “angry dogs.” However, piloerection is an indicator of arousal, not potential aggression. There are a lot of emotional states that can correlate with arousal, including fear, excitement and surprise, and some of those might lead to aggression, but not necessarily.
Raised hackles, or piloerection (goose bumps in people!), are common in mammals, and are caused by a contraction of the muscles that sit at the base of each strand of hair. It’s an involuntary response of the sympathetic nervous system (which excites, while parasympathetic calms), and a good indicator that an animal is on alert and aroused. In dogs, it can act as a kind of “super normal sign stimulus,” (ie, size matters), that can intimidate other dogs by making the one with raised hair look larger.
Dr. London, PhD, CAAB, and the author of one of my favorite books, Treat Everyone Like a Dog, wonders if the pattern of piloerection correlates with different emotional states and/or future behavior. Often, she’s observed, a thin line of erected hair from shoulders to tail correlates with more confident dogs, while a broad patch over the neck and/or shoulders (but no further down) correlates with low confidence. Here’s an example of piloerection in just one area:
This terrified-looking dog was labeled as “angry” by the photographer or the photo site. Sigh. Note it’s hackles are raised only over the upper shoulder area.
Raised patches over the shoulders and hips (but not connected), Dr. London speculates, might correlate with dogs who are ambivalent. She finds that these dogs are often more reactive and more unpredictable. Of course, she makes it clear that there is, as always, a lot of individual variation.
Here’s a video with good illustrations of each pattern from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskachewan:
What we’re lacking, however, is good research. Dr. London’s comments are based on her observations, and she is clear that she’s never seen any definitive research on the topic. I haven’t been able to find solid research either, but perhaps I’ve missed something? If so, let me know. Either way, I’d love to hear about your own observations, and also to motivate us all to pay more attention to the patterns of raised hackles in dogs, especially looking for correlations between piloerection patterns and other visual signals like agonistic puckers versus appeasement “grins,” tail positions, bodies either appeassing, or erect and confident? I can’t wait to hear what you are observing.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: As I mentioned last week, we had a beautiful weekend at the WWSDA Midwest Championship outside of Hudson, WI. (Hudson is a happening town–don’t miss the Szechuan Green Beans, seriously at Pier 5oo. Seriously.)
Here’s a shot of an exciting run on Monday of David Soppe and Ben, who were only 2 out of 12 teams to manage to complete the International Shed. (Which requires splitting out the red collared sheep from the other 15.) After that, he had just seconds to make the pen, and he did. This guy can read sheep! Congratulations to Gordon Watt, who won the Double Lift Championship as one of the last teams to run.
Maggie didn’t run in this trial, I knew the sheep would be too much for her. But she helped immensely when we were charged with picking up the sheep from some of the runs and moving them to their rest area. She loved every minute of it. Here she is overlooking the field, waiting to work. (You might recognize this photo from last week, but I love it so much I’m repeating it.) Look carefully at the background–you can see the handler at the post mid left field, and where the sheep were set out close to where the person (tiny!) is standing at about 12 o’clock on a clock face. This is the same course that Skip and I ran earlier that day.
I had Maggie registered for her favorite trial coming up in October, the one she did so well at in May, but it was just cancelled. So, a bittersweet moment for me, because that would have been her last trial. When we entered the Open class, I knew Maggie was going to be challenged perhaps beyond her abilities, but I wanted to see how far we could go, and to get used to picking up sheep so far away you can barely see your dog. She did okay in some trials, floundered (as predicted) when the sheep were “heavy” and needed a lot of push from the dog. She did really well at the trial in May where she got 4th on super flighty sheep, her specialty. Being in the top 10 with her was my goal, so I am happy that we had that experience. I made lots of mistakes, learned a lot and am forever grateful to Maggie for the journey we’ve been on together.
It is so clear to me that she is done. She’s pushing nine years, the age where a lot of dogs say “This isn’t so much fun any more.” Trials are really hard, not just physically but mentally, and Maggie is slowing down, less willing to play rough with Skip, and more and more hesitant on balky sheep. I promised her we’d quit when she asked. She has, and I will honor that. I always knew that she wasn’t a great candidate to run in the Open (or Advanced class), but she was the dog I had, and I wanted to see how much we could learn together.
