Social Question

Dutchess_III's avatar

Are raised hackles on a dog always a sign of agression?

Asked by Dutchess_III (44087points) 1 month ago

Cato loves people. He gets so excited when meets someone he hasn’t seen in a while, or someone new, that it takes him 15 minutes to calm down.
Today we were sitting on the porch of our new house watching the world go by. A lady was walking up the street. When Cato first saw her he started banging his tail happily. But as she got closer his hackles went up and he started chuffing…but his tail never stopped wagging.
What does this mean?
He was on a short leash BTW.

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25 Answers

Nomore_lockout's avatar

That’s what I have always heard, hence that old expression “Don’t get your shackles up”. But it’s a new environment and new people for him. Possibly he thought the lady was a threat. Just speculating.

Dutchess_III's avatar

He’s always done it. I miss my Dakota. She was cool unless she sensed there was really an actual threat. Then she’d kill you.

Nomore_lockout's avatar

Kind of glad I never made dogs aquaintance. Yikes !

Dutchess_III's avatar

Oh, you would have loved Dakota!

Nomore_lockout's avatar

Long as she didn’t bite my ass lol

Dutchess_III's avatar

If you didn’t attack me she wouldn’t

smudges's avatar

Apparently not.

Raised hackles do not qualify as a behavior, as they are an involuntary reflex triggered by something that put the dog into a state of arousal. There is actually a medical term for the reaction: piloerection (pilo referring to “hair” in medical terms). (Like goosebumps on us.)

This explains it pretty well:

https://www.dogster.com/dog-training/raised-hackles-on-dog-what-they-mean

kritiper's avatar

No, just alarm.

Nomore_lockout's avatar

@Dutchess_III Now why in the hell would I ever attack you Dutchy? I’d put my own ass on ass on the line to protect you from an attacker, but I assure you. I’m otherwise pretty lame lol.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Exactly why you’d never have to fear Dakota.

longgone's avatar

No. That’s completely misunderstood. @smudges and @kritiper are right, it’s a sign of alarm or arousal, and completely involuntary. Like goosebumps. It often means you have a spooked dog, and spooked dogs (of course) can be aggressive.

Something about that lady scared him. I bet you the tail was wagging low. Watch out. A wagging tail only means excitement, he’s not automatically happy when he does that. Next time, try getting in front of him to act as a buffer, and do not let a person like that pet him. That could go badly.

Dutchess_III's avatar

He does it to everyone @longgone. That harmless lady wasn’t a one off.

Dutchess_III's avatar

What does a happy tail wag look like @longgone?

Dutchess_III's avatar

We were on the porch again and a neighbor across the street came out and walked around his car. Cato turned and saw him. I watched his hackles carefully and sure as heck they came up part way.
Cato only chuffed once though.

longgone's avatar

@Dutchess_III You sort of have to look at the whole dog to be sure. But some general points: a happy tail is usually neither very low, nor high. It’s very relaxed, wagging fully (not just the tip!), sometimes wagging in a circle. Beware of a low tail (fear/appeasement) and a high tail wagging slowly or “vibrating” (that’s a challenge). A wildy wagging tail can also mean trouble, but some dogs do wag wildly even when they’re calm and happy.

It’s tricky. I try to look at the mouth, eyes, and ears a lot. Mouth open in a happy grin? All is well in this dog’s world. Mouth tightly closed? He does not like what he’s seeing or is very focused. Soft eyes, relaxed ears? Happy dog. A hard stare or wide eyes, ears pinned back? Don’t approach. And, of course, also look at the whole body. Loose and wriggling is good. Stiff, crouched, or hackles raised? Careful.

I can’t vouch for this channel, but I found a good video. I imagined Cato’s tail like the dog’s at 1:25, but maybe it was more like the first dog’s?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Cato is a wild tail wagger! We call his tail a WMD. It hurts when he whacks you! Kids scatter!

Thanks for the video.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It’s hard to tell. For one thing he was lying down. Let me look at 1:25 again.

Dutchess_III's avatar

No….he wasn’t acting skittish or shy or afraid. It was like he was happy to see her but something comes over him and his hackles go up.

KRD's avatar

Yes and if that ever happens get away.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I can’t get away. It’s my dog.

BTW I learned that raised hackles are involuntary and can mean excitement as well, not just agression. It’s like he has 3 different things, emotions, going on.

Zaku's avatar

Sounds like he just gets really excited to meet people (like many dogs) and has that physical reaction when he does.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think so too….but he also gets aggressive like when people knock on the door. ;(

smudges's avatar

No, @KRD, it doesn’t always mean aggression.

@longgone You mentioned “a high tail wagging slowly or “vibrating” ” Our cat’s used to occasionally go rigid and vibrate like that – we said she had a ‘tail-on’. ;D

KRD's avatar

Sometimes it can also mean their scared.

Dutchess_III's avatar

they’re .Or excited.

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