Tag Archives: tails

Wagging

In my last post I wrote about the benefits of having a tail. Some humans pointed out to me that I forgot to write about something that is typical for dogs and tails: wagging. Dogs wagging their tails are happy, those humans tell me.

I am sorry to spoil their idea, an idea that is shared by a lot of humans. It is a misconception. We are not always happy when we wag our tail. To be precise: tail wagging has nothing to do with happiness! When we wag our tails, it means we are agitated. Sometimes we are agitated because we sense something nice is going to happen (yummy food! squeaky ball!) and in a way you can say that we are happy then. But when we wag our tail it can also mean we are insecure, angry or even scared.

Is that confusing? Not to canines. We sense each others energy, we know what the other dog means. To humans it can be confusing, because they have not learned how to read our body language. I will give them a clue. Look at the position of our tail when we are wagging. Is the tail up high in the air and wagging fast, it means a dog is over exited. He is not happy, he can even become aggressive. One sees this often when dogs meet. His tail will be high, wagging fast and he will make his body look bigger, standing tense. Usually he will be very close to the other dog. Too close to my liking – when a dog approaches me like this I snap, because they do not respect my personal space. Usually snapping helps, especially with intrusive males.

If the tail is very low, wagging fast, it means a dog is over exited too. It is exited and a little scared, with a look on its face that means ‘ooooh I do love you and I know we will go and do something awesome but will you please tell me what it is because I am really insecure right now!’ Something like that. This dog is not truly happy and his  wagging tail is showing exitement and insecurity.

Then there is the third position: a medium raised tail, wagging slowly. This means the dog is relaxed and yes, most of the time you can say she is happy. Usually you can see this with dogs that are walking leisurely, sniffing her and there, doing some quiet explorations.

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Tail

In some ways humans are better off than canines. They can always walk off leash, for instance. But if one takes a holistic point of view, canines have the most benefits. We are the ones with the happy simple lives: we guard, play and eat when we want and sleep the rest of the time. Much better than humans, who seem to be in a hurry all the time doing… yes, what exactly? I don’t know. Working, M tells me. Working for what, when they already have a house and plenty of food?

When it comes to physical differences canines are much better off than humans, too. Humans seem to navigate on one sense only: eyesight. Canines have sharp eyes, but also extraordinary hearing and smelling capabilities. Not to mention our seventh sense, which enables us to feel trouble that is coming to us (like a bad mannered dog in the dog park). We have wonderful warm fur (no clothes needed), pretty ears and, best of all: a tail. Humans do not have a tail. And that is very sad for them. With a tail, you see, one can do so many things.

Like using it as a counterweight when something asks for thorough nose-investigation.

It is also a clear tool for communication, as you can see: my friend near the water signals me she is ready for playing and I answer her with my tail in the same position. The game is on, friend!

The tail high up means: I am stronger than you are, try me! It is also a signal of extreme alertness – I put my tail up high when I smell a burglar, or a cat. By the way: in the above picture my friends were not really fighting, they were just testing one another’s strength. The dog in the back thought it pretty silly, as you can see.

A tail is a real asset. It is sad humans do not have one.

 

Body language (3)

I feel like writing another dogtorial. So this is body language part 3. In the first two parts I described what the position of our ears tell about our state of mind. This time I will focus on the tail. We canines have all kinds of tails: short, long, furry, fluffy or slick like a whip. I personally prefer my own tail, which is in between furry and sleek. Just right!

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The way we hold our tail tells a lot about our mood. There are three basic positions:

1. Alert and tense: our tail is high into the air. It can move (which means we are excited) or be very still (which means we are focussed). Some humans call this dominant, but I already wrote that dominance is a misconception. It is not dominant.

Dogs who feel very sure of themselves usually hold their tail high up in the air. When two dogs of this kind meet, their tails are going even higher. There is a reason for this: when we hold our tails high, we smell stronger. From behind. And a dog that is smelling strongly tells the world HERE I AM SHOW SOME RESPECT MAN. Something like that.

Tail high

When two dogs meet with their tails high up in the air, they usually end up measuring forces. Which is fine. It is not fighting, that is something entirely different.

2. Fear: dogs who are unsure or scared hold their tail tightly between their legs, pushing it towards their belly. This is about scent, too: when you do this, you limit the way you smell from behind. That is exactly what you want when you are scared. A strong smell will tell everybody that you are there. It makes you look bold. When you want to be shy, you hide your smell. It may seem simple, but for us dogs it works perfectly.

3. Relaxed. This looks like:

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There are a lot of positions in between these three. I for instance have a position in between relaxed and alert:

Little fish!

There are dogs that have very odd tails. Some have no tail at all, only a short stub. Something horrible must have happened to them to have a tail like that! Anyway, even then you can read their mood. They press the stub downwards when they feel scared and stick it high up in the air when they are alert.

Some dogs are bred with tails in an odd position. Some have their tails in a curl high up their back, which makes them look alert when in fact they are relaxed. You have to take this into consideration when you want to read our tails. Although even dogs who are bred with tails in curls on their back can very well push their tails between their legs. I know from experience: in our puppy class there was a cocksure maltese. He was only three months old and thinking he was the pack leader. Of course I could not let that happen, as the senior dog in the group (I was five months old at that time). So I disciplined him. His tail went right between his legs. After that we became friends.