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What Your Dog’s Tail is Telling You

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What Your Dog’s Tail is Telling You

Probably the most obvious, and most misunderstood, form of tail language is the wag. Even people who have spent their entire lives around dogs assume that full-throttle wags mean a dog is saying “hi” with all her might. But tail wagging can’t be interpreted this easily because dogs that are aggressive and are preparing to attack will also wag their tails.

Posted by pet editor

A wagging tail means nothing more than that a dog is feeling excited about something. Sometimes the excitement is positive, and sometimes it is negative. You have to look at the dog more closely to figure it all out.

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High, stiff, and wagging = “I’m in charge”

A tail that’s upright like a mast doesn’t necessarily mean that a dog is feeling aggressive, but she’s certainly being assertive. Many people get bitten because they misinterpret stiffly wagging tails. A tail held high and wagging stiffly is the sign of a dominant dog, and it could mean that the dog is ready to attack.

Low, fast wags and short sweeps = “I’m no threat”

When a meek dog is approached by a more assertive dog—one with her tail up and stiffly wagging—she has only one reasonable response: to show the bossy dog that she isn’t a threat. Dogs who are fearful or submissive often will respond to another dog’s approach by holding their tails low and wagging them just slightly. This means, “Hey, I’m friendly and no threat at all.”

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Read more: Behavior & Communication, Dogs, Family, Health, Home, Pets, , , , , ,

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+ add your own
8:19AM PDT on Aug 23, 2012

You didn't include the low, non-swinging tale that shows sadness or fright. It breaks my heart every time to see that.

7:49PM PDT on Sep 13, 2011


2:34PM PDT on Jul 5, 2011


11:15PM PDT on May 22, 2011

Dve, I think you will find that is the whole point of the article, to try and give dog owners an insight into reading the signs which their dogs are trying to express.

Wagging tail - Good. Showing teeth - Bad.

Are there really people so naive that they think that is all a dog has to offer!

Like I said in my previous comment, people who don't bother to understand their animals, shouldn't have any.

7:44AM PDT on May 19, 2011

Thanks for the article. It's so interesting, how to read a dogs body language.

12:06AM PDT on May 19, 2011

we all know why a dog tail wagging because it there way of smiling and being happy

3:31PM PDT on May 18, 2011

This article should be read and understood by all dog owners. So many people get dogs because they 'think' they must know how to look after them, wrong! All animals have their own ways and a responsible owner should learn as much as they can about them, so they know what to expect from them and can meet their needs properly

Anyone who thinks 'it's a dog, what more is there to know?' is just ignorant and shouldn't have animals.

Thanks for posting.

6:35PM PDT on May 15, 2011

Interesting article. I've often thought that all animals must think humans are really stupid because they try to tell us something and we just don't get it.

2:42AM PDT on May 14, 2011

Thank-you for the informative article. Aside from breed idiosyncrasies, I think a lot depends on the relation between the dog & it's owner. There is a breed, maybe boxer, where their tails are cut off leaving just a few inch stub. I could never understand the purpose of doing that, especially now after reading this article. Thank-you.

8:59AM PDT on May 12, 2011

I found this really interesting - thank you.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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