Hackles....what does it mean?
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Thread: Hackles....what does it mean?

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    Senior Member Greater Swiss's Avatar
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    Hackles....what does it mean?

    With Caeda perking up a bit after her short little illness/not eating I've been noticing something she did before, and is doing again, and am becoming curious about it...
    Her hackles go up often.
    Playing with the neighbor's dog, or our friend's dog
    She saw the other neighbor's dog at a distance
    Some vehicles pull into the shared driveway
    When she wants to keep a high value chew, beef bone etc (this one we know was aggression in one case)
    I don't think it is all aggression, I truly don't, but can somebody clarify the variety of reasons a dogs hackles might rise? Are there ways to tell with other associated body language whether it is aggression, play, etc? I do know when it is really aggressive (snarls and nose wrinkling kinda pointed that out), but what about the milder aggression?

    Some people say that doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, I call it training my dog

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    Senior Member Canyx's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    For Soro, his hackles only go up when he's wary.
    -dog approaching
    -strangers out front
    -sound at the door (hackles + tail raised + thunderous bark)
    -people walking 'suspiciously,' like hoodie covering their eyes, strutting around in the dark

    If her hackles are going up WHILE she's playing with a dog (and otherwise not wary/bothered by its presence), could it possibly be a dominance thing?
    I know that Soro's hackles go down as soon as he realizes the person/object/animal is no threat or is far away enough. If he and another dog are sniffing each other stiffly and his hackles aren't going down, I know chances are he's going to snap at that dog so I remove him from the situation.
    HOWEVER, there have been times when Soro's hackles were up, and he was clearly wary (the other dog owners in the area even said, "watch out, look at his hackles," but the sniff and greet went without a hitch and we were on our way.

    Soro the lab mutt - approximate birthday: April 22 2006

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    Senior Member mom24doggies's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    Sammie often has her hackles up when she's playing with dogs she doesn't know. Usually, after a while and depending on how hard the dogs are playing, they will go down. When Sam plays really hard with another dog, they tend to go back up; I view that as just high play arousal. All her other body language says "Let's play!" You can usually tell the difference between aggressive hackles versus playful hackles by body language. When Sam is being aggressive (as in, another dog enters our property and she doesn't like it) her tail goes up real stiff, and she just generally seems all rigid and stiff with an intense stare. When she's playful, she play bows, jumps around, and tries to initiate a chasing game. There is no stiffness and only a little intensity at first when both dogs are trying to figure each other out. I figure that the hackles are either a warning sign or high play arousal sign.

  5. #4
    Senior Member Greater Swiss's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    Quote Originally Posted by mom24doggies View Post
    When Sam plays really hard with another dog, they tend to go back up; I view that as just high play arousal. All her other body language says "Let's play!"
    AH HAH so high play arousal can do it too....that is really good to know, because they went up one time right in the middle of play with another dog, it worried me a little, but body language (the best I could read) suggested that it was play fighting, I still watched like a hawk though!

    Canyx....WARY, that is exactly the word I needed! She gets wary every time somebody drives by, walks by you name it....sometimes hackles go up, sometimes they don't. Her tail rarely gets stiff, but her body gets slightly tense....then she starts "chuffing" (such a cute sound! so big coming out of her!). I think aside from play it is wariness that makes her hackles go up....and occasionally she REALLY wants to play with the other dog and we don't let her. I'm guessing arousal? I dunno.

    It makes me feel better getting a little confirmation that more than aggression can cause the hackles to go. Especially since play arousal is a possibility

    Some people say that doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, I call it training my dog

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    Senior Member Canyx's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    Quote Originally Posted by Greater Swiss View Post
    Canyx....WARY, that is exactly the word I needed! She gets wary every time somebody drives by, walks by you name it....sometimes hackles go up, sometimes they don't. Her tail rarely gets stiff, but her body gets slightly tense....then she starts "chuffing" (such a cute sound! so big coming out of her!). I think aside from play it is wariness that makes her hackles go up....and occasionally she REALLY wants to play with the other dog and we don't let her. I'm guessing arousal? I dunno.

