What is a dog saying by puffing up his tail?

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Unlike the cat, a puffy tail on a dog doesn’t signal aggression. A dog’s puffy tail can signal insecurity or uncertainty. In these instances, the dog isn’t frightened or retreating, but merely confused. Sometimes it just indicates extreme excitement, such as when two dogs are playing.

Piloerection is an involuntary reflex. It is a function of the nervous system and is an uncontrolled reaction to a stimulus such as fear or cold. Adrenalin is produced which then triggers contractions of certain muscles and pushes up the hair follicles.

A puffy tail also shouldn’t be confused with raised hackles, which can be a sign of aggression—although raised hackles can also mean other things as well.

Look at the entire posture to establish your dog’s mood. Is it just the tail that’s puffy or is all the hair standing up? Is the dog’s posture relaxed or stiff? Generally, the stiffer the dog, the more tension—and that can mean an altercation is about to start. What do the ears look like? If they’re pricked up, it can indicate confidence; if they’re lying flat and pushed back, that can signal hostility or an imminent attack. What about the dog’s mouth? If a dog is baring teeth, it’s time to look out! Take time to also notice your dog’s tail wag. Is it a quick, happy, circular wag—or is it waving back and forth slowly, signaling anger?

What should you do if you’re still not sure? Whatever you do, don’t approach a dog you are uncertain about! A dog’s feelings should be taken very seriously, because what may be nothing to you can seem like a very real threat to a canine. If you think the dog seems tense, stay calm and remember that you’re the pack leader. If you stay calm, your dog probably will too, because it will start to feel more secure.

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