Causes For When Your Dog’s Hair Stands Up On Its Spine

Any dog you meet will appear to be uncomplicated and very easy to read. The truth is, your dog has a long list of complicated emotions tied to their nervous system.

dog hair standing up on spine

To properly understand your dog’s emotions, you simply need to spend more time with him to understand his body language. When your dog’s hair is standing up on their spine it could mean one of few things. In this article, we cover several reasons why this could be happening.

If you asked any dog owner about this one specific behavior, you are guaranteed to hear a story about it from each and every one. When a dog’s hair is standing up on their spine, it means they are alert and ready for something to happen within their environment.

Why Does My Dog’s Hair Stand Up?

Your dog is experiencing a very heavy emotional reaction. This can be brought on by many factors that may not be in your control.

Some of these emotional reactions are:

  • Excited
  • Scared
  • Nervous
  • Aroused

Every dog is unique in its own temperament and personality. What may trigger one dog’s hair to stand up won’t do anything for another dog. This has to do with the way your dog thinks, the environment you are in, their training, or even past experiences.

These aren’t all necessarily good or bad, but they have their own meaning depending on each individual dog. The bottom line is that your dog is being extra cautious, and is on high alert for any sudden changes in their environment.

If your dog is consistently triggered by the same things, he may be showing signs of reactiveness, which should be addressed with careful training.

You may need to learn how to care for a reactive dog. Having a reactive dog can increase the amount of responsibility on your part. The good news is that most reactive dogs can be trained to be calm, even around their triggers.

If Your Dog’s Hair Is Raised Only In Patches

There are different levels of nervousness for each dog. When their hair is raised up along their spine, it may not always be in the same spot. Their hair can also be found to be standing up in patches.

The part of their back that is showing raised hair can vary depending on their current posture or the severity of the situation. It may also be that your dog will just have raised hair in specific parts of his own back, which will be unique to him.

Identifying these cues will help you to better understand exactly what your dog is going through.

If your dog appears to always have raised hair in patches, then it may actually just be their fur is stuck that way because of some other reason(they slept on it funny or got mud in it) and it has nothing to do with nervousness.

Are Raised Hackles a Sign Of Aggression?

Not necessarily. Although most cases with raised hackles can be associated with aggressive behavior, it doesn’t always mean that your dog is starting to show signs of aggression. Some dogs can become very nervous, and they haven’t quite learned how to handle the situation they are in.

This can cause them to enter a panicked state. If other dogs or people start doing things that are making your dog even more nervous, they may react aggressively or show raised hackles as a way to get some personal space.

What Is Leash Aggression?

Some dogs will only show aggression if they are leashed. This is a common issue for most dog owners. You don’t want any dogs to break into a fight, so you keep yours on a leash. Keeping your dog on a leash makes him want to fight more. So, what can you do about it?

We highly recommend reading our tips for how to leash train a dog to walk properly. We cover some of the most common pitfalls of leash training, including leash aggression.

Hair Standing Up When Playing

You may see your dog’s tail wagging joyfully while still having his hackles go up. These two signs can seem to contradict each other.

How can your dog appear to be reacting aggressively, and yet also show signs of playfulness? Although it is impossible to make a blanket statement about this(since it depends on each dog) it is safe to assume that your dog is acting nervously.

Your dog may see something that is putting it in a playful mood, and maybe it even wants to join in and have a good time. The fact that he or she has raised hackles may be because they aren’t sure if its okay to play. They don’t know what the outcome will be if they move forward with how they feel.

For example, your dog may see two or three other dogs playing and it looks like fun. For your dog, the thought of jumping into a group or pack of dogs can induce strong feelings of anxiety. In this specific case, you can try to socialize your dog to make it more comfortable in these situations.

Is It A Sign Of Aggression?

Aggression vs Play

When your dog has raised hairs during play, it might be a good idea to keep a close eye on him or her. For dogs that like to play, there is an unspoken etiquette for showing signs of submission. Dogs that get along very well will submit to each other.

This isn’t necessarily a sign of who is the pack leader or who is the weaker dog.

Raised hackles during play isn’t a very good sign. Other dogs that are playing will see these raised hairs and will assume that your dog is looking for a fight.

It is highly recommended to stay close to your dog, or even to keep him leashed. Dog fights can happen out of nowhere and can turn very ugly very quickly. Keep the play in a controlled environment.

If your dog comes into contact with an aggressive dog, you need to pay attention to your dog’s body language and see if your dog raises his hackles.

Pay Attention To Your Dog’s Cues

pay attention to dog's cues

Since every dog is unique in their own way, it is important that you spend enough time with your dog to learn all of their cues. Find what their triggers are and you can either avoid them or work towards getting your dog to be comfortable with them.

You can tell if they are thinking about fight or flight. Understanding your dog’s emotional state is crucial.

Some dogs can get along famously with other dogs when they are off-leash. As soon as you leash your dog up, they may start getting raised hackles around those same dogs they just played with. This is a fairly common trigger that dogs are known for.

Being “leash reactive” can be something that can be easily remedied simply by giving your dog a treat when it is behaving calmly around one of its triggers.

These heightened senses don’t always have to be a bad thing. You can use them as opportunities to help your dog build confidence. If you see your dog reacting irrationally in a certain environment, take note of what triggered that feeling for your dog.

You can come back with his or her favorite treat or toy. Spend some time in that environment to show them that there is nothing to be afraid of.

Preventing Your Dog’s Reaction

There are a handful of different ways to prevent your dog from making a move. The first and most obvious answer is to spend months training it out of them.

This can be tough to do, especially if your dog continually breaks the progress you’ve been making. So what can you do to keep your dog from breaking a streak of good behavior?

Training collars come in various styles. One of the most popular training collars is a choke chain style collar. These work great for people who are committed to leash training their dog to stop pulling. But what if your dog spends most of his time off-leash?

A lot of it comes down to how well your dog listens to you.

Dogs that haven’t had enough time to learn what is right and wrong will have a hard time listening if they’re reactive to certain situations. When something does happen, it can only take seconds for a fight or a bad bite.

At times like these, your dog’s recall is going to make a serious impact on how the situation unfolds. For people who prefer to have their dogs off-leash, it poses concerns about how you could tend to a situation if you’re 50 feet away and a fight breaks out.

In cases like these, many dog owners have opted into using remote trainers. A remote trainer is something like a shock collar, but is not limited to using shock. Newer remote trainer models have an option to just use a gentle vibration rather than a shock.

Depending on the model, certain remote trainers have options to use vibration or shock. In more sophisticated models, there is even an option to use a bitter spray that your dog would not like. These options introduce a more humane way of controlling a dog’s reactions if you are not within range to intervene.

Should You Use A Remote Trainer?

A remote trainer is good for people who have tried all the other ways of training their dog to listen. Another good reason to use a remote trainer would be for dogs that are very active outdoors, yet also have some reactivity triggers.

Training a dog’s reactivity takes months and can all be stripped away in minutes with a single bad episode. For dog owners that care for a reactive dog, a remote trainer is an incredible tool that people swear by.

Causes For When Your Dog’s Hair Stands Up On Its Spine

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Peter Newman

Peter Newman is the owner and editor for Puppy Leader. He has two dogs and loves to train them daily. Every day, Peter takes his dogs to the park and lets them run around and play together. He also trains them each day with different commands and tricks.