Be Sure You Understand Your Dogs Tail

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    Oct 14, 2013
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Be Sure You Understand Your Dogs Tail Photo by Raquel Cervera

One of the most familiar things we immediately notice when we have a dog is its tail. Why?  There are a few different reasons for that.


There are dog breeds that amaze one with the beauty of their tails, like the Siberian Husky, the Samoyed, Golden Retriever, Collie, German Shepherd, etc.

Even some mutts that are mixed call the attention because of their tails, those feather-like ones that seem to be fanning the wind when they move. One of my dogs, named Pelusina, happens to fall into this category. It is a pleasure to see her walk.


There is no way a dog never wags its tail. Never. But, are you completely sure the wagging is always a sign of happiness to see you?

If the wagging is a slow one, yes, that is a sign of welcome or contentment.
If it happens to be at a slow speed, this normally takes place when you are training your dog and it is telling you that way that it is trying to understand and learn what you are expecting of it. That wagging becomes faster once the training has had its results and the dog just enjoys doing what you have taught.

Then there is the wagging that you observe to happen in broad circles. Perhaps you have seen your dog do that when encountering another dog and you have no clue of what the two are saying to each other just with that movement. Well, it is like an “I like you” message, kind of a game and not a signal of an oncoming fight.

The wagging can be short and with slow movements, something one sees when the dog is lying down and the owner or someone familiar approaches. It is a signal of pleasure.

If the wagging is a fast one from the beginning, you can be sure it is simply because there is an activity or object the dog really enjoys, like when Pelusina watches me prepare for our morning walk or when you are showing her a new toy or treat. The same happens when she hasn’t seen me during my working hours and I return home. Her tail is something to see.

Wagging is something we are more used to watching in our dog’s tail, but there are some other positions dog owners should be familiar with in order to understand their messages.

Positions of the Tail

If you see your dog put its tail up and show slow and rhythmic type of movements, watch out, because it is on guard, but if that movement becomes fast, still with the tail up, there might be a fight coming. That can also mean the dog is ready to run away.

I was reading there was a study performed by veterinarians  at the University of Trieste in Italy that really left me surprised. It shows that the predominant side of the wagging of the dog’s tail is also important, depending on which of the two hemispheres of the brain has been activated. If it is to the left side, controlled by the right hemisphere, associated with negative feelings, you may suspect your dog is scared or nervous. If, on the contrary, the tail wags to the right, meaning it is controlled by the left hemisphere, which is more related to positive emotions and feelings, you may conclude your dog is in a “happy mood”.

There are two possibilities if you see your dog’s tail in a horizontal position:

If it is just horizontal, but relaxed, that means the dog has seen something that may be of interest to it.

If it is horizontal, but stiff, you may suspect the dog is either seeing an intruder or something that is not familiar to it.

When you see your dog raise its tail and put it in a vertical position, it means it is ready to show its dominance and even indicate to another dog, for example, that it is ready to fight if necessary.
If you see the tail in an upright position, but just turned over its back, the meaning of this is that the dog shows trust and is quite controlled.

It is important to notice the difference of when the dog’s tail is pointed downward and close to its hind legs and when the tail is just between its legs. In the first case, one must look out for the legs themselves. If these are rigid, but the dog continues to wag its tail just slightly, that may be a message indicating it is not feeling physically well. If those extremities are bent slightly, the indication here is of “I’m feeling insecure”. In the second case, with which we are more familiar, the clear message is of just fear or submission.

Finally, your dog’s tail may just be relaxed and that is exactly what it is trying to tell you: your dog is relaxed and feeling well, comfortable and enjoying where it is and what surrounds it.

As has been shown, your dog’s tail is something to be more aware of, since it is continuously telling you what words in a human position can do that in their case has to find another way of expression, so watch for it.

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