Having a dog as a pet is one of the most beautiful things in life. It's always wonderful to come home and be greeted by your furry companion, tail wagging happily in celebration of your arrival. But have you ever thought about what that wagging tail means? Is it just an indicator of happiness, or could it be trying to communicate something more?
If you take some time to observe canine behaviorists deciphering their language, you will most likely find a more profound secret hidden behind the wagging tails. There are many ways that dogs move their tails, from full-body bogging to tucking in and shaking. This article explores the different messages your puppy is trying to communicate.
What is a Dog’s Tail Made Of?
Canine tails consist of several different parts: the vertebrae and bones that make up the body, the shape of the tail, and the surrounding muscle tissue that helps it move.
The skin around this muscular framework houses glands that contain oils that release fragrances into the air. It also has specialized hairs called vibrissae (whiskers) used for tactile purposes such as navigating dark spaces or locating prey animals faster than other senses would allow them. All these components together give us our beloved pet's signature wag.
Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tail?
Chasing one's own tail is a typical behavior among all species of canines. This behavior can be caused by several environmental, physical, and emotional factors.
Dogs may chase their tails due to itchiness or irritation. The chasing movement tries to assuage the discomfort.
Emotionally, this compulsive action could signify boredom or even an underlying problem, such as anxiety caused by the lack of stimulation in the environment.
Environmental causes for tail chasing include fleas or other parasites that must be eliminated before the pup stops obsessing over its backside.
Different shapes of Dog tails
The shape of your dog's tail determines how it wags. Let's look at some of the standard tail shapes.
- Curly Tail
Curly-tailed dogs have their tail in a spiral form resembling a ring, due to the shape of the vertebrae. . This tail form is observed in Akitas, Shiba Inus, and Samoyeds.
- Otter Tail
Dogs with otter tails have thick, rounded tails tapered at the end. They often let the tail stay pointed down. This type of tail is helpful in swimming. It's commonly found in Labradors, Otterhounds, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.
- Whip Tail
This tail looks like a whip. It's long, thin, and straight. Whiptails are primarily found in short-haired dogs with relatively long bodies. It's found in hunting dogs, like Wolfhounds and Greyhounds.
- Bobbed Tails
Some dogs have no tail; most have had it cut off for medical or aesthetic reasons. This is primarily observed in Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Boston Terrier, and French Bulldog.
9 Dog Tail Movement and Messages
Let's look at the 10 tail moves dogs make and what they are trying to communicate to you.
- Full Body Wag
The full-body wag usually indicates excitement, joy, and happiness. Your puppy does this when they see someone they love or before mealtime. This type of enthusiasm also shows they would like something from the person. It can be love, food, toys, or treats.
- Pulled Down
This isn't necessarily an unhappy sign but rather one which shows submission towards whoever may be around them at the time. Suppose a dog pulls its tail down between its legs with ears laid flat against its head. In that case, this gesture could mean fearfulness or insecurity due to being outnumbered or feeling vulnerable.
- Tucked In
Besides showing submission, as mentioned above, your dogs can also tuck away their tails when feeling scared. This is an instinctual move, where they hide any part that may make them look bigger to avoid appearing confrontational. This can be other aggressive animals or humans that pose a danger to them.
Tucking in their tail often occurs during new introductions into unfamiliar surroundings too. This can happen on walks or indoors upon meeting strangers inside different homes who lack established trust yet.
- Fast and Shaky
This gesture also denotes happiness but with a slightly more subdued level than the full-body wag. This behavior often communicates that although they may not be as excited, your dogs still feel content and at ease in their current environment or situation.
Numerous dog behaviorists have proved that shaking the tail back and forth more quickly indicates a higher degree of pleasure than when simply moved from side to side.
- High and Stiff
Unlike the first two mentioned before, this does not denote any sort of joy or pleasure— far from it! Beware when a dog holds their tail high with stiffened fur around its base. This usually signifies aggression, especially when combined with certain facial expressions such as baring teeth, growling, or generally keeping fixed eye contact on whatever stands ahead of them.
