How do dogs use their tails to communicate with other dogs?

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Dogs communicate through body language. There’s a lot of myth surrounding the dog tail position but, truthfully, it’s almost impossible to determine your dog’s mood just by looking at its tail. Other dogs will certainly examine its posture, facial expressions and vocalizations to determine your dog’s frame of mind.

This quick reference will give you some idea of what a dog’s tail and body language means:

  • Tail up: Alert, confident, dominant
  • Tail wagging: Dog’s energy level is elevated (excited or agitated)
  • Tail held low or tucked: Fearful, submissive
  • Tail held horizontal and wagging slowly: Caution
  • Tail held relaxed and stationary: Contented dog
  • When the dog wants to show that he is the Alpha dog, the one all other dogs need to look up to: The dog will “puff” himself up—shifting weight forward, with head, neck and ears erect. He might bark, bristle, show teeth and walk stiff-legged. The dog might even piloerect his fur to look bigger. Additionally, the tail will be erect as a way of demonstrating alertness and confidence.
  • If the dog is intimidated by other dogs, they’ll want to show submission: His ears will be flat, the head will be low, and he’ll whine with their tail down.
  • If the dog wants to play: The butt will be up with his chin on floor and his tail wagging. Maybe he will even have a big toothy doggy grin.
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