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the Dog Blog

Tail Talk: What Your Dog’s Tail Can Tell You About Her Feelings

A dog wagging his tail, a sign that means he’s happy and excited.

Dogs may not be able to form sentences, but they have plenty of ways to communicate with you. From their eyes, ears, bark and tail, they have a lot to say. A dog’s tail can tell you a lot about how she feels in any given situation, but it is up to you to try and translate her tall tails (and other signs). To help, we’ve put together a quick guide to help you understand what the different types of wags can mean.

Dog Tail Signs to Consider

When you want to use your dog’s tail to get a sense of how she’s feeling, you’ll want to gauge both movement and placement. The way your furry friend instinctively holds her tail or the rate at which she wags are good indicators of happiness, anxiety, and many other emotions.

While dogs with big, long tails make this task easy, breeds that have shorter or curled tails aren’t quite as simple to read. This may make it harder to figure out their body language, but the general signs are still there since tails are an extension of a dog’s spine. As you spend more time with these dogs, you’ll slowly become an expert at identifying the various stub wiggles of corgis, bulldogs, and other similar breeds.

Tail Movement

Tail wags can stand for a variety of moods ranging from joy to anxiety. Here are a few different types of tail wags that can help you identify how your furry friend feels at any given moment.

Full Body Wag

If your dog greets you with her tail swaying from side to side, she’s probably happy to see you. Big, broad strokes of the tail – especially when paired with a slight bow of the head and sway of the hindquarters – is typically a good sign that your dog is quite pleased, whether it’s because you just arrived home or you have a tasty dog treat in your hand.

Fast Wag

Your dog can show excitement about something with a fast-moving, twitchy tail, but it can also be a sign of agitation depending on the circumstances. For example, your best friend’s tail might wag like crazy if you just returned home after a long trip. However, a dog who doesn’t know you in the park may display rapid, short tail movements to display that she’s not sure who you are and she’s ready to be aggressive to defend herself if necessary.

Slow Wag

In general, a slow, hesitant wag is a sign that a dog is nervous or unsure about something. This is pretty typical for more submissive dogs when they encounter new people, animals, or even large objects.

Wags to One Side

A dog wagging her tail to the left may feel very different than one wagging her tail to the right. One study suggests that the direction of a wag can be a sign of what a dog thinks. Based on this, a tail wagging more to the right side is a sign of a relaxed dog, whereas the left side could be a sign of stress or anxiety.

Stiff

No motion can be another indicator of a dog’s mood. A stiff tail can convey a sense of tension or alertness, such as when a dog hears an unknown noise in the backyard and looks to identify it. A stiff tail can also act as a warning sign to others that the dog is on high alert about a potential threat, so look for other warning signs like raised fur, narrowed eyes, or other aggressive body language.

Tail Placement

Where your dog has her tail can mean as much as how it moves. Different tail placements can convey different meanings, but you can generally group them into three different categories.

Up

When dogs hold their tails high, it’s typically a sign of alertness, dominance, or confidence. A high, still tail shows others that your four-legged friend feels like the top dog and isn’t afraid to show it. A high wag is a sign that your dog is cautiously optimistic, but ready for whatever happens. Of course, this show of alertness isn’t always a friendly gesture. If you’re near a dog you don’t know, a high tail might mean that she’s watching you and trying to show you that she’s in charge.

Down

In general, a low tail indicates that a dog is nervous or timid. This is especially true if the tail is starting to curl between a dog’s legs. In this instance, the tail is a sign of submission around other dogs and people, and can even indicate that she’s afraid. If a dog’s tail is down, avoid sudden movements or other actions that may startle her.

Horizontal to the Ground

Appropriately, a tail that’s generally horizontal to the ground signifies a more neutral attitude for a dog. This action typically means your dog is curious about something or in the process of exploring something or someone and trying to decide what to do.

A Different Story with Every Tail

While the information above is a great guide to help you better understand canine body language, it’s important to remember that every dog is different. As with people, individual dogs vary greatly in personality which can impact their tail movement and position.

For example, a naturally shy or relaxed dog may use a slow, steady wag to say hello, while an excitable pooch’s tail would wag like crazy. Over time, you’ll be able to better understand your four-legged friend’s body language to pick up on her preferred body language. What is your dog’s tail saying to you?

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