How your dog uses their tail to communicate

Dog behaviour, dog tails, dogs -

How your dog uses their tail to communicate

For most of us, the sight of a wagging tail means we assume that out dog is happy or pleased to see us, which is often the case. But dogs actually use their tail to communicate in a variety of ways and it is something that they learn to do, rather than doing it instinctively.

Puppies don’t wag their tails as soon as they are born. Like human babies, young pups have to learn to use their tail to express how they are feeling. They start to do this at about 3 or 4 weeks old when they realise that they need to be able to communicate with their mother and their littermates.

German Shepherd photo by Rebecca Campbell on UnsplashGerman Shepherd photo by Rebecca Campbell on Unsplash

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Your dog’s tail will move differently depending on their breed, so if your dog isn’t much of a wagger and they meet an excitable Labrador, then they might be bemused by the amount of tail action going on. For this reason it’s important to introduce your pup to as many different breeds of dog as possible when they are young – out on walks or at puppy socialisation classes, so that they can learn the different types of doggy body language and how they differ from breed to breed, without being overwhelmed or confused

Here are a few different tail moves you might see, depending on your dog’s mood: 

  • If your dog’s tail is wagging in broad, sweeping movements and level with their back they are feeling relaxed and comfortable.
  • If it is raised high and wagging fast or swooping around, this means they are excited and approachable. They might wag like this when you come home from work, when they see someone they like or one of their doggy friends. It’s a friendly greeting.
  • If your dog’s tail wags slightly to the right, research suggests this could indicate your dog knows the person or dog they are wagging at, and it is a wag of recognition, although not overly exuberant.
  • A tail that is pointed down at the ground, tucked between your dog’s legs, or lowered but wagging slightly, indicates that your dog is in distress. They might be uncomfortable or nervous and they might not want you to go near them. It can also be used to indicate submission, - that they are not posing a threat to another dog and they don’t want any sort of trouble, similar to the way that they might roll onto their back to show that they are conceding.

Boxer dog photo by Lenin Estrada on UnsplashBoxer dog photo by Lenin Estrada on Unsplash

If your dog’s tail has been docked then they might find it harder to communicate their feelings. It has become less acceptable to dock dogs tails for cosmetic purposes nowadays and the RSPCA suggests that it is unnecessary.

If your dog is chasing their tail, don’t worry. Often this is a sign that they are simply having fun or burning off some extra energy. If they start to bite their tail or chase it more frequently than usual, consult a vet. But most of the time it’s nothing to worry about and they probably need a few longer walks to help burn off their pent up energy in a more productive and interesting way. 

Tails can also help your dog when they are exercising too. When they are walking or running,  they help them to keep their balance. When they are swimming, they sometimes use them as a rudder to steer themselves through the water. Speedy dogs like greyhounds and whippets have long tails to help them to balance when they are making sharp turns at high speeds. So the tails tend to suit the needs of the breed.

Racing dogs photo by Mark Galer on UnsplashRacing dogs photo by Mark Galer on Unsplash

Main photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash


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