That leaves Skip as trial dog. He had a horrible first run at this trial, couldn’t move the sheep at all. I was a tad upset (okay, gutted), because he seems to be a much more inherently talented dog than Maggie on tough sheep, and here he was unable to move them. Wiser heads prevailed, in the form of more experienced friends, who promised me that Skip just simply had no idea how to handle sheep like that (they were REALLY difficult–there’s a reason it’s called The Championship), and he’d be better the next time. Whew. He was. I had to grump at him when he flipped around and tried to bring the sheep back to me as we started the drive, and I could have handled the cross drive better (it was tricky!), so we used up too much time and didn’t finish the drive and thus didn’t get any drive points. But he took charge of the sheep, faced one off without losing his cool, taught one to stop trying to break off, listened well with one exception, and I didn’t do anything ridiculously stupid. Good on us. I was also reminded that he’s only 4, which might seem mature, but he’s only been in 5 trials with me, so we are both gaining experience together. Dogs don’t usually come into their own until they are older and more experienced, so we have lots of time.
Here’s our run (you might want to mute, lots of chatting beside Jim as he taped):
That’s it for this week, it’s been a busy week for me. Please pay a lot of attention to patterns of piloerection and tell us your observations. I’m obsessed with this now, and hope you too will pay a lot more attention in the future!
Marcy G. says
No insights into where there might be research but I was just talking to a student about this at a puppy manners class this past week.
A young pup was playing with another and his hackles went up, in this case it was all down his spine. He wasn’t behaving aggressively, just playing with the other dog. The owner got very upset, leashed up her puppy and began to leave.
I wasn’t the instructor, but I stopped them to chat and explained that aggression is not the ONLY reason for piloerection.
My own dog will raise his hackles, just across the withers when playing with his best friend, he’s a bit of a marshmallow and I can see it being a sign he’s a little afraid.
Regarding piloerection, observations of my own dog are in line with Dr London’s; he typically hackles up over the shoulder and/or hips, remaining flat on the back. His history is basically feral to the age of 6 months. He remained with his dam who was a pet, but when she had the litter (in winter in a den she dug off a shed), the folks on the farm couldn’t get hold of him, so he was live trapped at 6 months. Using shaping, cc and R+ training, he’s a delightful family member, but can be reactive to certain people. So Dr London’s observations align with his emotional state, sometimes fearful, sometimes conflicted.
Thanks so much for sharing the video of your trial! It looked impressive to my admittedly novice eyes. My favorite was his insistence with the sheep that squared off at ~4:35. So cool.
This is timely for me because my 8 month old puppy does the shoulders and hips piloerection sometimes while playing with the older dog. They can play rough with body slams and mounting so I make an effort to distract so everyone calms down. Minerva-the older one- will do a body shake but Herman-the baby- just gives a ‘what???’ look.
So now I’m relieved it’s probably arousal and not Herman heading towards uncharacteristic aggression! (And I’ll still use it as a sign to redirect.)
Good on you, Heather, because arousal can lead to over arousal, and that doesn’t often end well.
Since I stopped going to dog parks, I haven’t had as much opportunity to practice reading dog language. I did learn a lot from reading Turid Rugaas’s book: On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals. I never pass up a chance to recommend this slim book filled with more pictures than paragraphs. I’m disappointed but not surprised at my neighbors who walk their dogs in the neighborhood and think nothing of dropping the leash when they think another (leashed) dog might want to play. Most of my neighbors are clueless when it comes to reading dog language. Piloerection is one very important piece of dog language, and when combined with teeth or tooth showing, eyes, tail position and general tensing or relaxation of the muscles in the dog’s body, dog language is readable if we care to learn how.
I have a young husky (18 months) and he will demonstrate raised hackles all the way to the end of his back. He is easily excitable with dogs but within a few seconds the hackles lower as play continues. I’ve had friends comment or look he is being “dominant” and I have to tell them that is not the case he just is excited and that’s not something he can control it’s like goosebumps. I’ve also seen his hackles raised to shoulder level with someone he is more Leary of until he decides he wants to engage the person and the hackles go down. There definitely could be some truth to that theory. I am ready to watch for more episodes of piloerection. I’m sharing this post so helpful.
