Did you know that dog tail positions have different meanings?
You don’t necessarily have to be a dog lover to know that dogs communicate via their tails.
We see wagging tails everywhere, attached to an upbeat dog excited about something.
But did you know that a wagging tail isn’t always associated with a positive emotion?
Dogs can’t use words (at least ones we can understand) to let us know what they want or how they feel. They can only tell us what they feel through body language.
Today we will break down what different dog tail positions mean, along with what they are trying to tell you with the rest of their body.
How Dogs Communicate
Dogs communicate mainly through body language.
For example, butt sniffing means, “Hi, how are you? Let’s get to know each other!”. You don’t see dogs standing around like us humans and having a barking conversation.
There are dog whisperers, such as the famous Cesar Milan, that may understand every look, lick, and wag, but these are things that the average person needs to learn to decipher.
It can take time and it’s also important to know that while every dog is different, much of how they communicate is the same.
We can bet that those puppy dog eyes that stare at you from under the table during dinner time mean “Can I have some pretty please?”.
Interpreting Different Dog Tail Positions
One of the most visible and obvious ways to gauge what your dog is saying is by looking at his tail.
The speed at which it’s moving and the position can both impact the message your dog is sending.
Relaxed, Friendly, & Approachable
We often see dogs in a neutral position like this, where the tail is down, relaxed, and in its neutral position.
It may not always be down for all dogs, since some breeds have very short and tiny tails that won’t be obvious to spot while others have a naturally arched tail.
Everything is in a relaxed position, looking loose and comfortable. Your dog won’t be in a rigid position and you can almost sense the calm in his expression.
If you see a dog like this on the street and the owner says it’s okay, you can feel safe to go in for a pet and a hello.
Curious and Alert
When dogs are curious and checking new things out, you will most likely see them in a position where the tail takes a more horizontal position.
This tail is stiffer but not completely stiff and the fur is natural and not bristled.
A dog in this position is usually also looking at something very intently or sniffing it out.
If he is a little apprehensive about what has piqued his interest, you may also notice a cautious movement where he is creeping up to the item slowly and maybe even letting out warning gruffs, barks or growls.
Don’t worry too much about your dog getting aggressive at this time as he is just assessing the situation and deeming whether or not it poses a threat.
Ready to Play
This is one of our favorite dog tail positions!
When your dog is ready to play, the tail becomes the highest point as he gets down in the downward dog position (what the yoga pose is named after), with his tushy in the air and tail in an upright position. Y
ou know your dog is ready to expend some of his excess energy in this playful position.
Understanding how your dog is feeling is more than just looking at the visible signs.
It’s also something intangible, like an inner connection you have with your pooch where you can just feel what he’s trying to say.
The energy here is much different than if the dog would be nervous or aggressive.
Of course, we get to the most commonly associated emotion to tail wagging, and that is excitement and happiness!
If you see your dog wagging his tail at “break-tail” speeds with an ecstatic expression and fan-girl excitement, you know your dog is beyond enthusiastic.
You’ll often see this kind of behavior right after you walk in the door after a long day of work, and it’s the best feeling every single time.
Aggressive & Dominant
Remember when we said tail wagging and movements aren’t always associated with happiness?
Well, now we get into the more negative feelings.
If you see your dog’s tail in a similar position as when he’s curious, except the tail is still and the fur is bristled, then you know he is exerting his dominance in an aggressive manner.
This behavior is easy to spot because your dog will also exhibit other signs of aggression such as intimidating barking with bared teeth, a wrinkled nose, curled lips, and maybe even raised hackles (hair on the back).
Aggressive & Fearful
Dogs can also show aggression due to fear instead of anger.
If it’s fearful aggression, then you will see the tail tucked, sometimes see a little bit of slow wagging, a more lowered stance overall, and raised hackles.
You can identify fearful aggression because many of the signs are similar to dominant aggression, except your dog’s overall position is a lower and cowering one that shows fear.
This is often the case when your dog feels cornered by another dog or human, or when they have experienced past abuse.
Scared & Worried
This next tail movement is one we often see on dogs who have separation anxiety.
A scared, distressed, and panicked tail is down and sometimes tucked without much wagging.
You can’t tell from the tail alone, since the complete opposite, a friendly neutral dog, also has a lowered tail.
You have to take the rest of the body language into account to determine how the dog is feeling.
For a scared and distressed dog, you will commonly see pinned back ears, whining, pacing, frantic yaps, and excessive panting.
Complete Submission & Extreme Fear
This is a position that can be easily mistaken for a playful, trusting and very relaxed pup.
