What Your Dog's Tail Is Telling You

Dogs communicate with each other using body language and signals just like humans do. If you pay close enough attention, you'll begin to see nuances in the way a dog wags his tail based on how he's feeling. Some people assume that a tail wag always signals happiness, but the height, speed and position of the tail can actually signal anything from nervousness to playfulness to fear.

  1. Low and Fast

    • Your dog attempts a bold move during a play session, such as a playful bite on the arm. To discourage this act, you stand tall with your hands on your hips and say a low "No." Your dog, in turn, stands with his tail low and wagging quickly. While you may take this as your dog disregarding your warning, a low and fast wagging tail is actually like a nervous laugh. Your dog knows something is wrong but doesn't quite know how serious the repercussions will be yet. When a dog wags her tail low and fast toward you or another dog, she's trying to diffuse a nerve-racking situation.

    High and Slow

    • Just before you leave the house, you fill up your cats bowl with food. Your cat takes a few nonchalant bites then heads outside through the cat door. Typically, you remember to dump the remains back into the storage box, but this time you forget. As your dog watches you leave the house, his tail wags high and slow. That's curious, you think, because normally your dog lies on the floor sadly when you're leaving. When a dog has something mischievous in mind, his tail will wag high and slow. This type of wagging is confident and smug and signals that your dog knows something you don't.

    Middle and Wide

    • When you come home from a long day at work, you'll notice the same type of wag each time; a fast, wide motion that nearly hits your dogs body as it swings back and forth. This type of wag is childish, excited and happy. This wag can be so enthusiastic it sends your dogs whole body back and forth in an uncontainable wiggle. This is the type of wag that mistakingly categorizes all tail wagging as pure joy.


    • You won't often see a dog tuck his tail, as this is reserved for situations when your dog is truly scared of something. You may see your dog tuck her tail when there is a consistent and loud noise such as a train, when there is a large animal nearby that your dog doesn't recognize or when your dog experiences unexpected pain, such as by stepping on glass during a walk. Dogs rarely tuck their tail in a confrontation with another dog, even if the other dog is bigger or more aggressive. This type of fear is fear of the unknown.

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