Dear Trisha, I love so much what you have written here:
“I promised her we’d quit when she asked. She has, and I will honor that.”
Regarding piloerection and health problems: I have observed with several dogs that this phenomenon can also occur in connection with pain – mainly back pain. Of course, this should always be considered in context, but piloerection does not always have to be exclusively behavioural. If a dog raises his hair without there being a social context for it, one should (at least cautiously) also consider a pain event.
I don’t want to go off topic, but as a dog physiotherapist and owner of an affected dog, I would like to raise awareness because this possible connection is probably not known to some people.
My dog Lady gets a narrow strip of piloerection down her spine, shoulders to tail, mainly when she is playing chase. She loves to run, and loves to be chased, so I read it as a kind of excited arousal, particularly since it is usually accompanied by trying to tempt our other dog into chasing her.
So far I’ve only seen this twice on my Newfoundland, both times it was him hearing something outside.
I’ve really been diving into animal behavior, so fascinating!! Now I’m constantly watching mine and other dogs body language.
Skip looks amazing btw!!!!
Our dog, Maple, has had raised hackles since she was a puppy from fear. She was scared of other dogs until she was about 7 months, and any time she heard a dog barking but couldn’t see them, up went the hackles. And a submissive pose. It’s very much not only a sign of aggression, at least in my very mixed-up breed pup.
The video is beautiful – it brought me to tears!! I have Labs and train them for field work. The combination of instinct and training is glorious when a dog is doing her job, and it moves me each time I experience it.
A question about herding — how does the dog know where the sheep are? That seems like a silly question, but to know where they are and then to run in what seems like a different direction to come up behind them is mind boggling to me.
About piloerection – I have noticed that my male’s “back goes up” when he is excited on leash walks to see another dog. This is accompanied by excited whining and lots of tail wagging. As a Lab, he is exuberant (despite his thirteen years and Laryngeal Paralysis) so, if we do not know the other dog, there is no greeting. I don’t want him to crush anyone with love.
My 6mo GSD puppy seems to have pielierection when he tries to play with another dog and that dog is not willing to do so and grawls asking my dog to step away. My dog reads it perfectly and moves away but his fur stands up more visible around neck and shoulders but also goes along till his tail. He is absolutely shows no signs of aggression. From my point of view he is a bit embarrassed by the reaction but at the same time he is pretty confident or simply tries to look so haha. I m not worried at all as both dogs simply communicate and easily move on their way. My puppy learns that not every dog is happy with a playful energy…
Catherine Ford says
Have had and bred Rhodesian Ridgebacks for over 30 years. When their hackles are up, only the hairs above the ridge (withers) and below the ridge (croup) are raised. I have never ever seen ridge hairs stand up. My 11 month old boy is with a handler for 2 weeks and yesterday I received a video of him running and playing with a young Am Staff. At home he has consistently played regularly with non-resident RRs, some his siblings, some adults. They play rough and the only time I see any hackles up is when someone is determined not to be playing fair. A dog discussion ensues, then they’re back to rough-housing. With the Am Staff, his hackles were up, front and rear, mostly the whole time, but I knew he was enjoying himself as he kept offering play bows. What I also noticed was that her play “style” was different so I don’t think he quite knew how to interpret that.
Elizabeth P says
Our Bullmastiff definitely used to have the thin line pattern down her entire back – a very confident dog, and it happened when she was aroused – generally it was a sign of excitement, especially when she was playing with another dog. It also happened if she was surprised (something new in her environment) but since she never showed any aggression I can’t say if it would have happened then. Our current dog is a goldendoodle and I’m not sure her hair is capable of erecting in that way!
You have used goosebumps as a comparison but I would also add or compare it, to blushing as well … I blush very easily. Mostly at times of high emotion, more specifically about concerns for the welfare of an animal or when compassion (or passion) is involved …
I have a very anxious dog. He is noise sensitive and nervous in most situations.
