Banner image What is my dog’s tail telling me?

What is my dog’s tail telling me?

Our pets communicate in a number of different ways such as barks, whines, yips, growls and body language. A dog’s tail communicates a great deal of information but what messages are they trying to communicate?

Like other behaviours we see in our dogs – the wagging and positioning of their tails is an instinctive behaviour. It is one of their foremost communication methods to other dogs and people and it is important to understand what they are communicating to avoid any problems.

What the tail position and wagging speed may indicate:

  • Happy full body wag, you might notice this when you walk in the front door, the tail is wagging in a big circle
  • Slow wag or sudden stop, may mean that he wants to divert a threat without being aggressive. The dog might be unfriendly, so proceed with caution, many dogs show this trait when petted by strangers to communicate that they don’t want to interact with them
  • Preparedness is a high stiff tail. To show that your dog is alert they stand with their ears up and tails raised. This posture indicates that they are watching and ready to confront whatever caught their attention.  If other dogs are near and the tail is high and stiff, it could be a display of dominance. If it is combined with an open mouth, raised hackles and a wrinkled nose, it is your cue to back off
  • If the tail is tucked between the legs, this is a submissive display and your dog may be scared anxious, nervous or unsure.The dog perceives a threat and is asking not to be harmed
  • If the tail is curled in the direction of the head and it is not a natural curl then your dog could be over stimulated and on high alert
  • If the tail is straight out in a horizontal position, they could be curious about something
  • If the tail is in a vertical position wagging very fast, they may feel threatened and this is how they announce that they are now aggressive

Your dog’s tail is an invaluable communication tool.  In some countries the docking of tails has been made illegal, when done for cosmetic purposes, as it is a primary communication tool used by our dogs. If your dog likes to swim their tails can be used like a rudder and also used for balance when running and taking tight turns. 
 
Whether it is long, short, curly or straight their tails serve to provide an indicator of how they are feeling. In some cases your dog's tail position could be indicating a serious health issue. If the tail has been down for a long time, they may be exhibiting mobility issues. Use this as a sign and take your dog to the vet immediately. No pet owner wants their dog to suffer in silence from a disease.

An injury could prevent your dog using its tail as it normally would. This could be a fracture, nerve damage or even a spinal issue. If you notice they have not used their tail for some time seek veterinary advice to diagnose any issues.

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