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8 Messages From Your Dog’s Tail You Should Never, Ever Ignore

by Rebecca Endicott
Becca is a writer and aspirational dog owner living in NYC.

If you have a pup, you already know that they are great judges of character. But did you know that a dog’s tail language can tell you how they feel right away?

As a matter of fact, dog tail language is very powerful stuff. They communicate almost everything they feel through body language, and the tail is the most expressive part of the canine body.

You can tell if your dog loves you just by watching his everyday body language, but when it comes to gauging your dog’s other moods, keeping an eye on his tail helps.

This is especially useful when it comes to meeting new people and pup friends. If your dog isn’t enjoying the interaction, you might see it in his tail long before he starts barking.

You can also tell if your dog is happy, scared, tired, or embarrassed just by watching how that tail wags.

Scroll through below to learn more.

Perked Up

Perked Up
Laura Caseley for LittleThings

If your pup’s tail is perked up high and proud, it’s likely he’s feeling pretty perky, too!

This tail posture signals that your dog is feeling confident and in-control.

This is great for his self-esteem, but it may mean that he’s considering showing another dog or human he’s the alpha.

Watch out for dominant behaviors like intimidation, but otherwise encourage the pep in his step!

Straight Out Behind

Straight Out Behind
Laura Caseley for LittleThings

If your dog’s tail is straight out behind him, keep an eye on him to see if something or someone is weirding him out.

Basically, this posture indicates that your dog is feeling very cautious and uncertain.

It might crop up when he hears a phantom noise in the middle of the night, or it might be directed at someone in the dog park he’s not too sure about.

Give him his space while he’s figuring out what it is. But if you’re outside, hang onto his leash in case he decide to give chase or react.

Slight Wagging

Slight Wagging
Laura Caseley for LittleThings

A slight wag in the tail can communicate a few different things.

In some situations, it might mean cautious approval, like if your pup is tentatively deciding he likes his new kibble.

However, if your dog is meeting a new person, this indicates that he’s anxious about his standing. He’s not sure if he should act submissively or try to be the alpha, and he’s kind of nervous and jittery.

Give him some reassurance and love to help shore up his self-esteem, and maybe separate him from any other dogs or visitors until his tail starts wagging in earnest.

Actively Wagging

Actively Wagging
Laura Caseley for LittleThings

This one is a no-brainer! If your dog is wagging his tail like crazy, it probably means he’s happy to see you!

This gesture is usually accompanied by lots of happy kisses, jumping, and bright eyes.

However, if he’s wagging yet his body is stiff and his ears are back, steer clear. Occasionally, dogs do wag to signal annoyance. When this is the case, the rest of the body will look different.

Pointing Straight Up

Pointing Straight Up
Laura Caseley for LittleThings

If your dog is pointing his tail straight up in the air, unnaturally stiff, he is mad.

Someone or something is scaring the heck out of him, and he is considering taking a big old chomp out of whatever it is.

Sometimes, the threat will be benign, like the garbage can put back in the wrong place.

Sometimes it indicates that your dog senses a real challenge from another person or animal, and plans to attack very soon.

Restrain your dog with a leash or crate, until he calms down or the threat is removed, then figure out if you need to add additional disciplinary training to his life.

Between Legs

Between Legs
Laura Caseley for LittleThings

If your dog is looking very morose and has his tail between his legs, check the surrounding area for puppy accidents!

This move is a classic indicator that your dog feels very sad and ashamed.

They might display this behavior if they’ve done something bad, like pooping in the house or tearing up your slippers.

They might also display this behavior if they have been scolded, and are sad or scared. Make sure this pup gets lots of love to boost his confidence.

Floppy And Relaxed

Floppy And Relaxed
Laura Caseley for LittleThings

This is the ultimate sign of canine contentment!

If your dog is just a total floppy pile of mush on the couch next to you, he is totally happy and loved-up!

Dogs will also relax their tails like this when they sleep, unless they’re dreaming about bunnies.

But dogs who are awake and floppy like this are signaling their total trust in the animals and people around them!

Head And Tail Down

Head And Tail Down
Laura Caseley for LittleThings

If your dog puts his head down and his tail between his legs, he probably feels really sad and submissive.

This is the ultimate ‘beta dog’ posture. If your dog does this to you, he’s signaling that he knows you’re the boss, but might also be indicating that he’s scared of you.

Some dogs, especially hounds, are very sensitive to criticism, and this might be a signal you need to dial back the way you discipline and train to a more manageable level for the pup!

If you have a pup in your life who has mastered ‘tail language,’ let us know in the comments!

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