The body language of extreme fear manifests with an exposed belly area with the dog on his back, a turned head to avoid eye contact, and ears flat.
The tail will also be so tucked between his legs that it curls up and lays flat against the belly. In extreme cases, your dog may also urinate a little.
You never want your dog to feel this way, a way where he is surrendering.
Dogs will often do this when they sense that the other dog they’ve encountered is a major threat so they will submit to avoid conflict.
Dogs also expose their belly in other situations like sleeping or playing, but the tail position is untucked and relaxed and they are making eye contact with you.
The Tale Doesn’t Stop With the Tail
We mentioned earlier that there are other physical characteristics to take into account when considering what your dog is trying to convey.
It’s not just the dog tail positions and movements. The rest of the body tells a story as well.
It’s In the Ears
The ears play a big role in your dog’s communication.
For the ears, there are a few common positions and movements: perked up, pinned back, angle forward, moving from side to side.
Some of these positions may be harder to spot on dogs who have drooping ears, but they are still largely discernible.
A happy dog will exhibit perked ears, while a curious one will have ears angled forward.
In general, up and forward positions are positive, while angled to the side, center or back are negative.
Another example is a fearful, stressed, or submissive dog, who will most likely have ears pinned to the back of his head.
Ears that are slightly spread, angled towards the center, or pointing forward can mean angry dominance and aggression.
It’s In the Eyes
The eyes say it all. They are, after all, the windows to the soul, and it is true for dogs too.
Dog lovers mostly believe that canines are very pure souls. T
hey show you exactly what they want and how they feel, and they never harbor ill-intent or resentment.
If you have a strong bond with your pooch, somehow looking into those adorable eyes will tell you all you need to know.
You can see the fear in their widened eyes and enlarged pupils.
You can see the happiness in the smile that reaches their eyes, and the love and curiosity with the slight eyebrow movements.
What makes humans connect on such a deep level with dogs is because we identify communication in very similar ways.
Many experts say looking into your dog’s eyes, and establishing eye contact while participating in bonding activities can really strengthen your relationship with your dog.
We are firm believers that this is true. Try it next time, talk to your dog while looking deeply into his eyes next time and see if you get a sense that your dog knows exactly what you’re feeling.
It’s All Over the Body
You can also get a gauge of what your dog is saying by looking at what’s going on overall.
This not-so-secret communication is written all over his body.
It’s in his stance, the movements of his tail, the expression on his face, the hair on his back, and the feeling you get by looking at your beloved fur baby.
Don’t worry if you can’t understand everything your dog is trying to say at the beginning, because a strong bond takes time to establish.
When you first welcome your puppy into your home, he is, well, still a puppy.
This means he is going to be active, a little crazy, mischievous and naughty.
But once he properly socializes with other dogs and blossoms into adulthood, you will also be able to see more of what your dog’s true nature is like.
Take the time to do things together and observe each other.
As time goes on, understanding your dog will come as second nature to you.
If your dog isn’t exhibiting other signs of emotion other than tail wagging, then it’s important to examine which way it’s going.
This can be confusing because wagging means movement from side to side, so how can it be going a certain way?
It can be hard to spot, but if you look very closely, you will sometimes notice the tail wagging more towards the right or left.
In general, right wagging is more positive, signifying a happy and confident dog. While left wagging is one who’s more apprehensive and scared.
What about Tailless Dogs?
It can be hard to understand dog tail positions for dogs that were born without tails or for dogs that are victims of tail docking.
Pitbulls are sometimes subjected to tail docking, but we can still see how excited and happy they are when they get to eat their favorite Pitbull dog food.
We want to take the time to talk about tail docking. Which we do not agree with because it’s usually done for cosmetic purposes.
It could be done for health purposes, but it’s much rarer than aesthetic reasons.
Dogs who have undergone tail docking will have more trouble communicating.
But because dog-to-dog and also dog-to-human communication is more than just in the tail. these dogs can still use their ears, facial expressions, and actions to “talk”.
Understanding the different dog tail positions your dog has can let you help them navigate the world more safely.
Knowing when to remove your dog because they are fearful or aggressive can save a lot of physical and emotional damage for everyone involved.
In addition, knowing when your dog is excited and curious is another fun benefit to add to the endless reasons why we love our dogs!
Meet The Author
Brad is someone who cannot remember life without dogs around, he simply can’t live without them!
He created Dog Nerdz to provide owners with crucial tips and essential info in order to be the best dog owner they can be.
He has learned so much over the years about how to look after his precious pup Boogie!