If your dog shows these signs, you should communicate gently and show them respect. And if a stranger is around, ask them to give your dog space.
- Slow Wag
This is another sign of contentment but with a lower level than the fast and shaky tail. Dogs often demonstrate this when they feel relaxed, safe, and secure in their environment. This can be at home, on walks, or during playtime. Also, if dogs perceive people or other animals as weak, they may display this slow wag as a sign of dominance.
- Wagging to the Right
When you observe your puppy's tail moving more towards its right side than left, you can rest assured that all is well. This gesture signifies happiness, pleasure, and joy. These positive emotions usually accompany any situation where they have fun and are around other friendly animals or humans. They can also make this tail movement when playing games with your pup.
- Curled Towards the Head
This unique stance has been observed numerous times throughout various breeds and indicates curiosity has now taken hold within them. Instead of running away from whatever lies ahead, their curiosity prompts them to take a step forward while their tails curl closer toward the front portion of their face.
This tail stance indicates that they are ready for anything that may come their way.
- Limp Tail
A limp tail can denote exhaustion. This can be due to the many hours spent engaging in physical exercise either outside or through agility training classes at dog parks. They may have spent their time indoors playing fetch, especially those long days during winter days when no one wants to go out into cold weather.
It can also be that they have not eaten for several hours, and the activities have sucked up their energy; as such, they need to eat to replenish.
Why are Dog Tails Important?
Tails are essential to a dog's anatomy, as they help them balance when running and turning quickly. This is especially true with dogs with longer tails, such as huskies or hounds. The tail helps steer and guide your dog, thus preventing them from falling or tripping.
The tail also aids in communication between canines and other animals, as they can convey emotions such as fear, aggression, and happiness through the various positions of their appendages.
What do Stubby Tails signify?
Dogs who sport considerably shorter or 'stubby' tails often come from breeds bred for this trait, like Dachshunds. However, these truncated appendages still serve their purpose of aiding balance during rapid movements.
You should note that these short-tailed pups may find it harder than those equipped with regular length when trying to turn sharply at high speeds, potentially resulting in injury if not done correctly.
Do Other Dogs Understand Tail Messages?
Yes. It has been observed that canines react differently depending on the type of tail stance another dog is displaying nearby. They may signal dominance/submission, contentment/unease, or even aggression/fear. Therefore, conversations between two canines will include more physicality than verbal utterances. This shows us how much our furry friends rely on nonverbal communication rather than the spoken language we tend to do so frequently.
What Does the Length of a Dog's Tail Signify?
The length of your dog’s tail does have some significance attached to it, but don't worry because there aren't any negative connotations associated with having long versus short ones.
According to researchers, there is a correlation between tail length and behavioral traits displayed by each breed. Longer-tailed dogs are more likely to engage in and initiate playtime sessions. At the same time, those sporting stubby tails seem to prefer solitary activities such as napping & lounging around indoors, away from the commotion the outside world offers.
You can also note that long-tailed dogs seem more confident. On the other hand, dogs with shorter tails are often nervous and timid and are usually found having their tail lowered.
Common Tail Injuries
No matter how hard we may try to keep our furry friends safe from harm's way, it's important to remember that injuries involving tails occur with some frequency. Although most cases are minor and heal without any long-term effects.
The most common injuries include:
- Contusions from running into furniture at high speeds
There is a potential for more severe damage if left unchecked for too long, especially if accompanied by persistent licking behaviors, as they could be infected. Therefore, ensure you inspect your pet's tail regularly to identify any abnormalities early on. And take them to the veterinarian for a check-up and treatment.
Dogs have a variety of tail movements, and a dog owner needs to know the different messages accompanied by the action. This better prepares you for how to respond. Luckily, this article provides all the secrets your dog's tail is trying to tell you.