Tail wagging is part of the body language of dogs. Children, as well as adults, have been bitten by dogs who were wagging their tails. The position of a dog’s tail not only shows how he is feeling, mentally and physically, but also signals impending danger to the pack from outside forces or from the dog himself.
A dog uses the tail as a social statement to greet their owners, other dogs, cats and situations they may encounter. Just as we greet a friend or acquaintance with a smile or handshake, so it is with dogs. We may smile as we shake hands with someone we consider to be an adversary and a dog’s wagging tail that we take as a friendly greeting can be the same. It’s important to pay attention to the dog’s entire body language to understand the full meaning of the tail.
So just what does all this tail wagging mean? Anyone who has had the pleasure of their dog’s excitement upon returning home has seen the “Oh boy, I’m so glad you’re home” wag. The dog’s tail wags fast and can even move in a circle. He’s extremely happy to see you and his excited tail says he likes you a lot. The tail moving in a circle when dogs are playing also means that if they are fighting, it’s nothing more than play.
A light wag is considered to be their normal greeting when they aren’t excited and a slow, short wag simply lets you know they are pleased with what’s going on around them. A dog’s tail that is relaxed reflects just that – contentment and a relaxed state of mind.
It’s easy for us to see our dog’s excitement with happy tail wags, but a dog’s tail will also alert us to possible aggression towards us or another dog. The position of the tail in this instance is important to understand.
A tail standing tall and erect that is flipped over the dog’s back is a clear sign that the dog is in control and trusting. An upright tail not curled over his back is saying this dog feels he is dominate and is also a sign of authority. This is one clue to watch out for when meeting an unfamiliar dog. Just because a dog’s tail shows dominance doesn’t mean he is a threat, it only means you should watch him if you aren’t familiar with this dog. Pay attention to his entire body language to determine the true state of mind in deciding if the dog is a threat.
The same caution applies to a dog whose tail is tucked between his legs. This tail position indicates an animal who is fearful, insecure or not feeling well. Approach carefully if the tail is between their legs because a fearful or sick animal could lash out if they feel threatened. You can tell if your dog doesn’t feel well when his tail hangs down and is close to his back legs with a slow wag. If you see his legs bent slightly with his tail tucked between his legs, this is a sign of insecurity as well as being afraid. Dogs are like us and can get snippy if they don’t feel good or are scared of something or someone.
If you see your dog’s tail hanging straight out behind him, he is watching something that interests him which has his full attention. When the tail is straight out and rigid, this guy is on alert. He’s seeing something or someone he doesn’t know or he is faced with something he believes may be a threat to himself or his pack.
Dog owners know that really excited dog tail wag with his hind quarters wiggling in anticipation of a long awaited walk or game of catch. This is a wag that shows just how happy our dogs are to be near us. A dog who wants to play will invite you to join in with a smile and a bow. His eager tail is waving high as he stretches out his front legs and lowers his head. That’s a sure sign he wants a little “me time” with his favorite pack member, so reward him with a game. He doesn’t care which game you choose, he just wants to play.
The tail can show you the mood your dog is in as well as give you hints if you confront a dog you don’t know. Watch the dog’s tail along with the rest of his body language for signs he can be trusted and does not pose a threat to you or your family. A dog’s tail doesn’t lie. We just need to pay attention to what the dog’s tail is trying to communicate to us.
Read more articles by Linda Cole
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