Interpretation of Dog Tail Communication

The general dog communication is by wagging the tail. Dogs will wag their tail to convey a range of emotions: happiness, nervousness, feeling threatened, anxiety, submission and excitement. It’s thought that when a dog is relaxed, its tail will sit in a resting position. This position will vary depending on the breed of dog.

There are two ways in which your dog will use their tail to communicate, and these are placement and movement.

Your dog won’t always keep their tail in the same position, and where the tail is located on their body will give you information about their mood. Likewise, the way in which they move their tails is also extremely expressive.

You’ll have to consider both of these factors when trying to decipher canine communication and their dog tail meaning. Also, remember that all dogs are individuals, so try to figure out what your specific dog is saying with certain tail placement and movement.

Watching your dog’s tail for information about how they’re feeling is a fun way to bond with your dog, but it will only take you so far. In most cases, you’ll be able to understand your dog’s mood perfectly without even looking at their tails, and this ability will only get stronger as you deepen the bond between you.

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How Do You Interpret the Actions of a Dog Wagging its Tail

The placement of your dog’s tail is only half the story,  the other half comes from how they move it. This largely comes down to judging the speed and enthusiasm of their wagging. The interpretation of the actions of a dog wagging its tail can be explained in different ways:

  • The Full Body Wagging

If your dog’s tail is moving from side to side as far as it can in either direction, that’s a sign that your dog is happy and content. However, pay attention to the speed at which it moves — if it sweeps in long, languid strokes, that’s a good sign.

That’s not to say that fast strokes are bad; it’s just that they’re not always good. Rapid tail movement is a sign that your dog is excited, but that excitement could be due to seeing you come home from work or it could be a warning to stay back. You’ll have to use context clues to determine which signal is being sent by your dog at the time.

  • Slow Wagging

Your dog will wag their tail slowly and hesitantly if they’re nervous. You’ll likely see this in unfamiliar environments and situations; it’s your dog’s way of reserving judgment about things that might make them uncomfortable. Submissive dogs will definitely give slow wags, and these are often paired with tail tucks and rolling over on their belly.

  • Wagging to One Side

We don’t have a definitive answer as to what this movement means, but there is some evidence that wagging to the right side of the dog’s body indicates relaxed confidence, whereas wagging to the left is a sign of stress.

This is far from settled science, though, so you should watch your dog’s behavior and form your own conclusions about what their asymmetrical wagging means.

  • No Wagging

If your dog is holding their tail completely stiff and motionless, it means they’re on high alert. You’ve likely seen your dog hold their tail stiffly when they’re trying to decide if they’ve heard an intruder or if that dastardly mailman has returned despite previous warnings.

You likely have nothing to worry about if you see your dog with a stiff, motionless tail, but if you see a strange dog doing the same, you should be careful. They’re trying to decide if you’re a threat or not, and if they come to the conclusion that you’re dangerous, they could attack you. Watch out for other cues, like raised fur, pinned ears, and narrowed eyes.

You should understand that “motionless” is a relative term here. While many dogs will hold their tails completely still, others will only hold them mostly still while flickering the very tip. Anything less than a wide-ranging sweep counts as motionless, for the most part.

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The Interpretation of Dog Tail Communication for Up, Down and Horizontal Tail

Dogs typically hold their tails in three different ways: up, down, and horizontal to the ground. Here’s the interpretation of dog tail communication and each action mean:

  • Up Action

If your dog has their tail held straight up in the air, it means they’re on alert. It can also be a sign of confidence or dominance, so be careful if you see it around another dog. A dog with an upright tail isn’t always friendly, and they may be trying to intimidate you, so proceed with caution.

  • Down Action

This is one of the best-understood tail postures. A lowered or tucked tail often indicates fear or submissiveness. A dog with a downward-pointing tail is frightened and may be likely to bolt if you make any sudden movements — but they may also lash out if they feel threatened, so be careful.

  • Horizontal Action

This is basically your dog’s “resting” position for their tail. It means they’re neutral and may be curious about their surroundings. You won’t get much information from a horizontal tail, so you’ll have to rely on movement to get a better gauge of your dog’s mood.

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