Secrets Your Dog Is Trying to Tell You With His Tail

People have been trying to figure out what dogs are trying to tell them for centuries. Body language can say a lot about a dog’s mood, just like a human’s. Check out what your dog — or someone else’s — is trying to communicate to you through his or her tail. You might be surprised about what he or she is really saying.

1. Why dog tails are important

Dog crawls under the bed

The beagle dog crawls under the bed | Kostyazar/IStock/Getty Images

When Dr. Lisa Radosta, owner of Florida Veterinary Behavior Service, talked to petMD, she talked tails. Dog tails, that is.

“The tail serves lots of functions, such as acting as a rudder in the water when the dog is swimming and acting for balance when a dog is running. If you watch a dog take a tight turn at high speed, you will likely see him use his tail for stability,” said Radosta. In addition, a dog uses his tail to communicate, along with facial expressions and body postures.

Next: Poor doggy

2. Tucked in

Scared dog with tail between legs

Scared dog with tail between legs | Goldfinch4ever/iStock/Getty Images

If you see your dog’s tail tucked between his legs — note that this position is a bit different from him just pulling his tail down — he could be afraid, according to Reader’s Digest.

“This can mean a dog is feeling threatened or is fearful of the situation he’s in. A tail tucked between the legs covers a dog’s genital area for protection,” said Erin Askeland, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA of Camp Bow Wow. In other words, take care if you see your dog in this posture.

 Next: This could mean a couple things.

3. Curled toward the head

Cute barking dog not aggressive on leash

Dog barking with tail curled | alexei_tm/iStock/Getty Images

Because some dogs’ tails naturally curl or bend toward the head, this tail position could mean he’s relaxed, according to Reader’s Digest. But if your dog is holding or pulling it toward his head it could mean he’s overstimulated, on high alert, or very excited. In a situation like this, it’s key to watch the rest of the dog’s body language to decipher what it means, because the spectrum ranges from alarmed to joyful.

Next: For these dogs, check out the tail’s base.

4. What about stubby tails?

French bulldog puppy Black

French bulldog puppy | Fotokostic/iStock/Getty Images

How can you understand what breeds with stubby or curly tails are trying to tell you? According to Reader’s Digest, the stubby tails mimic the same signals as the straight and long tails — it’s just a little harder to understand what they’re communicating.

“A key component to reading tails that are stubby or curly is to look at the base of the tail. Since the tail is attached to the spine, any movement of the tail starts at the base, so if you look at the base of the tail, you can see when a stubby tail is raised straight up, in the air, or tucked down over the butt, etc,” said Askeland

Next: Go to the vet immediately if you see this.

5. Limp

Dog lying on iron man-hole cover in winter time

Dog curled up | eyjafjallajokull/IStock/Getty Images

It’s important to remember that your dog’s tail is an extension of its backbone and a sensitive part of his anatomy that can easily be injured, according to Reader’s Digest.

“A limp tail, one that cannot wag, is a problem and can mean a dog has an injury directly to the tail or to other connected areas. A tail can be sprained, broken, dislocated, or have nerve damage that causes it to go limp,” said Askeland. Seek immediate veterinary care if your dog’s tail is limp.

Next: Your dog likely isn’t comfortable if he does this.

6. Pulled down

White German Shepherd walking

White German Shepherd | Nicholas Chase/IStock/Getty Images

If your dog is holding his tail at a low level — covering his dog’s anus but not yet disappearing between his legs — he could be feeling nervous, according to Reader’s Digest.

“A tail that is pulled down shows a dog is not entirely comfortable with the situation he’s in and could be feeling anxious, nervous, or unsure,” said Askeland. “A tail wag or wiggle may also be included as a sign of appeasement.”

Next: The best kind of wag.

7. Right-hand wag

black and White border collie wagging tail

Black and white border collie | Frugoe/IStock/Getty Images

According to Reader’s Digest, a dog wagging his tail to the right will most likely be friendly.

“There is research that suggests that when a dog wags its tail on the right side, it’s considered more likely to be friendly than when a dog wags its tail on the left side of its body,” said Russ Hartstein, CEO of Fun Paw Care, certified dog behaviorist and trainer in Los Angeles. If your dog is wagging his tail to the left, it’s likely he’s facing a situation in which he’s not entirely comfortable, such as a dominant dog with an unfriendly stance.

