Dogs are very open with their feelings and moods, including the way they express joy. Their reactions are pure, honest and often immediate. A dog may show sheer happiness with their body or their actions, but there is no mistaking an expression of joy when a dog lets it out.
Although the language of tails is more complex than simply wagging for happiness, an extremely happy dog seems to be barely able to control the expression of joy with a wildly wagging tail. Not only does the dog’s tail wag, their whole back side and even their entire body can wiggle in joy. A dog with a long and strong tail can whip it wildly back and forth in excitement, so much so that you can actually hear it as it moves.
It may seem like a dog’s wagging tail is conveying something very simple, such as happiness. However, the language that tail is communicating and the way the dog is using his tail, may be telling you more than you realize. Tail wagging is another way your dog communicates with you; he uses this particular type of body language to convey specific feelings which mean much more than just “I am happy.”
A wagging tail has many meanings, ranging from happiness and excitement to fear, nervousness, a friendly greeting, or simply an acknowledgement that the dog knows you or accepts you. The position of a dog’s tail – when they are wagging it or it is stationary, or if they are reacting to something such as praise or verbal scolding – gives you information on what they are feeling and communicating.
High vs. Low
The position of a dog’s tail can carry meaning with it as much as the actual motion does. A high wag is exuberant and excited in some way. A low wag may be a more subdued and unsure way your dog shows pleasure, or even pain. A wag in the middle is more relaxed. Think about a dog who has done something naughty or is fearful and tucks their tail between their back legs. This is a submissive or fearful gesture. It can also mean your dog is not feeling well.
Wagging tails are held in different positions for different reasons. For example, a wagging tail held high may be a sign of anger or aggression. Conversely, a low held wagging tail is a much more submissive gesture.
Understanding a dog’s body language can sometimes be like trying to learn a foreign language. Obvious signs are easy to recognize, and knowing your pet as an individual helps you understand how he might react in different situations. Reading a dog’s body language can also give you insight into how an unfamiliar canine might react. The tail is an important communication tool that reveals his emotions. How he wags his tail matters, and scientists have found a subtle clue in a dog’s tail wag that tells you if he’s feeling anxious or happy.
Dogs use their tail much the same way we use a smile when greeting someone. It’s a polite way of expressing acknowledgment. A smile, however, doesn’t always mean you’re happy to see someone. Subtle changes in our smile can show trustworthiness, cover up embarrassment or negative feelings or hide a lie. Humans can flash fake smiles too, but canines don’t hide their feelings. What you see is what you get when it comes to their mood. Dogs give an honest response to a situation, to other animals and to us.
Most dog owners know just by looking at their dog’s tail if he’s feeling happy, confident, upset or unwell. You aren’t going to be fooled by a fake tail wag. Dogs use the wag like we use a smile – as a social signal. The difference is that humans will sometimes smile when they’re alone (in response to a good movie, book or memory, etc.) but tail wags are reserved for us, other animals or something that piques their curiosity, such as you standing there with a bag of CANIDAE treats in your hand.
Dogs show us affection in many different ways. Most pet owners recognize their own pet’s love in his body language, and some dogs have unique ways of showing us how important we are to them. One way my Border Collie mix, Keikei, shows her affection is by holding her paw up so we can “hold hands.” There are, however, some common ways dogs show their love.
Some canines give kisses more readily than others, and licking is a common way for them to show their love. Your dog may lick your legs, feet, hands, arms or face. If you have a dog that shows affection by licking your hands, make sure to wash them before preparing or eating food. Don’t allow your pet to lick open wounds you may have. A doggy kiss is fine, but his tongue can transmit bacteria to your hands or an open sore.
The Pied Piper Effect
One sure sign of love is wanting to keep you in sight at all times. Sure, your dog may follow you to the kitchen just in case there’s something in it for him, but he’s more likely following you because he cares. Dogs have an innate protective nature when it comes to pack members, and to our canine friends we are a member of their pack. His natural desire is to follow you and wherever you lead – he will follow. But tagging along because he wants to be near you can also be a sign of separation anxiety. If you notice increased levels of stress before you leave and when he’s home alone, talk to your vet for advice on how to help ease his anxiety. A checkup can rule out any medical issues that could be causing him stress.
You know when your dog is happy by the way he excitedly wags his tail. For some dogs, all you have to do to get their tails whipping back and forth is to look at them. My dogs wag their tail a mile a minute when I talk to them and when we’re playing. A dog’s tail is one way they communicate with us. You wouldn’t think a happy, excited tail could be a problem for your dog, but it can. A medical condition called Happy Tail syndrome can cause serious injury to your dog’s tail.
What is Happy Tail Syndrome?
When a dog is excited and wags his tail rapidly, like most dogs are prone to do when happy, they can injure their tail knocking it against a hard surface like a table leg or wall. Happy tail syndrome is also known as kennel tail, splitting tail and bleeding tail. A dog can whack his tail hard enough on a hard surface that it causes a small cut or split on the tip of his tail. The cut tends to bleed a lot and as he continues to wag his tail, blood is splattered around the area.
It may not sound like a serious condition, but because it’s on the tip of his tail, it doesn’t heal fast, it can be hard to stop the bleeding, and it can be recurring if the dog wags his tail against a hard surface. Infection is a concern; antibiotics should be given to help prevent infection, and pain medication may need to be prescribed. In a worst case scenario, a portion of the tail may be amputated.
We all know what a dog’s tail looks like. We know the tail starts at the end of a dog’s vertebral column and extends beyond his body. We know a dog wags his tail when he’s happy. Other than that, we’ve probably never thought much about it.
There are some types of dogs that are born without a prolonged tail, and there are dogs whose tails have been altered. Some herding and working dog breeds have their tails docked short when they are young; a long tail can be a disadvantage to a working dog because it can interfere with his specific responsibilities and duties. But we’re talking here about the tails of dogs that are long and unaltered, and the many purposes these tails serve.
I can tell what my dog is feeling by the way she holds or moves her tail. Her ears speak volumes as well, but that’s a story for another day. Her tail tells me if she is happy, stressed, aggravated or scared. When she holds her tail high and wags it back and forth, she’s happy. A CANIDAE dog treat never fails to elicit that happy tail wag! When she’s both happy and excited, her tail is high and she moves it in a circular manner which always makes me smile. When something captures her attention, her tail is parallel to the ground.
When my dog is aggravated or feels challenged, she holds her tail a bit higher than her attentive position but not as high as her happy position. I know she feels especially provoked when her tail is held upright and it’s puffed up and rigid.
Too often, our shy girl tucks her tail between her legs, which lets me know she is scared or feeling submissive. And when she keeps her tail low and wags it quickly, she’s nervous or insecure.
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