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What Your Dog’s Tail Can Teach You + Dog Tail Meaning | Pupford

December 27th, 2023

Filed under Pet Parenting

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Short, long, curly, stubby, fluffy, you name it... We love them all! Yup, today we’re talking about tails.

Did you know that along with being a super cute addition to your dog’s backside, the tail is also an important tool? It assists your dog with movement and balance so they can quickly change directions and walk narrow paths. It’s probably an evolutionary benefit for hunting and escaping predators, but we think it’s much more useful for dodging furniture during zoomies!

But there’s one more important function of your dog’s tail: communication. And if you look closely, you’ll see that your dog’s tail is telling you a lot.

Your dog’s tail is a key component in their body language, so it’s important to know what signals it’s giving you.

Let’s take a look at some common tail behaviors and meanings and what they could be trying to teach you about your dog.



dog in play bow pose | Pupford

Oh that’s an obvious one -- a wagging tail means your dog is happy right?

Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Yes, it’s possible that your dog is wagging their tail because they're excited, but that’s not the only explanation. It could also symbol fear, frustration, or other negative feelings.

So how can you tell if your dog’s wag is a “yay”or a “nay”? Here are a few things to consider:

  • A long, slow, back and forth wag may be more of an indication of excitement than a faster wag which may mean your dog is on high alert.
  • A scientific study in Correspondence suggests that a dog’s tail wags to the right to display positive emotions and to the left to display negative ones.
  • A wagging tail of neutral height usually means they are relaxed and happy.

See, there’s more to a wagging tail than you might think. In this situation, it’s important to gauge your dog’s overall mood. If they seem relaxed and excited, there’s a good chance that their wagging tail is equivalent to a thumbs up.


black dog with tail up on a brown background | Pupford

Some dog’s tails naturally sit higher and/or curl up over their backs, like a pug for example. But many breeds are not that way naturally, so it’s important to take note when their tail is pointed upwards.

An easy way to think of this is that high tail = high alert. This usually means something caught their attention and is holding it, whether that’s in a positive or negative way. If a squirrel darts across the yard or if you’ve picked up their favorite toy, you might see your dog’s tail go up.


scared dog with a tucked tail | Pupford

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “walked away with their tail between their legs,” it’s pretty on point when it comes to your dog. A tucked tail is usually a sign of fear, nervousness, or even discomfort.

If you notice your dog’s tail slink low every time you’re in a certain situation, you might want to take a closer look at what’s going on. If there’s a person, other dog, or environmental factor that’s making your dog uneasy, you can take steps to address it. If there doesn’t seem to be an apparent cause, you might want to visit your veterinarian to rule out pain or illness.

Related Reading: Appeasement Behavior in Dogs


god with a stiff tail looking around | Pupford

Tension in dogs can indicate apprehension, uncertainty, or discomfort. More importantly, it could be a sign that your dog is preparing its fight or flight response. If you see tension that extends into a rigid tail, do not ignore this.

Despite this signal, you should remain calm. Your dog can sense your energy and will use it as an indication of how they should be feeling too. Make sure your dog isn’t in any imminent danger, then find a way to gently remove them from the situation that is making them so tense.


brown lab with a relaxed tail | Pupford

On the other hand, a relaxed and neutral tail is usually an indication that everything’s all good with your pup and they’re relaxed. The caveat here is that this “neutral” position looks a little different from breed to breed, so you’ll have to take a mental note of how your dog’s tail is the next time you know they’re relaxed.

For example, some dogs have naturally curled tails that maintain their curled form when they’re relaxed. In that case, a tail that’s “relaxed” in the traditional sense of the word (loose or limp) may actually be an indication of stress or fear. Remember, take a mental picture (or physical picture, you probably do that anyway!) of your dog at their most relaxed so you know what that looks like.



While your dog’s tail can teach you so much about your dog’s mood and overall state, remember that it’s only part of a larger puzzle. You want to look at your dog’s tail in the context of their overall body language. Their back, ears, posture, paws, and face are all ways your dog communicates.

For more on this, check out our Basics of Dog Body Language article! We also have an entire course in the Pupford Academy designed to help you understand all of your dog’s body language signals to know how to keep them happy and safe -- check out the Dog Body Language Course here.

Remember, although they don’t use the same language we do, our dogs are always communicating with us. We just have to learn what they are trying to tell us and how we can communicate back to them. Taking the time to learn from your dog’s tail is a great start!


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