For hundreds of years, humans have worked on domesticating different breeds of dogs so that their main role can be as beloved family pets. We have learned the ins and outs of being a dog parent, and with that comes analyzing their behaviors in order to understand what is going on in their adorable little heads.
Luckily, dogs have adapted to know how to communicate with humans to get their needs met. Yet we aren’t always 100% positive about what is going on in our dog’s mind. Body language helps us to determine what our pet is thinking in different situations.
One of the best indicators of body language and communication is how your dog’s tail is positioned. Your dog’s tail reacts to what your dog is thinking and experiencing, so it can explain how your dog might feel in different scenarios.
If you’re wondering, “Why do dogs wag their tails?” and want to make your pooch happy and comfortable, understanding their tail positioning is one of the first steps.
Body Language in Dogs
When your dog is uncomfortable or feeling some negative feelings, their facial expressions and tail movements sure look a lot different from when they are feeling positive feelings like excitement.
When doing some basic dog training, you can tell a lot about your dog’s emotional state based on their mouths, ears, shoulders, and, yes: the position of a dog’s tail and the direction of the wagging. As humans, we are not always predisposed to understand what our dog’s body language is trying to tell us and why dogs do what they do, but through years of domestication and studying our dogs, we have picked up on a few things to pay attention to.
However, luckily for us, dogs often tend to pick up on each other’s body language so that we don’t have to do so much guessing. While our dogs do rely on us to keep them safe and protected, they are able to sense things that we aren’t, making them much better judges of situations than us.
No matter what, it’s a good idea to learn about different tail positions to better understand your dog’s thoughts or intentions in any given scenario. This way, you can better communicate with and adjust to make your dog happier overall.
Tail Positions and What They Mean
Tail positions reveal much about our dog’s thoughts and intentions.
It’s best to keep in mind that some breeds have different tails and, therefore, different communication techniques. Pugs have short, curled tails that might not wag in the same way that a Golden Retriever would. On the other hand, breeds like Huskies, Basenjis, and Pomeranians have long tails, so their tails naturally have a higher line and tend to curve over the back.
1. High Positioning, Tail Wagging
A fast and loosely wagging tail means quickly moving from the left side to the right side of your dog’s body, showing that your dog is happy. You might be approaching a friend on the street or coming up to a location your dog loves. As soon as your dog notices, that tail will start thumping.
Additionally, this position is usually accompanied by other excited whole-body actions like jumping up and down, spinning around, tapping their paws, or pulling you to get to the target faster. (The speed of the wag is helpful to consider)
While this is a preferred reaction, all that wiggling and wagging can be a lot! You might want to try calming down your dog so that they don’t know someone over or overwhelm another pup.
2. High Positioning, Tilted Upwards
A high, stiff tail that is not fully straight up but instead standing at an angle can be a position that shows dominance. Your dog is likely feeling confident and coming up on potential new friends. Your dog wants to assert their dominance before saying hello, but this doesn’t mean that they’re aggressive. This can often happen at a dog park or when meeting new dog friends.
You should keep an eye on your dog if this is the case because if they get a wrong vibe from another dog, the tail position might change to reflect their new feelings towards the situation.
3. High Positioning, Curled
Some dogs might already have a curly tail, which might skew this positioning just a bit. If your dog’s tail is naturally straight, a curled tail that has a high position likely means that your dog is happy, confident, and comfortable.
4. High Position, Relaxed Wag
If your dog is producing a slow wag, it’s showing that they are happy and relaxed but not overly excited. They might react this way when being awoken from a nice nap, when their human returns from a night out, or if you walk over to give them some pets when they aren’t expecting it.
5. Stiff Tail
A stiff tail, whether high-positioned, low, or horizontal, is usually a sign that a dog is behaving very cautiously. You might notice that when a potential threat is approaching, your dog will zero in on it. You might notice that a wagging tail will come to a standstill, and your dog will be on alert.
This might happen when your dog is meeting someone new and is not sure how to respond, or they see a particularly suspicious new object like Halloween decorations. This movement may either shift into a nice relaxed wag or shift into danger mode.
6. Down and Out
This position is the most casual and neutral position that you will see with your dog. When a dog’s tail is down and relaxed, sticking out slightly, it could be because they are feeling very neutral. This position is common around the house and in other settings where your dog is feeling confident and comfortable.
It also can mean that they are almost ready for a nap, as it is a position that exerts no energy. It’s what you might describe as a baseline for your dog’s tail behavior.
7. Downward, Not Quite Tucked, Still
When your dog’s tail is not quite tucked, not quite raised, but very still, your dog is showing signs that they are uncomfortable. Usually, a dog that has a tail in this position is confused about what is going on and feels slightly anxious. They could be around new dogs or people, in a new environment, or at the veterinarian’s office.
8. Low Against the Hind Legs
In this position, your dog’s tail is not yet tucked, but it’s sitting low against their hind legs. This is a very submissive position and it usually happens when they want to show other dogs or humans that they aren’t a threat.
This might happen if your dog is naturally submissive and encounters a new friend. They don’t want to come off as overbearing and want to show right away that they aren’t going to be an issue. This is generally considered appeasement behavior.
9. Tucked Between the Legs
This is the most obvious indicator that your dog is scared. When your dog’s tail is tucked in between their legs, they might be experiencing fear and anxiety. You should immediately comfort your dog and not force them to do anything that they don’t want to do.
This can happen in crowded locations, around dogs that your dog sees as a threat, in new environments, or when there are loud and intrusive noises.
10. Raised and Alert
When a dog has a raised and alert tail, this is a sign that they are preparing to go on the attack. If they are feeling threatened, their tail will shoot up and become very stiff and alert. It also might be accompanied by growling, snarling, barking, baring teeth, or raised hackles.
You should definitely remove your dog from this situation immediately so that nothing progresses into a dangerous scenario.
Get Answers to the Clues
All dogs are different, but tail behavior is something that tends to be universal. Some dogs might never feel threatened or fearful and so seeing their tails tucked or alert is uncommon. We all love seeing a happy dog with a wagging tail, but that’s not the reality all the time.
Knowing your dog and what they need from you can keep your dog feeling safe and comfortable. When questions about your dog’s behavior pops up, you can find answers with AskVet.
At any point, you can reach out to a Certified Pet Lifestyle Coach™ and ask them questions about your dog’s behavior. They can help to come up with a plan that will help improve your dog’s life by making them more confident and comfortable.
We all love our dogs so much and want to do what’s best for them — Schedule an appointment, and we are here to help you do exactly that!