What Our Pets’ Tails Tell Us
By Jennifer Blevins, DivineCaroline
Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m one of those people who may very well have an unhealthy obsession with trying to communicate with their dog too much. A large chunk of the time I spend with my miniature schnauzer, Earle, I’m baby talking, repeating new cutesy (and usually totally ridiculous) nicknames (Bubbers, Muffin Head, Little Turkey, etc.), and trying to figure out how he feels by carefully scrutinizing every wink of his eye and tilt of his head. Is he really feeling sad when he watches me leave the house? When he stares intently at me while I’m eating, does that mean he’s starving? And very often during these moments, I can’t help but think, If only he could tell me how he’s feeling.
Actually, animals do use body language to tell us how they’re feeling, and their tails happen to be one of the simplest indicators.
Dogs: Tail Posturing
When a person holds her head high, it usually means she’s feeling confident. The same goes for dogs. A dog whose tail is standing erect and high is assured and ready for what’s coming next, whether it be a walk through the park or a run down the beach. A tail that is high and curling at the end is an added show of his joyous mood.
Between the Legs
We’ve all heard the human expression “caught with his tail between his legs.” This saying, which is generally used to refer to someone caught telling a lie, has a bit of a different meaning in the canine world. A dog holding his tail between his legs is a clear expression of submission and sometimes even fear. If you’ve ever come home and found that Milo chewed your favorite heels to bits, you most likely yelled at him and carried out some (mild) form of punishment. When you did this, you probably noticed that Milo put his head down, lowered his eyes, and slowly walked away with his tail between his legs.
Dogs: A Wag by Any Other Name
Small, Slow Wags
A slow, sometimes jerky wag of the tail is a hint that the dog is feeling skeptical. He’s still considering the person, environment, or other dog in question, and he’s not quite sure what may happen or what may be expected of him. This type of wag is a distinct sign of feelings of uncertainty.
Large, Fast Wags
A tail that is wagging in large slow or fast sweeps can actually suggest excitement or agitation. The best way to read this tail is to take into account other body language. If Norton’s wags are accompanied by ears that are slightly pulled back, an open mouth, and squinty eyes, then you can probably bet that he’s a cheerful dog who is ready to show affection and play. Strong, happy wags also tend to involve more of the entire backside, rather than just the tail itself, so if his rear end is really swaying from side to side, you know he’s feeling good.
On the contrary, if the dog’s entire body weight appears to be pulled back while his tail is wagging, he may be apprehensive of whatever (or whoever) is approaching, and he could be literally withdrawing his body from the situation. An unhappy or aggressive dog will have more of an overall stiff form and an intense appearance and demeanor. He may also be giving you the “whale eye.” This is when a dog turns his head away and looks at you with the whites of his eyes showing.
Cats: Tail Posturing
Upright, Tip Curled
This tail posture is a show of ease and inquisitiveness. A cat with her tail held high with the tip curling is feeling friendly and interested. She will be easy to approach and most likely wants you to pay her some attention.
Again, a high tail is a sign of high spirits and confidence. If it has a bit of a quiver to it, it’s even better. A cat with this tail posture is most likely feeling very affectionate and will probably start rubbing against your leg to show you some love.
Still, but Twitching
A twitching tail is a clear sign of discomfort and anxiety for cats. If a cat is still but her tail is busy twitching, she is feeling some degree of irritation. This feline could be agitated about something, and that something could be you, so be on guard. The more intense the twitch, the more annoyed she is.
Unlike dogs, a cat’s vigorous swish of the tail conveys nothing but anger. If her tail is moving back and forth rapidly, she’s extremely mad, and likely getting ready to lash out. Stay back.
Arched and Puffed Up
If Smoky’s tail is bristling and either straight up or curved, she’s ready to attack; cats puff out their tails to appear larger and more imposing than they are. It’s a classic display of defensiveness. This cat feels threatened and is ready to do whatever it takes to fight back against her enemy.
Fully Lowered and/or Tucked Between Legs
A cat who has her tail tucked between her legs is feeling defeated. This tail posturing is a direct show of submissiveness to whatever higher authority is around (which may be you). It can also be a cue that she is not feeling well, so it’s important to note the other body language she’s displaying.
While the tail is one of the strongest signs of pets’ mood and behavior, it’s certainly not the only one. Animals may not be able to speak to us in the literal sense, but they can communicate through a series of bodily gestures, like tail posturing, and with their ears, their eyes, and, of course, their barks and meows. The best way to understand and communicate with your pet is to take all her body language into account. Gaining a better understanding of what your pet is trying to say will surely lead to a more harmonious relationship for both of you, one that will leave you grinning like a Cheshire cat.