    It makes me feel better getting a little confirmation that more than aggression can cause the hackles to go. Especially since play arousal is a possibility
    I know EXACTLY what you mean by "chuffing" and that is the PERFECT way to describe it. You should coin that word if no one else has done so!
    And I'm happy to hear that hackles aren't only associated with stressful/wary situations too!

    Soro the lab mutt - approximate birthday: April 22 2006

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    Senior Member +two's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    I have wondered this as well. When I inquired to a trainer and a Vet (different times and not related to each other) both of them said that it is an indication of 'arousal'.

    You can take that however you want. Arousal isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I think for owners its important to realize that your dog is in a different 'state' and you need to watch more closely for other body signals.

    I know that with Ozzie, when his hackles go up it means trouble. They don't go up unless he is really aroused and ready to charge/fight.

    Tylers go up more frequently. As with Soro (see, they really are twins!) Tyler's hackles will go up if he is weary. It is usually when he is greeting another dog and the other dog is closely sniffing him. I know this makes him uncomfortable and the hackles just kind of tell me that he is feeling more uncomfortable with the situation than 'normal'.

    I also had a foster dog whose hackles went up for everything. Greeting people, greeting dogs, the doorbell. Whatever. He didn't have an aggressive bone in his body so the hackles to me (with him) just meant he was 'aroused'...

    (oh, and Greater can you make a video of Caeda chuffing? I want to hear what she sounds like! )

  8. #7
    Senior Member Canyx's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    Just for you +two
    (though GreaterSwiss can verify this sound for me)

    Last edited by Canyx; 08-17-2011 at 12:37 AM.

    Soro the lab mutt - approximate birthday: April 22 2006

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    Senior Member Greater Swiss's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    Quote Originally Posted by Canyx View Post
    Just for you +two
    (though GreaterSwiss can verify this sound for me)

    http://s851.photobucket.com/albums/a...rent=Chuff.mp4
    HAHA, yep, I know that sound! I have to get a good vid of Caeda one of these days, she does a bunch in a row

    Some people say that doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, I call it training my dog

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    Senior Member Canyx's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    Whoohoo!
    I had my mom pose as a stranger knocking at the door... I expected some chuffing but all I got was barking and then tail wagging once he realized who it was.
    Then I remembered Soro doesn't always do a full bark when I give him the cue. So I made the hand motion for bark and caught this on camera. Took maybe three tries. Now I'm trying to put "chuff "bark" and "growl" on separate commands

    Soro the lab mutt - approximate birthday: April 22 2006

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    Super Moderator RonE's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    Molly's hackles go up whenever she is agitated - even just a bit.

    If Esther even HAS hackles, I've never seen them.

  12. #11
    Senior Member dagwall's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    As +two said it's just arousal. It could be happy, wary, aggressive, playful, etc in some dogs it could be all, in others it might only be one of those or a select few. Really depends on the dog I think, something you'll get to learn about your dog the more time you spend together. Judge it by the rest of their body language and behavior I'd say.

    For Jubel it's mostly playful excited when his hackles go up, but he has done it a few times when he was wary. In the wary cases his body was stiff, tail high, and warning barks often when he sees people behind our house outside the fence. Our townhouse backs up to the back of another row of townhouses so people aren't back there frequently to see. Occasionally his hackles go up if him and another dog get snarky with each other at the dog park but not always.

    Jubel CGC NW1 RATN
    approx. DOB: 1/28/08 Adopted: 5/1/10

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    Senior Member Abbylynn's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    Abby's hackles go up when she wants an item from her two other canine companions and they won't allow her to have it. Once she gets her own way.....and she gets custody of the item.....the hackles disappear.


