Tale of the Tail

Pets and their tails. Communication or function? Some of both it turns out. Animals use their tails as a way to communicate, be it fear, excitement or irritation. A dog’s wag can indicate happiness or friendliness and is part of the non-verbal communication they might display when around other dogs. Cats use their tails to help them balance (although dogs can likewise use their tails to some extent for balance and steering while swimming-except of course for Sam, who we all know wouldn’t voluntarily get near water with a gun next to his head).

Research indicates there is the same right/left brain associations in dogs as there are with people. A dog will tend to wag to the right side when they encounter something pleasant but will wag more to the left side if it feels threatened by say a strange dog who displays dominant tendencies. Stress can show up as a left side wag and is directly reflective of what’s happening in its brain.

Sam’s tail tells me precisely what’s going on in his brain. A slow-moving wag generally signifies general happiness (which is 99.9% of the time). A furious wag and he’s telling you he’s about to jump out of his skin and that wag is right side dominant. If the tail is in an upright position, he’s definitely engaged. If it’s hanging more closely toward the floor, then he’s moderately engaged. When he really gets the tail going, I need to expect jumping, and snuffling around me face from him. He definitely has a super tell…about his tail. There is no second guessing what he’s trying to convey. Peals of laughter from me seem to really get him ginned up, the tail moving ever faster and more furiously. That dog is certainly not subtle.

A friendly wag — unmistakably friendly — often involves the dog’s whole back-end. In Sam’s case, his tail moves sweepingly back and forth and quickly. If he’s really excited about a person he’s greeting, he has been known to wag in big, fast circles. Butt wiggles also come into play. And if you know the anatomy of poodles, they seem to be hinged in the center of their backs, often looking like a slinky toy. The whole friendly dog package includes a slightly lowered body, open mouth, squinty eyes, and ears somewhat back. Loosey, goosey. Everything suggests a friendly encounter. Dogs whose body language is tense but includes a wagging tail should be carefully observed. Hard fixed eyes, stiff back and legs suggest the dog is not comfortable despite the wagging tail.  Caution is the key here in this case.

Sam has this "tell"
Sam has this “tell”

So what’s your pup’s tail tell?

Live, love, bark! <3

23 thoughts on “Tale of the Tail

  1. fun and informative. I can’t tell you how many unaware dog owners say, “he’s friendly, see his tail wagging?” and it’s a nervous, or aggressive wag. Cole knows and stays away or if he’s in a mood, says, bring it! I’ll take you. The people never seem to get it.
    Cole only wags for certain people, preferring to hold his cards close to the chest. LeeAnna

    1. Yes, I’m afraid too many think a wagging tail is a sign of friendliness. And don’t get me started about the ones off leash who approach a tail wagger who is scared out of its wits at the oncoming furball of energy. 😉

  2. Oh the joys (and entertainment) by simply learning canine body language! When Ray is really and happily excited, he leaps around in vertical twisting moves. Everything that can wag is wagging during these short flights! 🙂

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