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The tale in the tail

 | July 18, 2012

This article talks about how dogs communicate a myriad of emotions to us and their canine buddies through the use of their tails.


Many dogs willingly learn from us all sorts of commands like sit… stay…  beg… high-5… roll over and play dead.

They are also quick to understand our intonations when we verbalise certain phrases – the hurried tone we use to say “Where’s the cat?”; the raised, sing-song tone we use to say “Walktime!” and the deeply serious tone we take on when we command “Who did that?” that sees her splitting the scene of the crime in a flash.

Yes, dogs are intelligent creatures and great communicators in their own right too. Sadly we, less-than-informed humans miss most of the cues they send us.

This article talks about how dogs communicate a myriad of emotions to us and their canine buddies through the use of their tails.

Tail wagging rapidly – A familiar sight, a dog wags her tail when she’s excited and happy. Sometimes if she’s feeling really over the moon, she’ll wag her tail in a circle indicating she really wants to play and shower you with affection. Canine behaviourists believe dogs reserve tail wagging to the right when extremely happy and tail wagging to the left when pleasantly curious about a new dog or human they are in the process of making friends with.

Tail wagging on and off – She likes what’s she seeing or doing but is a little uncertain about it. For example, she might wag her tail in happiness when you talk to her but stop wagging her tail when she sees you’ve become focussed on something else besides her. She’ll wag her tail again when you look at her once more. She’s telling you she’s a little confused but interested all the same on what’s going on. Some undivided attention is what she’d really like!

Tail tucked or curled – She will do this if she’s frightened, in pain or feeling submissive. When you are in the company of an unknown dog who’s tail is tucked in, it’s best to leave her alone and refrain from making eye contact with her. That’s because fear in a dog can turn into aggression rapidly. If it is your dog that has her tail tucked in, check to see what’s bothering her. It could very well be that she’s in pain and may need to see a vet.

Tail extended horizontally – Beware the dog that looks at you with her tail extended straight out for she probably thinks you’re prey! This is a classic hunting pose, more so if one of her front paws is lifted off the ground. She does this when she is about to give chase or when a fight is about to erupt between her and another dog that she can’t see eye to eye with.

Tail straight up – she’s alert and has heard or seen something that’s caught her attention. Hunting dogs usually have their tails straight up like this. If her hackles are raised as well, it means something is scaring the living daylights out of her or she may be ready to do battle. Either way, it’s not a good sign.

Wagging  just the tip of her tail – she’s uncomfortable with the situation she’s in and may turn aggressive to defend herself. You will notice her tail is hung low as well indicating she would rather be anywhere else than where she’s at now. If she’s meeting a new dog and is wagging her tail in this way, it would be best to separate the two before a fight breaks out.

Tail up and wagging rapidly – Surely this is harmless! Yet all this shows is a dog that is confident and ready to launch an attack. Don’t try petting her if she’s displaying this form of tail wagging for she just might bite your hand off. If it is your own dog, she’s probably seen some form of prey that has excited her – the neighbour’s cat or a monitor lizard slinking away. If she’s wagging her tail in this frantic way while with another dog, there’s going to be a bloody fight.




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