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Like any other form of language, tail position and movement in dogs has its own grammar and vocabulary that can be learned by humans as a means to better communicate with our dogs. While the tail can give you important clues about your dog’s emotional state, to fully grasp what your pooch is communicating, try looking at more than just one part of his body. Instead, make an effort to get the entire picture by observing his body as a whole.
To learn about what your dog’s posture is telling you, click here to read Dog Body Language – Part One: The Posture.
What Fido’s Tail is Telling You
1. The happy tail. An unmistakably friendly wag normally involves the dog’s entire back end moving widely back and forth. (I call this “wiggle butt!”) If a dog is truly excited about something, like greeting his owner, he may wag his tail in big, fast circular motion. Eager butt wiggles can observed. The entire friendly-pooch package often includes a somewhat lowered body, squinty eyes, open mouth, and ears slightly pulled back. Remember that you have to assess the tail in context with other body language as not all wagging tails signify a happy dog.
2. The tense tail. An on-edge canine body usually goes with a raised, stiff tail held tight in a C curve. Although all curved tails are not the same in meaning, a good rule of thumb to keep in mind is the stiffer and more motionless Fido and his tail is, the more cautious you need to be. Try to avoid engagement till you see the anxious dog becomes relaxed.
3. The sad tail. While a lowered tail usually means that the dog is very relaxed, a tail that is markedly held tightly down and even tucked in between the legs; however, may mean that the pooch is not having a good time. Lowered tails may also suggest fear. That’s why, once you see Fido’s tail drooping, perhaps it’s time to pay attention and make him feel secure.
Clues to Look Out For
· Slight wags. A slight wag with swings that only make small breadths is commonly noticed during simple greetings. It’s often just your pooch’s way of saying a tentative “Hi there”, or a confident “I’m here”.
· Broad wags. This normally indicates “I’m pleased”, or “I’m not threatening or challenging you”, especially if the tail movement comes with a drag of the hips.
· Slow wags. This wag with the tail seemingly at half-mast tends to be less social. Generally, slow wags which show neither particularly submissive (low) nor dominant (high) position could mean insecurity.
· Tiny, swift movements. These tiny tail movements that sometimes make the tail look like it is vibrating is a sign that Fido is about to do something- either fight or run. A fearful dog will sometimes wag only the tip of his tail in short, rapid bursts. If the tail is raised while shuddering, it is likely that the dog is becoming an active threat.
Many dog owners mistakenly believe that a wagging tail is always a happy tail. Remember, when it comes to reading your dog’s tail, you MUST consider posture, movements of the eyes and ears, and the situation your dog is in to get the whole picture.