From Rachel Jones. Email her at rjones[AT]borderstan.com.
As a dog trainer, clients frequently tell me: “I was so shocked when my dog bit the other dog — he was wagging his tail.” Most people believe that tail wagging is a sign of happiness, but that is not the case. Tail wagging is an indication of arousal. A dog could be aroused because he is happy, anxious or hostile. If you want to understand your dog’s mental state, look at the position of her tail and the type of wagging.
- Tail parallel to the body, wagging slowly from side to side or around in a circle = happy and relaxed.
- Tail held below the body or between the legs with tip wagging rapidly = anxiety or fear.
- Tail held straight up, perpendicular to the body, with tip wagging rapidly = extremely aroused, possibly aggressive.
- Dogs with docked tails (Boxers, Dobermans, etc.) or dogs with very curly tails like Pugs cannot use their tails to communicate, which is one reason they tend to get picked on by other dogs.
If your dog or another dog is holding her tail in either of the second two positions, they are not in a happy mental state and are more likely to bolt, get in a fight or bite someone. It is very important to be aware of your dog’s body language so that you can get him out of a bad situation before it is too late.