What is a dog saying when she hoists her tail high?

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When a dog’s tail is up, she conveys confidence and alertness. Combined with other body language signals, it can be assumed that the dog is happy and excited. However, this is not always the case; just because her tail is held high and shows confidence and alertness doesn’t mean shes a happy dog at all. In fact, this posture can convey anger and be used as a warning that the dog is about to spring. It’s important to examine body language carefully to determine a dog’s demeanor. Here is some general advice when trying to do exactly that:

  • If the tail is held up, but it’s stiff and in a C-curve (some dogs, like pugs, naturally have a high tail—but look closely, it can be sometimes be in a C-Shape), it means the dog is tense. Perhaps it is feeling slightly threatened or intimidated, but probably isn’t ready to spring.
  • If both the tail and overall posture are stiff, the dog is very tense and it’s important to beware, because there’s a potential for lunging.
  • If the tail is high, but doing a slow wag, the dog’s giving you fair warning that she’s about to bite. The dog may be growling and the ears might be erect, but when the dog bares its teeth, it’s time to run, as the dog is definitely aggressive. Don’t think that every wagging tail means friendliness; it often means aggression, especially if you see only the tip wagging.
  • If the tail is high and the dog is in an erect stance, the signals are saying that this dog is the “leader of the pack.” She will wag her tail in a fast and wide motion to convey this message.

While this might seem a little confusing, there’s a general rule of thumb: The more tense the dog’s tail and body seems to be, the more careful you should be. Never engage until until you see the dog fully relax.

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