My dog has piloerection in response to multiple scenarios yet they always raise the same way. He is a GSD cross Husky and raises the hair over the shoulders and across the hips.
He does this when he sees a new object he’s unsure about as he approaches it. He does it walking past a neighbours house where his dogs are too much for him (more so when the dogs aren’t present), if the dogs are present he is reactive and he doesn’t tend to have piloerection.
He also has piloerection during greeting a dog he’s unsure about as they are sniffing one another but not on approach. I found this article interesting to read.
Marika S Bell says
I remember a dog I used to work with named Wolfy. He had piloerection across most of his body! And as he was around 100 lbs it tended to freak other dogs out. However, his piloerection tended to indicate excitement and was followed by play behavior.
Dog body language and animal communication is a favorite subject of mine. I’d love to have a series on my podcast related to it!
What about just a ring of puffed hair in the middle of the tail, or a puff on the back just at the base of the tail? I see this sometimes when a reactive dog is sniffing on a walk (I’m assuming another dog was there)?
My young dog’s hackles will sometimes go up when she’s meeting a new dog for the first time. Once she is comfortable with the dog they go down. She is a very sweet, friendly dog. I am extremely familiar with both aggression and reactivity- and this young dog is neither of those, not even a little. So I know with absolute certainty that her raised hackles are not a sign of aggression. I would say they are more so a sign of uncertainty. But at least one person who has observed this immediately attributed the reaction to aggression – a label that this person refuses to abandon no matter my dog’s actual behavior.
Karen L. says
First of all, congratulations to Maggie on her retirement. What a good dog she is!
Secondly, thank you so much for posting about this topic. Our shy girl will raise her hackles briefly just over her shoulders when meeting new people or dogs. Once she’s acquainted, she’s very affectionate. I am relieved to know that it is most likely due her insecurity and not aggression–which we have never witnessed from her. She’s generally very submissive, frequently flipping over onto her back.
Lisa R says
I never saw Solomon with raised hackles until a couple of years ago. He is a mix breed rescue, tall, strong, slim with long legs – about 80# at his prime. Beautiful runner, perfect greeter of dogs of all types – comes up side-to-side, runs with, not after or at, elegantly timed play-bows, a wonder at the beach. Perfect indulgent ‘uncle’ to many foster pups in the past.
He is 18 now – and has some medical ‘issues’, but still enjoys his strolls on our street or at a park – can’t do the sand anymore. Now, if a ‘rude’ dog or a good sized wild pup is near him, his shoulder and butt hair goes up – I have thought he is reacting to wanting to engage and a bit anxious about getting knocked about. This article suggests ambivalence, and I agree – would like to play (forward with shoulder hair), but not wanting any rough time (backing up with butt hair). Thanks as always for your much loved blogs. Always enjoy and learn.
BARB STANEK says
Thanks for the video! Good job, Skip and Trish!
Nothing from me on piloerection. I’ve never seen my dogs do it. Maybe they have and I missed it. But I’ve seen plenty of other dogs do it. I totally agree that the meaning of piloerection needs to be determined based on several clues, not just the piloerection.
Thank you Heidrun, an excellent and interesting addition to this conversation. It seems reasonable that pain can correlate with emotional arousal; glad you brought this up.
Jane: Aww, Skip says thank you! Your question is a good one, making sure that your dog sees the sheep before thetbleave your feer is important. We all let our dogs watch earlier runs so that they can see where the sheep are being set out. They often don’t see them until the dog does a lift and gets them moving. Once you see your dog focus on the moving sheep you back away so that they don’t see them on the rest of the course. Once they leave your feet for your own run they often lose sight of the sheep as they run around to the back. It takes a lot of practice and experience for dogs to sort exactly where the sheep are, and if they get “lost” then you help them with whistles and verbal cues. But sometimes you can’t see your dog, so you just have to trust them to sort it out. The hardest part is finding places with huge fields where you can practice! Lucky people have that much land themselves, we mortals have to drive 1-3 hours away.
Catherine, intersting about the ridges staying in place. Now I’m curious about how that ridged is formed during development. 🤔
Ashley, middle of the tail! Interesting! Anyone else seen that?