    ~While you were busy judging others your closet door came open and a lot of skeletons fell out.~

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    Senior Member melaka's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    Buffy's hackles used to go up a lot more when she was younger, especially when she was playing hard. She seems to have grown out of it mostly, except when there's a strange noise outside/at the door or when the mailman visits.

    One time she was playing with an ACD puppy, and they were both running around having a ball with both their hackles up. It was kind of cute.

    Mina - 17 years | Buffy CGC - 4 years | Zero RIP (6.12.2013)

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    Senior Member lisaj1354's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    Pepper chuffs when he's seeing something/someone that he's not familiar with. He also chuffs and makes what I call his "concern noise" (which is something like a whine) when he thinks someone is at the door or passing by, or even when someone he knows comes into the house.

    He's hard to pin down on a lot of his behaviors.

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    Senior Member IWlover's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    Oh, yeah, I know that sound. Leo does and all my wolfhounds have done it. I call it "boofing" but chuffing is a great term for it. I was watching It's Me of the Dog the other night with Leo on the sofa next to me and boy, was he into watching that! At one point, when the two big dogs on TV were getting really rowdy, he started chuffing.

    As for hackles, that's something I've only seen Leo do a couple of times so far and I can't remember the circumstances involved.

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    Senior Member Niraya's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    Bella makes quick succession chuffs when she's unsure of something or why it's there - especially if it spooks her.

    She also doesn't like seeing half of people. Scares her like crazy and she gets a bit aggressive if they're full body starts appearing. (I.e my father was standing on the steps and bella could only see half of him. Hackles went up and she started chuffing like crazy. When he started coming up the steps she shot under my computer desk and started growling very menacingly. Once she realized it was my dad, however, the tail started wagging like crazy)
    R.I.P Daytona the Great Pyrenees.



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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    Ok, at times, are hackles like an involuntary thing? I know they can control them, but in heightened situations are hackles involuntary?

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    Senior Member Canyx's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    Quote Originally Posted by dogdragoness View Post
    Ok, at times, are hackles like an involuntary thing? I know they can control them, but in heightened situations are hackles involuntary?
    You know, I've been wondering that myself. I would LOVE to mark that behavior and be able to cue it!
    Fur up. Fur down. Fur up. Fur down....

    Soro the lab mutt - approximate birthday: April 22 2006

  20. #19
    Senior Member Greater Swiss's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    I'm pretty sure that its involuntary....kind of like when you get that feeling of the hair on the back of your neck going up, certain emotions trigger it. It would be SO cool to cue it though! I'm not going to try because I don't want to reward her when it seems she is trying to guard us from the neighbor mowing his lawn lol.
    On another note I'm STILL trying to get a vid of her chuffing, I'm sure when guests start arriving she'll go on a chuffing spree.

    Some people say that doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, I call it training my dog

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    Senior Member hanksimon's Avatar
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    Re: Hackles....what does it mean?

    Chuffing is really the valid term for the tentative puppy near-bark. Usually puppies and young dogs do that when they are wary or concerned, but not quite scared. Hackles for many dogs can go up on the shoulders when they are angry or aroused, excited. They can go up all the way to the tail when they are fearful, aroused, wary. It is involuntary. I believe that hackles indicate a dog that is not completely confident and happy with the current situation. With a puppy, it is a learning situation, but with an adult, raised hackles can lead to growling, barking, and biting. I think it is better to back off a little and calm the situation, if the hackles are raised because of you.

    If a large dog, such as a Lab runs directly up to a Rottie or a Pit, then they may be confused about the situation, and hackles will go up... because the Lab does not yet represent an obvious threat. When the Lab does a playbow and barks, the other dogs will relax. They may not play, but they know they don't have to fight.

    On the flip side, if a Lab comes into the dog park, and a bunch of dogs mobs him to start sniffing, then the Lab might raise hackles all the way to the tail. As soon as the sniffing is over, the Lab is no longer wary and the hackles drop.

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