Next: You might want to back away from this.

8. High and stiff

A small terrier cross breed

Small Terrier with tail in the air | Upyanose/IStock/Getty Images

If your pup is holding his tail high and stiff and the tip is wagging quickly, it usually means he’s alert, confident, and strutting his stuff, according to Reader’s Digest. But if his tail is high and stiff around other dogs, he could be displaying his dominance. And if his tail is high and stiff and he’s showing any teeth, open mouth, raised hackles, and a wrinkled nose, it’s definitely a cue to back off.

Next: Proceed with caution.

9. Slow wag

American Pit Bull Terrier dog,

American Pit Bull Terrier | horsesdogscats/Getty Images

If your dog is wagging her tail slowly, she might just be contemplating her next move, according to Reader’s Digest. But it could also be an indication that your dog isn’t feeling friendly, so you should remind strangers to proceed with caution.

“Make sure to take the entire environment and personality of the dog into consideration. If it was an unknown dog, do not interact,” said Hartstein.

Next: Beware of dog.

10. Rapid and shaky

Cute Jack Russel Terrier playing in the park

Jack Russel Terrier | Edoma/IStock/Getty Images

Tension and hostility can cause your dog to wag his tail in a fast, vigorous manner, according to Reader’s Digest. And, if your dog is wagging his tail this way, he might spring into action at any moment, so be careful around strangers. “This is a highly aroused dog and should generally be avoided until it settles down,” said Hartstein.

Next: Welcome home.

11. Full body

Woman Greeting Irish Terriers at Front Door

Woman Greeting Irish Terriers at Front Door | Ryan McVay/iStock/Getty Images

Your dog likely does a full body tail shake when you get home from work. He will also probably be shaking his body loosely and be wearing a submissive grin, according to Reader’s Digest. “The more swaying and wiggly motion closer to the head of the dog, the friendlier the dog is,” said Hartstein.

Next: Dog speak        

12. Dogs understand tail messages

Three dogs running at dog park with a stick outside in the dirt.

Three dogs running at dog park with a stick outside in the dirt. | studio-laska/iStock/Getty Images

Even if humans don’t always get it, dogs totally understand other dogs’ tail signals, according to Readers Digest. The tail movements are often slight and difficult for people to perceive, but dogs get it right way. Funny how that works — we might not hear a butt conversation, but canines sure do.

Next: Height is important.

13. A dog’s tail height tells a story


Australian-shepherd | Bigandt_Photography/iStock/Getty Images

According to petMD, generally speaking, if your dog is holding her tail high and wagging it she’s signaling enthusiasm. And your dog’s tail height can also say a lot about her level of confidence.

The higher the tail, the more confident the dog — the lower the tail, the more nervous or timid the dog. That said, if your dog is holding her tail high over her back, remember to proceed with caution.

Next: Speed also matters.

14. The wagging speed also tells story

Coton de Tulear dog

Coton de Tulear dog | Bigandt_Photography/iStock/Getty Images

According to petMD, the speed at which he wags his tail is a good indicator of how your dog is feeling. Typically, a fast wag is a good sign that he’s friendly and wants to interact, but a slow wag — as you now know — can mean he’s not friendly. A good rule of thumb is, the closer to the front of the body the back-and-forth tail rocking starts, the friendlier the dog will be.

Next: Every dog is different.    

15. Keep in mind these are just guidelines

Happy Dog Standing Up and Smiling

Happy dog standing | Citysqwirl/iStock/Getty Images

Tail wags can have different meanings depending on the situation, and you should always look at the other signals that a dog is giving before you approach, according to petMD. Also, don’t forget that dogs’ tail wagging can take on different meanings can.

“It [wagging] is a pretty universal behavior. What isn’t universal is temperament between and within breeds,” said Dr. Linda Radosta, owner of Florida Veterinary Behavior Service. “One individual dog may wag his tail a little lower or a little higher or a little faster than another individual. It is important for owners to get to know their dog’s body language.”

Read more: Surprising Ways You Might Be Killing Your Dog

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