Dogs communicate with their tails in all different ways, and they use their tails for multiple functions. It's our job to learn their language and translate what they're trying to tell us.
Every dog breed has a different type of tail, and they were made that way with a specific purpose and function. But no matter what your dog's breed, or what their tail shape is, there are certain actions dogs use their tails to communicate with each other and with us. Let's talk about what each emotion looks like through the movement of your dog's tail.
• A relaxed tail that is hanging at a lower angle
If your dog has their tail relaxed and hanging at a lower angle, this means they are calm. They are in a neutral, default state. Knowing this look will help you gauge everything else.
• Excited tail that is wagging back and forth or in circles
Most everyone can spot the excited tail. If your pup is wagging their tail back and forth, or sometimes even in full circles, it means they are full of joy. Sometimes this will include a full body or back end wiggle waggle.
• Tail sticking straight out
If your dog has their tail sticking straight out horizontally, it's because they are trying to take in new information. Maybe they saw or heard something interesting or concerning. And maybe they are in hunting mode, and they are trying to watch and listen for their prey.
• Standing tall with their tail held high and still
This action is a sign of dominance and alertness. Your dog is trying to look big and tough. Maybe you were walking down the sidewalk, And your dog saw another dog. They might feel cautious or intimidated. So they are trying to stand tall—including their tail. And they are communicating to the other dog, “don’t mess with me.”
This is normal around strange dogs, and sometimes even around strange humans. But you don’t want your pup to act this way toward you. You are the alpha of the house, not them.
• Stiff tail that is slowly wagging
If your dog is slowly wagging their tail while it is stiff and low, this is a sign of uncertainty, concern, or anxiety. Your dog may be sensing potential danger. Or they see someone is starting to get angry. And your dog is wondering if they need to be scared or not.
• Dog with tail tucked between the legs
This is the big question of the day. What does this mean? Well, if you see your dog’s tail lower than their default mode, and often tucked between their legs, your dog is most likely scared. This is a sign of submission. They are backing down from the threat. Or maybe they just got in trouble for doing something wrong. So now they are sad, scared, and submitting to you.
“A low or tucked tail combined with flat ears, crouching posture, lack of eye contact and excessive panting indicates fear and anxiety. The dog may also show other appeasement or calming signals, such as lip licking (or air licking), yawning or sniffing, to try to diffuse a situation they perceive as threatening.”