Hackles Up! Synonymous With Aggression? NO!

Hackles Up! Synonymous With Aggression? NO!

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Hackles Up! Synonymous With Aggression? NO!

Hackles Up! Synonymous With Aggression? NO!

This is not a body language but it is a behavior that causes much concern and confusion among doggie folk. Hair doesn’t talk yet it does tell the emotional state of a dog. The medical term for the hackles going up is piloerection. Pilo refers to ‘hair’ in medical terms. So, when a dog’s hackles go up although it is a form of communication, it is communicating a state of being and is an involuntary reflex triggered by an unknown sudden occurrence putting a dog in a state of arousal. It communicates arousal and can mean that the dog is afraid, excited, unsure, nervous or angry. One must look at the rest of the body parts talking and the context in which this is happening so that you can understand and evaluate what is going on and only then can you know how to respond.

The hackles can go up just at the shoulders but if a dog is highly aroused the hair can stand up from their neck all the way down to the tip of their tail. Please don’t confuse the hackles going up with aggression. This confusion at a time of such arousal in a dog could be what turns a fearful dog into an aggressive dog in an instant as aggression is a fear based behavior.

Learning dog body language and emotional states is key to understanding dogs and helps us know how we can best help them when they are feeling insecure, fearful or anxious.

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I've been studying dog body language for almost 40 years. My lifelong interest in helping people train their dogs began at the age of nine after reading a LIFE magazine article about Dr. Jane Goodall. Goodall's work observing chimpanzees fired my own devotion to animals into a full-blown passion. From that early age, I keenly observed the creatures around me and how people interacted with them. Years later, my zeal schooled by a degree in Animal Science and sharpened by working as a Veterinary Technician, I came to understand that my true calling was educating people how to better understand and train their dog. The Dog Decoder smartphone app is my latest endeavor in this education of humane education and safety between humans and dogs.