Suzanne, love the reminder about blushing. I swear, truly, I saw a horse blush once: Young white stallion, galloping around a ring all full of himself, mare in heat near by. He tripped and fell for no reason except being an idiot, and I swear he came up with a red blush to his head. Did I see that only because I imagined it? Possible, but the image is so strong. Anyone else, or am I crazy?
I have always been thankful for my mostly easygoing, nonreactive dogs. Meg, the Rhodesian Whippet princess, would sometimes get the thin line Dr. London described when she was excited while playing outside or roughhousing with her soulmate Scout. We called it her “stealth ridge” since she didn’t have one at other times. Scout, who counted Zen Puppy as one of his many nicknames, hackled rarely if ever. Same for Missy, who is much like Scout in zen puppyness. I should be as unflappable as any one of them.
Even Duncan, the only fearful dog I’ve had, hackled at thunder or during a spirited game of run the fence line with his bff next door, but that was about it. More like an overstimulated child needing help managing his emotions than aggression. Well, there was that time I came home from work to find he’d torn up and peed on a couch cushion. I “barked” at him when I knew I shouldn’t, and he barked backed to say “Enough already!” He may have hackled at me then, I earned it. Otherwise, when meeting dogs and people he was pretty much Dug from the movie Up, “Hi, I just met you and I love you!”
Pat Wildgen says
Skip’s run was absolutely fascinating! Thanks for posting it.
I have a Golden Retriever so I don’t know how much piloerection I can see but I’ll look anyway.
Jenny Haskins says
If ‘Raised hackles” on the shoulders are a sign of aggression then most of my German Shepherd must have become chronically aggressive as they aged.
Jenny Haskins says
I looked up Google Scholar, in hopes of discovering more about piloerection.
My strong feeling is that it has more to do with emotion than aggression.
It is association with aggression in dogs because fear aggression is quite common.
I’ve seen piloerection in my very very excitable Working Kelpie. I could have made a trick out of it as it happened when her I showed him a ball in my hand, and dropped back when I held the ball behind my back.
The German Shepherds rarely show it, though I have seen a patch raised just above the base of their tail, When it happens I smooth the hair down for them as it seems to calm them.
(They do tend to grow a shoulder and neck mane as they age. The even the Kelpies did this.)
Jenny Haskins says
The closest I found to what I was looking for is http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.326.2060&rep=rep1&type=pdf
[PDF] A review of psychoendocrine research on the sympathetic-adrenal medullary system
Pam Evans says
I know we can’t see it, but can dogs with hair raise hackles? I have two Portuguese Waterdogs, one of which is pretty reactive to other dogs. With a wavy coat, he physically looks no different – just has a loud bark. I’m asking if he’s raising hackles but the hair can’t respond or if dogs with hair don’t do the behavior.
Pam, pretty sure your dog would have the same response as all other dogs. A wavy coat either covers it up or he just doesn’t piloerect, like lots of oher dogs because he doesnt get that aroused.
Susan Tolchin says
My little ACDxRat Terrier has low confidence and I’ve seen her raise her hackles over her shoulders only. She is a fairly smooth coated dog with a touch of scruffiness. The hair over her shoulders is the longest of her whole body, and when she piloerects she looks like a stegasaurus. It’s way too cute.
Great article. Tricia, I agreed with you the whole way through. My first guide dog, Marlin, was very confident, loved to play, and adored other dogs. His hackles would go up all the time, from neck to tail when he was really excited to play. It wasn’t aggressive, just really happy to play. Also, congrats to Maggie on retiring. You are a good girl.
Lisa McEvoy says
It would be interesting to also look at how quickly the piloerection appears and disappears, whether males or females are more likely to exhibit piloerection and if there are any trends in dogs that do not typically get it.
One of my current dogs often gets a thin line down her back when she alerts to something (sound, dog, etc). It comes quickly and goes quickly. My previous dog would sometimes get the piloerection around her neck. It didn’t happen as often and appeared slowly and went away slowly. I have a video of her somewhere when she sees a rabbit that I think shows it.
