A dog’s tail is one of the most expressive parts of its body. So, what is your dog’s tail trying to tell you? Here are eight tail positions and movements and what they can tell you about your dog.
An active, fast wagging tail is almost always a good sign. It means the dog is excited. The faster the wag, the more excited the dog. This is often accompanied by their body shaking and wiggling or, in the case of puppies, toe-tapping. This can also give you a heads up if you’re dog’s attention is being drawn in a certain direction. If your dog is off-leash and starts wagging, that is a sign to direct their attention back to you or pick up their leash before they run towards the squirrel or other dog that’s exciting them.
A tail sticking straight out can mean the dog is curious about what is going on around them. The dog might be paying close attention because it is worried about something they see or hear, or they might be focusing on a new toy they have never seen before.
A soft, slight wag can mean several things. Typically, it indicates a type of hesitant approval; for example when meeting somebody new. However, when meeting another dog, it could mean they are not sure if they are the alpha or beta.
Just like a person who is feeling confident might hold her head up high, a dog that feels confident or dominant in its surroundings will typically raise its tail upwards. Although it is not an aggressive position, it signals to other dogs that they are the leader. If the tail is curved over the back, it means your dog is super confident (however, some breeds have a naturally curled tail).
A raised tail coupled with a lowered head—and even erect hairs on the back and tail—is a sign that the dog is defensive and uncomfortable. If a dog is doing this they may be close to an act of aggression towards whatever it is fearful of. Often, this will be accompanied by growls or barking. In this type of situation, safely remove your dog from the problematic situation.
Between their legs
When a person has their metaphoric “tail between their legs” it means they are feeling embarrassed, ashamed, or defeated. When a dog literally has its tail between its legs, that is a cause for concern. It means the dog is afraid of something. When this happens, be gentle with your dog and do not force anything on them. If there is something that is obviously scaring them, remove them from the scary situation. Show them all your love—because they need the additional comfort in these moments.
Relaxed and floppy
Like a wagging tail, a relaxed and floppy tail is a great sign because it means your dog is happy and content. They are feeling loved and are at peace with their surroundings.
A sad or submissive dog will typically have its tail down, and often its head, too. A submissive dog is not necessarily a bad thing; it could mean it is signaling to you that they know you are their pack leader. If this is an unusual behavior for your dog, they may be feeling ill. Watch for other signs of discomfort and talk to your vet if it persists.