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Telling tails

Telling tails
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Think your pup’s wagging tail means he’s happy to see you? Maybe. Or maybe he’s just not into you. Here is how dog behaviourists decipher what a dog’s tail indicates.

Full body wag

Full body wag
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You probably see this wag when you come home from work every night. Your pup welcomes you with a tail wagging in a big circle. You’ll also see him shaking his entire body in a loose way, accompanied by a submissive grin or a soft open mouth. “The more swaying and wiggly motion closer to the head of the dog, the friendlier the dog is,” notes certified dog behaviourist and trainer, Russ Hartstein.

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Fast and shaky

Fast and shaky
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When you see a fast, vigorous, almost shaking tail on a dog, take it as a cue of tension and/or hostility. The dog could spring into action at any moment. “This is a highly aroused dog and should generally be avoided until it settles down,” cautions Hartstein.

Slow wag

Slow wag
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You can almost see it in its face: The pup seems to be contemplating his next move. A slow wagging tail may indicate that a dog is unfriendly, so 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,” recommends Hartstein.

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High and stiff

High and stiff
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Talk about swagger. This high, stiff tail with a fast wagging tip generally means the pup is alert and aroused. He is confident and enthusiastic and strutting his stuff. Didn’t realise your dog had such a wide range of emotions? This is just one of the many unbelievable facts you never knew about your pooch. But when the tail is high and stiff and other dogs are near, it could be display of dominance, Hartstein says. And, if the high stiff tail is in combination with any teeth, open mouth, raised hackles and a wrinkled nose, it’s a cue to back off. “It is safe and respectful to any animal to provide space to make them comfortable and confident,” says Hartstein.

Waggin’ on the right

Waggin’ on the right
TSIK/SHUTTERSTOCK

“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,” says Hartstein. Researchers found that dogs wagged their tails to the right when they wanted to approach something, like their owner, but wagged their tails to the left when they were met with something they weren’t so sure of, like a dominant dog with an unfriendly posture.

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Pulled down

Pulled down
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Here, the tail is being held at a low level, often covering the dog’s anus but not yet disappearing between the dog’s legs. “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,” says pet expert Erin Askeland. “A tail wag or wiggle may also be included as a sign of appeasement.” Looking at the position of your dog’s tail is one of the main ways to figure out what your dog actually wants from you and how they are feeling.

Tucked in

Tucked in
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Slightly different from a pulled down tail, this tucked in version is a tail that is tucked between the legs. “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,” says Askeland.

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Curled toward the head

Curled toward the head
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There’s a few things to take into consideration with this scenario: some tails naturally curl or bend toward the head, so the dog could be relaxed. But if the tail is being held (or pulled) in the direction of the dog’s head, then it could indicate the dogs is overstimulated, on high alert, or highly excited. Since your dog can’t specifically tell you which emotion they are feeling, it’s important to seek other signs of their attitude. It could run the spectrum ranging from alarm to exaggerated joy, which is why watching the rest of the body language the dog is giving off is important to understand how the dog is feeling, says Askeland.

Limp tail

Limp tail
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The tail isn’t just a cute appendage. It is an extension of its backbone with vertebrae and a sensitive part of a dog’s anatomy that is prone to injury. “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,” says Askeland. Seek immediate veterinary care as damage to the tail can cause a variety of issues including incontinence, balance issues, and the inability to use the tail to communicate.

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