A dog’s tail and how it carries it is an important indicator of many things such as its current social standing as well as its mental state. There can be some variations, of course, depending upon how the dog naturally carries its tail. For example, a West Highland White Terrier will normally carry its carrot-shaped little tail in a different way than a golden retriever will carry its flowing, feathery tail or very differently than a greyhound will carry its thin, whip-like tail.
Watch for these dog tail positions discussed below in your own dogs and how they carry their tails in various interactions with other dogs and it may help you to begin to understand more about how your dog really feels and sees the world.
1 – Your dog carries its tail practically horizontal, yet not stiff, and pointing away from its body. This lets you know that they are paying close attention to their surroundings.
2 – Your dog is holding its tail straight out, pointing away from its body, both horizontally and stiff. Watch and you’ll notice that this is part of the process that occurs in any initial challenge whenever they first meet a stranger or an intruder.
3 – If the dog’s tail is help upward, somewhere between a horizontal and vertical position, realize that this is often the sign of a dog that is dominant, confident and feeling in control. This can also be a display of a dog who is asserting his/her dominance – basically translating into “I’m the boss here. Don’t mess with me.”
4 – If the dog’s tail is carried up and slightly curved over its back it means, “I’m the top dog.” A confident and dominant dog who feels that it is in control will often express itself this way.
5 – If the dogs tail is carried lower than the horizontal position but still has some distance from the legs you can be aware that your dog feels pretty relaxed and that all is well.
6 – If your dog’s tail is carried downward, closer to its hind legs it can mean several things such as “I’m not feeling good” or “I’m a little depressed.” It could also mean “I feel insecure,” which is especially true of many dogs when they are in an unknown or new setting or situation.
7 – If the dogs tail is tucked between its legs it often means “I’m frightened!” or “Please don’t hurt me!” This is especially common whenever the dog feels that it is in the presence of a more dominant dog or person. Tail carriage of this type can also mean, “I accept my lowly role in the pack, and I’m not out to challenge you in any way.”
8 – All right, let’s talk about a few more examples of how a dog carries its tail. If you notice bristling hair down its back or down the dog’s tail this often suggests a sign of aggression. This meaning may also change in intensity if the dog modifies its tail position. So, if the tail is carried straight out from the body it means “I’m ready to fight if you are!” or if it moves the tail slightly up or over its back it means that “I’m not afraid of you and will fight to prove that I’m really the boss.” This is serious – especially if it happens between two dogs that won’t back down.
9 – If your dog carries its tail with a crick or sharp bend in it while it is carried high this often means pretty much the same thing as in the tail bristling example. This too can be read as a sign of aggression.
10 – If the dog has a nice broad tail wag it often means “I like you.” You’ll often see this display during play sessions between dogs – for example, when one dog seems to be fighting the other, pouncing, growling, and barking but with a wagging tail all the while – the wagging tail reminds the other dog that this is all in fun. A broad tail wag can also mean that “I’m pleased.”
11 – If you happen to notice that your dog is exhibiting a slow tail wag, with its tail carried at half-mast it can often mean “I’m confused.” Later when the dog finally solves the problem that it was confused about you will often notice a dramatic difference in the speed and size of the tail wags which will usually markedly increase as well.
Dogs don’t talk like we do but they do communicate with us and each other. Learn to read the signs. They are keen observers of body language and will often understand how to read you long before you will fully be able to read them. But with a little practice and patience and an intense desire to better understand your dog, these generalized gesture descriptions above will help you to better read your dog in the future.