My young male husky (14 months) raised his hackles only over his shoulders in a on-leash-contact with another young male. As the other dog seems neutral/friendly at first, I let them both sniff. But as the other dog started to get stiff posture and stared with dilated pupils, I passed the dog quickly. The other dog started to snarl as I was two steps away.
My husky kept flexible body posture, wined a bit s we approached the other male (as always if he finds another dog very interesting) and wagged his tail. I didnt recognise any aggressive display from his side.
As I try to recall the last walks, it seems as if the husky raises his hackler over his shoulders only in sight contact to another intact male.
How does raised hackles in other dogs compare to the raised rice in Rhodesian Ridgebacks? Thanks.
Watching Skip’s run was as exciting and nerve wracking as watching a horse race!
And Karen London’s observations are eye-opening for me…
Thank you for sharing with us.
Cindy k Jensen says
I was recently with my 5 mos old Eng Pointer who is submissive and a husky mix was there running, running, running. Came over to my pup who was nervous and she continued to run around her with her shoulder hackles raised. My pup tried to get away from her (on leash) and rolled over several times on her back. The husky continued to follow her off and on while racing around and would sniff her rear and stand over her at times. No showing teeth on either but I found her pretty intrusive and scary for my pup and of course I made a comment about dogs needing to be supervised better and a “discussion” ensued. Two men became offended (I think that their hackles were raised) and an older man called me a “Karen”. Your article was interesting but did not talk about responsibility of the owner’s dog with the hackles to be more aware of their dog’s behavior, energy level, etc . I find in dog parks that many people just let their dogs run and pay little attention to them. So your article was timely and very informative.
I adopted a 4-year-old black German shepherd almost seven weeks ago. He originally came from a high-kill shelter in Mississippi, where I’m told a trainer surrendered him. Clearly not a trainer who I’d like to work with, although I will say that Sully is incredibly well trained. That may be due more to the fact that he is exceptionally (scary) smart, rather than a byproduct of the skill of the trainer.
Sully does have some issues — besides medical, which include having root canals done on all four of his canine teeth. The veterinary dentist’s determination of cause: tennis balls. He thinks Sully’s canines died when he was about a year and a half old. I had no idea so much damage could be caused by tennis balls in such a short period of time. I digress … but perhaps there’s some insight into his history here. Does he use balls like a pacifier? Or is it all about play?
Piloerection: Sully can be fearful and skittish — but often unpredictably. Some loud noises spook him, but he’s OK with others. I’m still trying to see the pattern. When he suddenly hears something that frightens him, his ears are laid back and he bolts a bit. The fur on his back is smooth, i.e. no piloerection.
But with most other dogs, it’s a different story. My observation is, even when he sees a dog (or a scary, large plastic bag) from a considerable distance, his hackles are up and he emits a low growl. He did this this morning. He must have seen/smelled something in the woods (nothing I could see) and he was on high alert — hackles up at the shoulders, tail high and stiff, ears erect, low growl. We were walking on the lawn and a considerable distance from the woods. He was on a leash and we approached the woods a bit (I wanted to see what he would do) but we turned and walked in a different direction long before we got close to the woods. He relaxed immediately.
Sully has only recently started to bark. I don’t know if he was trained not to bark or he’s just settling in and feeling more comfortable (and perhaps protective) in his new home. I have a neighbor with a dog (and a fence). Sometimes the dog barks at Sully. Initially Sully’s hackles — always at his shoulders to his mid-back — go up, tail erect, etc., but he’s pretty easy to distract (with a ball) and he relaxes. While for the most part he now ignores the dog’s barking, there are still times when he’ll trot around, ball in mouth and with his hackles up, but tail straight back (a little higher than in a typical trot). Ears are erect.
Are his hackles up because he’s on alert or is he fearful? I would guess the latter. While he can appear to be a very confident dog, I don’t think he is.
Or maybe it’s just that he doesn’t like to get petted. His hackles are never up when he growls at me, but yes, he does emit a very low growl (sometimes) if I get too close to him when he’s lying down. But he never lifts his lips to show any teeth. His ears are back and he’ll often roll 3/4 belly up in a “submissive” position or lick my hand after the growl. I interpret that as “it makes me very uncomfortable that you’re so close, don’t take it personally — but please move away.” I thought this only happened when he was lying down and had a ball that he was touching or very close to, but sometimes the ball can be (for him) quite a ways away and he’ll still, on occasion, growl at me. Interestingly, he is excellent with drop it and leave it. He has no problem at all when I pick the ball up to play with him (or rescue it from under the bed) or bring it with me to another room. The growl is only when he’s lying down. And never any hackles.
