Are you ready for the final Part of our Canine Communication Blogs? Do you remember everything thus far?
If you don't, might be worth doing a little review:
In Part 4, we talked about the Body of the dog. Today, we are going to wrap up the series talking about the tail.
I personally like to classify tail communication into two different categories: Position and Intensity. When we talk about Position, we generally talk about whether the tail is relaxed, low or high and to what degree. When I talk about intensity, I am usually talking about whether the tail is stiff, bushed up, loose, relaxed, how it moves, etc.
Let's quickly go over the different tail positions: The farther down the tail goes, the more submission or fear is being communicated. The extreme of this would be for the tail to be completely tucked in between the dogs legs.
The farther up a tail goes, the more arousal is being communicated. The extreme of this would be the tail sticking straight up.
There are many different positions in between these two extremes that communicate a slightly different energy and intensity.
Check out this super easy and simplified guide (Please note, Stanley Coren uses the words Dominance/Aggression in place of Arousal):
*Note, knowing what your dog's "relaxed tail" looks like is really important. It will look different from breed to breed as well as dog to dog. It is also important to know the regular range of motion that your dog has with its tail. Ie) does he hold his tail high on walks? how high? how about when he greets dogs? when he's excited? What does his tail look like when he's relaxed? Nervous? How low is normal for my dog? etc etc.
Similarily with the Intensity: When you see the tail loose with a slow to medium wagging speed with broad movements, the more relaxed or happy your dog is. As soon as the tail gets stiff, vibrates (very fast wagging) or puffs up, the more aroused your dog is.
That's the gist! I would encourage you to spend some time observing your dog's tail. Can you get a feel for what he's trying to communicate?
Let's look at a few different examples from our pack:
First let's look at Duke's happy, relaxed tail wag. First, he starts with a slow wide wag with a relaxed tail placement. Once he hears the car beep from outside, his tail raises, moves faster and the wag takes over his hips and knees. You'll also notice that as soon as he hears the car beep, his ears go down too! A sign of a happy, submissive (as opposed to dominant) dog really pleased to see a human leader.
I'd like to take a quick gander at some of our pack member's tail when they are out on a pack walk:
Starting at the far left with Huckleberry:
His tail is in a relaxed position, down with the tip curled outwards. Notice how it is down, but not between his legs. This is a really healthy relaxed position
Second from the left, Stella:
Stella naturally holds her tail high. In this photo, it isn't as high as it could go, but also not as low as I've seen it. So, I would say that she is a little more "aroused" from being outside with all the sounds, smells and distractions around her.
Center Dog, Tullymore:
Tullymore's tail looks very similar to Huckleberry's, low, relaxed with the tip curled outwards. This is an amazing improvement as he was pretty much in tail tuck land when we first met him! (see photo to the right)
Second from the right, Jet:
This is a good example of knowing your dog's regular body language comes in handy. Jet's tail has a tendency to curl upward, similar to a husky or other Spitz dog. While his tail does go down (usually it's down when I wake him up from his nap), it is primarily up when we are out and about. If you're uncertain if your dog's high tail is a sign of arousal or not, remember to look at other clues from the dog's body language to help you determine what's going on.
Rightmost dog, Wilson:
Wilson is a Weimaraner, like Duke, but their tail positions are very different! Wilson's tail is high, not very high, but still high. This is his normal tail position when on the walk. If this photo was a video, you would see that while his tail is in a higher position, it's still pretty loose in its movements. If it was stiffer, then it would be a sight of extra tension/arousal.
Compare Wilson's walking tail to Duke's (Duke is the one wearing the red backpack in the photo to the right). Duke's regular walking tail has a downward slope and moves in a relaxed manner. Same breed, same looking tails, but different personalities and thus different tail positions!
Good job to all of these pack members for showing nice and relaxed tail positions during this Pack Class.
Other tail communications: The Not-Sure Tail
Uncertainty/Curiosity is another energy that a tail can easily communicate. This usually looks like a mostly horizontal tail. You could translate it as "I'm uncertain about what's going on" - in this circumstance the tail would be a little stiffer, or "Something interesting may be happening here" - in which case the tail would be looser.
Scout the Basset Hound is showing her "something interesting may be happening here" tail when Roxy is inviting her to play for the first time.
There are a few other communications that occur with the tail, for example, a certain tail position could indicate that your dog needs to poop! I won't go through any of those here as they will be more personalized to your dog.
Be Aware of The Wagging Tail!
I'm going to end this blog post, and this series, on one of the most important things you need to know about dog body language and communication.
A WAGGING TAIL DOES NOT ALWAYS MEAN THE DOG IS FRIENDLY
I have been in a position where someone believes my dog to be friendly because his tail was wagging. In fact, he was very aroused - nervous and protective in this case - which translated to a very high tail that was wagging very fast. Can you guess what happened when that person reached to pet my dog? Nothing good.
So please, NEVER presume a dog is friendly solely based on a wagging tail.
I have also been the idiot who knew nothing about how my dog communicated with his body language and made some very bad judgement calls because of it.
So do me a favour - re-read this blog series, do your own research, go down a dog communication youtube rabbit hole. Education yourselves so you don't make the same mistakes that I have. (Let me make them for you and tell you all about them - LOL)
But seriously. The more you know, the more you'll learn how to recognize how your dog is feeling and what they are trying to say in every situation. Doesn't that sound like a pretty important element to building a good relationship and being a good leader to your dog?
Until next time!
Holly, Duke and Jax