Decipher What Your Dog Is Saying With His Tail

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Ever wish you knew what your dog was thinking? You can — just watch his tail! Instead of using words, your dog uses body language to communicate. While a dog's message can only be fully understood by looking at his entire body, the tail end offers some significant clues to how he is feeling.

Here are some indicators to help you decipher what your pooch may be telling you with his tail.

The Tail's Height

Tail height can offer important insight into a dog's state of mind. In general, a dog who is holding his tail high may be feeling excited, alert or dominant, while a dog holding his tail down low may be afraid or submissive. The more anxious or submissive a dog is feeling, the more tightly he will tuck his tail close to his body.

Sometimes a tail held in a neutral or low position just means the dog is incredibly relaxed — this even happens to dogs with curled tails like Pugs, whose tails unravel and go straight when resting. A dog who carries his tail lower than usual can also be indicating that he is in pain, or exhausted from too much exercise.

It’s important to keep in mind that the normal tail carriage varies for every dog, since tail height is relative to the breed and individual dog. Chow Chows and Chinese Shar-Peis, for instance, naturally have a high, curved tail, while Whippets and Greyhounds have a lower tail carriage. Your knowledge of your dog's personality can help you determine if your dog is feeling happy or threatened, or if he's a little bit scared or just super relaxed.

The Tension in the Tail

A rigid, highly held tail shows a very aroused state; this dog is likely going to react to things around him, whether that’s the squirrel he’s spotted in the tree or a dog across the street. If a dog is agitated, his tail may also “fluff” up, with the hair standing up on end.

When the highly raised tail flicks back and forth rapidly, it’s called “flagging” and may indicate an imminent attack from a dog who is ready to defend his ground. Interfering with a dog in this state is a good way to get bitten.

In Pugs and other breeds with curled tails, a tense tail looks different: The existing curl in the tail simply gets tighter the more aroused the dog gets, eventually curling over itself again. In these dogs, a tensed tail doesn’t always mean aggression, and can simply indicate excitement.

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