Why Does My Pit Bull’s Hair Stand Up? 5 Reasons Explained

Pit Bulls, like any dog breed, communicate in different ways. They can bark, move their tails and ears, and use body language. Their hair can also stand up to display what they’re feeling.

Why does my Pit Bull’s hair stand up? You Pit Bull’s hair stands up as a way for its body to communicate different feelings. It can stand up when they’re feeling afraid, anxious, excited, insecure, surprised, and even happy. This reflexive movement is known as raised hackles or piloerection, and it’s very common in dogs.

Keep reading to know more about why a Pit Bull’s hair stands up and what you can do about it.

Why Does My Pit bull’s Hair Stand Up?

All animals are a bit unpredictable; however, their bodies can give you some cues on how they’re feeling at any moment. Pit Bulls are very energetic, loving, and expressive dogs, but for you to be a good owner of them, you have to know all of their nitpicks.

One of their communication cues is raised hackles, which is when a patch of hair stands up along a dog’s neck and back when they feel certain emotions. It’s also referred to as piloerection, as it’s caused by a specific type of muscle (Arrector Pili) that cause the hair along the dog’s neck and back to stand up.

The sympathetic nervous system’s reflexive trigger (the fight-or-flight response), is what causes this kind of reaction in dogs as the dog’s nervous system becomes on high alert in certain situations, such as encountering another animal, hearing a doorbell, or hearing a weird noise in the middle of the night, triggers it.

In this situation, the arrector pili muscles contract and make the hair stand up, so the dog looks bigger. This serves as a visual cue to other animals and potential dangers that the dog is prepared to defend its territory or assert its authority.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why Pit Bull may have this kind of response:

They’re Afraid

Hackles can rise in dogs when they are intimidated by something present or when they are afraid of the unknown.

They might be frightened by the height and stature of another dog they’re encountering. For instance, a large dog can cause your dog to raise its hackles. Thunder or fireworks, as well as other loud or sudden noises that your dog is not used to or not expecting, can frighten them.

They’re Surprised

In response to an abrupt or unexpected surprise, dogs may raise their hackles. This surprise may be the appearance of someone (or another dog), for instance, leaping out from behind a corner.

When this happens, you might also notice that your dog’s tail is tucked in between their legs because this is another way dogs communicate that they might be fearful or anxious.

To Show Dominance/Aggression

In order to assert authority over another dog or person, dogs may also raise their hackles. When your dog is attempting to figure out who is in authority, for example, this can also happen during dog training.

If a dominant dog perceives that they are being threatened by a submissive or overly excitable dog, it will growl and raise its hackles.

They’re Feeling Insecure

If your dog generally exhibits confidence but suddenly begins to raise its hackles and shows signs of anxiety, it may be an indication that they are uneasy with the circumstances.

This could be a result of a change in their environment (a new child or pet in the house) or because they are uneasy about a recent development.

They’re Excited

Not all raised hackles mean a negative thing, your dog may just be happy and excited while playing with you, or with another dog. 

Usually accompanied by a lot of tail wagging, it simply indicates that they are extremely stimulated or excited.

What to Look Out for with Raised Hackles?

Because dogs are living beings, you can’t judge their whole mood with just one cue, you have to know the other accompanying movements they do to fully understand what your dog is feeling.

Here are some additional cues that accompany raised hackles to help you identify what your dog is feeling.

  • Lip licking. It often happens when a dog wants to show submission, however, when it happens with raised hackles, it can be a sign of anxiety.
  • Tail wagging. It usually means your dog is happy, but that’s not always true. If your dog is wagging its tail very fast, while its hackles are raised, it could be a sign of fear-based aggression.
  • Tail tucked between its legs. Hackles accompanied by a tucked tail usually indicate fear and anxiety.
  • Ears pinned back. It usually means that your dog is feeling defensive or fearful.
  • Wide eyes. This also means that your dog is on high alert.
  • Defensive barking. I’m not talking about the usual barking, I’m talking about how your dog raises its hackles and then barks aggressively.
  • Growling. It’s your dog’s way of saying “ I don’t like this”. In addition to raised hackles, it’s also mostly accompanied by bared teeth.
  • Sniffing rampage. This means your dog is on high alert due to the scent of another animal. This usually happens when your dog has a territory and feels like there’s an intruder.

What to Do When Your Pit Bull’s Hair Stands up?

Raised hackles are not a reason for you to be alarmed as it doesn’t always indicate aggression. Your Pit Bull’s hair may stand up when you introduce it to another dog or a new place. It’s just their way to be careful until they sniff around and relax.

Mostly, after the sniffing and introductions, your dog will relax, and as a result, so will their nervous system. The muscles in the arrector pili will unwind, and the hair will resume its original position.

However, it’s essential to separate your dog from the aggravating factor (other dogs, people, animals) if their hackles are raised for an extended amount of time.

If their raised hackles are accompanied by any of the previously mentioned cues, like barking, growling, or not listening to your orders (other dogs, people, animals), you should be careful on what your next step should be as aggression could develop in this setting, which could be dangerous to you or other people or animals.

When you step in to deal with a potentially violent scenario, be cautious so as not to put yourself in danger. You can avoid possible issues by being aware of your own dog’s worrisome cues. Learn more about the Pit Bull’s aggressive behavior here.


All dogs have hackles, and this doesn’t always indicate an aggressive dog or one who might be feeling threatened. However, it’s crucial to be aware of when it happens and pinpoint the sources of the stimulation so you can respond appropriately if necessary.

Related Questions 

Do Some Dog Breeds Have More Pronounced Hackles Than Others?

Dogs with longer hair usually have more pronounced hackles than others. Some breeds like the Rhodesian Ridgebacks look like their hackles are always raised, but this is just because their hair grows in a forward motion. Some dogs with a curly coat like Poodles have a less noticeable effect, as it is hard to see any raised hair around the arrector pili muscles.

Helpful Resources 

All About Dog Hackles

PitbullsHome Personally-Tested Picks for Pitties:

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