A dog’s tail can tell us a lot about their emotional state. While we all know that a wagging tail wagging can be a sign of happiness, many people don’t realize that dogs use their tails to communicate all sorts of emotions. Let’s dive into a few of the things dogs tell us with their tails:
A tail wagging in line with a dog’s body is relaxed and happy.
If a dog is feeling happy but not overly excited, they will often wag their tail in line with their body. The tail will have a relaxed, potentially swooping motion. It will probably be a little asymmetrical.
A loose and goofy tail wagging in circles or zig zags or off to one side is happy and excited.
If you notice that a dog’s tail looks like it has a mind of its own, it might be a sign that they are excited to see you! This type of wag will be in line with the dog’s body, but it won’t be symmetrical. It will often be shifted to one side more than the other. It might swoop, circle, or zig zag and change from one type of movement to another. It might even seem like the tail is wagging the dog at some points, with their whole back end moving from side to side.
A tall, stiff tail waving like a flag is tense or aggressive.
While some dogs, like Beagles, naturally hold their tails up high, for most dogs, a tail that’s held up high is a sign of tension. These tails may be still or wagging rhythmically from side to side like a metronome. A tall tail can be accompanied by a puffed out chest or a head held high, all ways for a dog to look slightly bigger to try to ward off a potential threat.
A low tail that is wagging between the legs or just at the tip is nervous.
A dog with their tail held downwards or tucked between their legs is likely nervous, even if that tail is wagging. They might have mixed emotions and be interested in a social interaction but scared of how it will go, or they could be straight up fearful and just want space. A low tail is often accompanied by crouched posture and a low head, all ways for a dog to look smaller to show that they aren’t a threat.
A motionless tail is also worth noting.
If it’s at a neutral or low height and doesn’t seem tense, it’s probably a sign that the dog is calm. But, if it’s held up tall, has a slight kink in it, or is tucked in really close to their butt, it might indicate fear or stress.
Get to know your dog's tail.
Dog's tail posture can vary a lot from breed to breed and dog to dog, so getting to know your dog's unique tail language is important. For instance, greyhounds tails tend to hang low, but that doesn't mean that they are scared all the time.
Don’t forget to read the whole body!
Every dog is different and may express their emotions in different ways. The best way to understand your dog's emotional state is to pay attention to their body language and behavior as a whole rather than isolating just one body part.
If you aren’t completely sure how your dog is feeling based on their tail alone, or if you are sensing mixed emotions, scan your dog’s eyes, face, ears, and body for a better idea of their emotions.