For certain dog breeds that suggest a tail, most humans would agree the typical indicative sign of a happy dog is one that wags. This wagging behavior is undoubtedly expected when holding a toy out for them, or an excitable response to you walking through the front door as if to say, “I missed you!”
While dogs have a unique personality and portray their feelings in more than one way like we do, there are common “tail behaviors'' amongst canines that are innate to their kind. These behaviors may suggest some meaning to the way they process emotions, and here are a few common tail positions we’ve seen:
Down and Out from the Body
Often, a dog may carry their tail lower, but perched somewhat away from their hind legs. This is a good sign that the dog is relaxed, and comfortable with their surroundings. It is common for a dog to express this when they are around the home and feel safe, and/or close to their loved ones. This can be a reassuring behavior observed by a dog owner – and it’s safe to assume the dog is at ease. In fact, when they display this, it may mean the dog could be ready for a nice long nap.
Tilted up, and held high
This is typically a sign of a dog that is well with who they are. Most dogs that feel confident, in control, and in charge will commonly carry their tail higher. This can say a lot about your dog if the behavior doesn’t change when they are around humans and dogs, but if they favor one or the other, the tail can let you know.
Tilted up high and over the back
For many dogs this can suggest “alpha”. Generally, dogs that carry their tail high and extended over their back are feeling quite confident. When it comes to a dog who wants to establish dominance amongst other dogs, the one who displays this behavior is often sure of where they stand in the pack. Keep in mind some breeds have a natural shape similar to this that doesn’t change, but when observing a naturally straight, and active-type tail, this is a dog’s statement piece.
Held straight, but not stiff
This could mean a couple different things, but mainly stem around the idea that the dog is aware and focused on their surroundings. Sometimes a dog will do this when they’re trying to make sense of what’s going on around them, and other times it could just be that they are very curious about what’s happening at that moment.
Straight and stiff
When a dog’s tail stiffens up in a fairly steady, straight manner, they may be alarmed and taking some sort of caution. They may act like this when they see strangers, other dogs, or unknown visitors in their home. If you know your dog’s potential reactions to tense situations like this, it’s a good thing to recognize when this is happening and find a way to calm them.
Dangling down and fairly still
A dog with very little movement in their tail and holds it low may be feeling a little uncertain, ill, or a little blue. This is a time to recognize such tail behavior and understand that your dog may not feel too comfortable. You can help them by comforting them and maintaining a calm demeanor. Some specialists that study dog behavior believe this may be a way for a dog to make themselves appear smaller and less of a threat to others.
Tucked between their legs
You guessed it–a tail tightly pinned between the dog’s legs usually means the dog is feeling very uncertain. In many cases, the dog may be scared, hurt, threatened, or fearing conditioned stimulants within their surroundings. This is a common reaction in dogs who have experienced abuse. These dogs can be highly sensitive and require patience, a calm space, lots of comforting, and even extra cuddles at times.
Raised with a slow wag
This tail position often portrays a curious, and maybe even a little confusion within the dog. They are alert, but focused, and may tilt their head to one side with perked ears. When training or giving commands, this is a common behavior for dogs and is a great way to take advantage of training as they are focused.
A big, broad wagging tail
A dog that sees their owner or is being rewarded for something may wag their tail in bigger, swift motions to express that they are happy. Your dog will most likely want to play and receive attention, they love that you are engaging their brain, and want you to know it.
A Fast-Wagging Tail
Plain and simple. This is one happy, excited dog! They might do this when their favorite toy or activity has been suggested, such as, “walk”, or just simply couldn't wait to greet you when you come home.
Curved to the Right or Left
Some studies have shown that when a dog positions or “wags” their tail more so to the right, they are content and generally comfortable with familiar faces and spaces. A tail positioned more so to the left may indicate some uncertainty and may be a way of them preparing to express security and dominance.
Is your dog sick?
Typically, when a dog feels under the weather they won’t show much expression with their tail other than keeping it down and low. An inactive tail that hangs low everywhere could potentially mean your dog doesn’t feel well. Pay attention to this behavior when you recognize it because your dog may need something.
A dog and their tail is an innate way for this species to communicate. In fact, tails serve other purposes too, and there is a lot of information out there explaining so. When it comes to wanting to understand your dog’s emotional state, doing your research and paying close attention to your dog’s tail positions may help you get to know them better. Afterall, it’s hard not to notice a happy dog when you see that wagging tail.