At this point in our relationship, I’m just respecting his growl and giving him his space. Interestingly, he is always in the same room as I am (his choice) and often lying at my feet when I’m in my home office. I have to tell him to wait or stay if I’m just running downstairs for something quick, otherwise he’d choose to come with me. So I am not taking his growls personally. And we’re going very slow with this.
Would love to read more about what the piloerection means. Perhaps he’s both fearful and alert. As I think about it, in all other occasions when he’s fearful, his ears are laid back/down. Perhaps there’s a bit of both going on with him. We’re just starting our life together. So helpful for me to know what to be paying attention to.
Deborah, remember that piloerection is all about arousal, which can be related to so many other emotions, right? And I’m glad you asked the question about him barking: In my experience lots of dogs are relatively quiet until they get settled into a new environment. I’ve actually had lot of clients who adopted a dog “because he didn’t bark in the shelter,” only to find the dog found its voice in a couple of week or months!
Yes! My greyhounds have gotten poofy tail when excited! Without any other piloerection anywhere else.
Arden Allen says
In my dogs I read hackles as a sign of a possible threat from an unknown or feared visitor as I’m sure most dog owners have observed. But my additional take on the condition relates to dogs being social animals. What other way does a dog have of communicating his/her emotional state to his/her mates/people without taking his/her attention off of a looming threat? Besides rising cortisol level would the need to conserve energy for a possible fight also have something to do with it?
Melanie Hawkes says
This is interesting, and I’ve been paying more attention to Upton’s hackles since reading this, so thank you for writing this Trisha.
Upton is reactive to dogs, birds, flies, vehicles and some noises. I see him raise his hackles at the shoulders when he hears barking in the distance, but further down his back and at the base of his tail if we’re closer to the sound. He sometimes barks and lunges as well (used to every time but has improved). So the amount of hackles raised indicates the level of arousal, as well as how quickly they go down after the trigger stops. I usually count the number of barks as my guide to his behaviour, and his mental state, but maybe piloerection patterns would be better from now on?
kimberly E austin says
My dog will have hackles with thunder. Though her hackles were raised today, and I only noticed the back, by the tail, was raised. I dont remember if her shoulders were. Does it mean anything if only their low back has raised hair?
Hi there – I know this is an article from last year, but I can’t find anywhere on the web info regarding raised hackles from tickling or love. We have a four year old rescue from Puerto Rico. She is mixed breed, mostly American Staffordshire. She is 40% unknown breeds. She has short dark brown fur and you can clearly see when she raises her shackles. She does it if she feels she needs to protect us from another dog outside or if someone enters our house. HOWEVER, we can get her to raise her fur if we gently scratch her belly. She also raises her fur when I’ve been gone and she comes to me, puts her head in my chest and I gently pet her. Just yesterday, she twisted her foot. I went to see her. I approached ver calmly and gently took her paw in my hand. She put her head in my neck and her fur began to raise. It’s almost like she’s saying with her fur. “Thank you for living me. Thank you for caring for me.” She is a psychologically damaged dog from being homeless for the first 7 months of her life and surviving a hurricane. I just wanted you to hear a differing reason why the fur can raise on a dog’s back. All my life, I always thought it was only aggression. Although it definitely can be that. I think it’s also a way their body shows stimulus, whether from fear or from love.
I had a German Shorthaired Pointer/coyote mix for 15 of his 16 years. About a year old when I brought him home to heal after he’d been shot in the leg, he’d been feral for several months, dropped off near my husband’s workplace. The men fed him but he wouldn’t allow petting. He quickly adjusted to life in the house with our 3 toy Poodles. When he sensed a threat, he hackled a strip from his shoulders all the way down his back to his tail about 3 inches wide. He was very affectionate with us and the Poodles, but didn’t trust strangers.