Tail Talk: What a Dog’s Tail is Telling You

December 30, 2018 | We Learn | Tips from Edward Lee

Who among us hasn’t wished that our dog could talk to us? The truth is, however, our dogs communicate with us every single day. Their body language speaks volumes about their moods, their needs, and how they feel about you, their owner.

Know the Wag. If you think a dog is wagging its tail because it likes you, then you may want to think again. While it is true that dogs respond to humans and other animals by wagging their tail, the key to understanding the wag is in its pattern of movement and the shape or positioning of its tail. 

  • Quick Tiny Movements. The dog is getting ready to go into action. This usually means that the dog is about to fight or run.  
  • A Slight Relaxed Wag. Your dog is greeting you or trying to subtly trying to get your attention.  
  • A Slow Wag in the Mid-Range. Your dog is feeling insecure or confused about a given situation or your interaction with it.  
  • A Broad Wag. If your dog’s tail is wagging in a broad windshield wiper fashion, this means that its friendly and not threatened by your presence.  

If your dog’s tail is wagging in a broad windshield wiper fashion, this means that its friendly and not threatened by your presence. 

Pole Position. The shape or position of your dog’s tale will also indicate its frame of mind. In most cases, each position is fixed with only a slight wag or no wag at all.  

  • Middle Position. Your dog is relaxed and in a good mood. 
  • Horizontal Position. Your dog is fully alert and at attention. Similar to a bird dog that is point.  
  • Fully Erect Tail. Beware: the dog either feels threatened or it is establishing dominance. 

To the Left, To the Right. A study at the University of Trieste in Italy revealed that a dog will shift its tail fully to the right or to the left depending on how it perceives a situation. For instance, if a dog feels positive about a situation or a person, then it will wag its tail more to the right. Equally, if a dog feels negative about a give situation or a person, then it will wag its tail more to the left.  

By wagging to one side or the other, we mean that the tail is still wagging back and forth but with an emphasis to one side of the rear end or the other. Keep in mind that this is from the dog’s point of view, not the observer’s. The study also concluded that dogs are just one of several animals that exhibit this same behavior. It has led research to further study activity in the brain that causes the emphasis in the wag from the left to the right. 

The Right Response. The reason it is important to learn a dog’s tail positions and wagging patterns is so that you can respond accordingly. If a dog feels threatened by you or another object, the best response is to remove what it is that is creating the tension. In other words, the best thing you can do is to back away. Dogs are just like humans: too much too soon can lead to distrust.   

On the other hand, if your dog is demonstrating that it wants attention, then you should take a few minutes out to acknowledge your dog’s wants and needs. This will strengthen your relationship and keep you and your dog on good terms for many days to come.  

jay-wennington via unsplash

If you enjoyed this post, you should read Dog Manners: Tips for Owners and Their Pups When in Public Spaces here.

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