The Meaning of Your Dog's Tail Movements

Most dog owners frequently have the thought, “I wish my dog could talk!” While dogs do not have a verbal language that is comparable to humans, the position, direction, and movement of a dog’s tail can communicate multiple messages. It’s certainly more complex than “wagging tail = happy dog.” Read on for how to interpret the meaning of your dog’s tail movements.


1. A Tail That Is Held High

A moderately high tail generally signals enthusiasm and arousal; a dog that is eager to interact. However, tread carefully when approaching this type of dog - you don’t know how much control this dog (or this dog’s owner) has in a situation like this. It may be best to let a highly aroused dog calm down a bit before you engage. Moreover, a very high tail (i.e., nearly vertical) may be trying to communicate dominance or intimidation toward another animal or person.


2. A Tail That Is Parallel To The Ground

A tail that is held approximately horizontal to the ground should be interpreted as a sign of curiosity, an equivalent to the verbal, “Hey, what’s that you have?” or “What’s going on over there?” Dogs may display this tail position when presented with a new toy or in the context of meeting a new (and non-threatening) person. This tail position does not communicate a strong dominant or strong submissive position. 


3. A Tail That Is Lower Or Tucked Between The Dog’s Legs

As you might expect, a low tail generally communicates submissiveness or passiveness. The extreme version of this position - the tail between the dog’s legs - is a sign that the dog is scared. A tucked tail is saying, “Please don’t harm me.” If you see your dog’s tail in this position, you may want to provide your dog with comfort or remove them from the potentially threatening situation. 


4. A Tail That Is Wagging Back and Forth Quickly

 

A fast wag generally indicates an excited, friendly dog, but this is another situation where you should proceed with caution: A tail held high that is wagging very quickly can be a sign that a dog is trying to communicate a threat and is prepared to fight.


5. A Tail That Is Stiff


Stiff body language in humans can indicate tension or worry and the same can be said about stiffness in a dog’s tail. The converse (a loose, fluid tail) is most often the sign a relaxed dog who is at ease.


6. A Tail That Wags Along With The Whole Body

 

“I’m excited,” “Come play with me!” and “I’m not a challenge or threat” are all possible messages communicated by a tail that is making big, sweeping motions that carry the back of the dog’s body with it. This type of wag is often what comes to mind when we think about a happy dog with a wagging tail. 


7. A Tail That Wags More To The Right or Left

 

When dogs feel positive about something, they tend to wag their tails more to the right. A more left-wagging tail generally indicates more negative or unhappy feelings towards a person, animal, or situation.