Get The Message: What A Dog’s Tail It’s Telling You

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)


Help! I feel like I’m a bad judge of doggy character. I love dogs and thought I had a good connection with them. Recently though, a friend’s dog bit me. I now feel a bit confused and less confident around other dogs. I still don’t understand what happened. He was wagging his tail right before biting me.


Trust me. As a trainer, you are not the first person who has said, “But his tail was wagging when he bit me!”

This is what trainers call the trick of the tail! Somewhere over the years, we silly humans came to believe that a tail wag is the sign of a happy dog.

Without having been there, I can’t say for sure why the dog bit you. He may have handling issues and does not feel comfortable with certain touch to different body parts. It could be that he is experiencing physical discomfort, or it’s possible that he’s just is not comfortable with new people. Regardless, there are things you can be on the lookout for when interacting with our furry friends.

The tail is only one of numerous communicators on a dog’s body. Accompanied with other body parts, the tail can express various different feelings a dog is experiencing.

It is important to understand that in order to fully “hear” what a dog is trying to tell you, you need to “listen” to the entire body, and not just his tail.A dog’s ears, posture, lips and body movement (or lack thereof) are all trying to tell you something.

In terms of your confidence, we’ve bred our dogs to be very social, and the likelihood is that most of tails you encounter will indeed be happy. Along the way though, you will see some that are nervous, and others that are telling you to stay away. Pay close attention and pick up on the overall message a dog is sending to you, and not just the tale his tail is telling.

Here’s how to read that tail of the moment:

Happy Tail: This coffee table’s nightmare is accompanied by a loose, relaxed dog. Similar to a rubber band or cooked spaghetti, the body is wiggling and moving. The tail can be high or level with the plane of the back, with a very wide and loose back and forth wag. The dog’s ears are in a relaxed position (not pinned back), and the mouth is either relaxed open or softly closed.

This tail is welcoming a greeting from you! Go for it!”Hello dog! I’m Dog Lover! Nice to meet you!”

Nervous, Unsure, or Appeasing Tail: This is carried below the plane of the back and maybe even tucked between the legs. Only the tip, is moving. This pup is slinking along either toward or away from you. The dog may curl its body a bit away from you with a lifted paw. This dog may still be social, he is just not sure what to make of you. Be gentle, go slow and be calmly reassuring. Let the pup approach you.

“Hey there fella, it’s ok. I’m a dog lover. Aww — good boy.”

Aroused/Aggressive Tail: This is high over the plane of back. It is tightly waving, just at the tip. There might not be a rhythm to the wag, it’s more erratic. This tail is accompanied by a stiff dog, possibly planted on all four paws,the body appears almost “frozen still,” and you can see the whites of the dog’s eye. This dog might also give you other warning signs, like lifting its lips, growling, or barking.

“Alrighty then Fido, let me give you a wide berth. I’m Dog Lover, but I’m not going to say hello to you!”

I hope this helps you get back to loving the dogs that love to be loved!