What Do Dogs Say with Their Tails?

How to read the messages that dogs send with their tails.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
4-minute read
Episode #13

What Do Sad Tails Look Like?

What about a lowered tail? Sometimes it just means that the dog is super relaxed. But a dog whose tail is clamped down, maybe even tucked between his back legs, is not having a good time. Sometimes you see a clamped tail in a fairly benign situation, for example on a dog who’s trying to avoid another dog’s attempts to sniff his butt or mount him. Bail your dog out. The encounter may not lead to trouble, but still, why should he have to put up with a dog who won’t take no for an answer?

Dogs also lower their tails when afraid; if I’ve failed to smell the ozone, I can still tell a thunderstorm is on the way. The droop in my younger dog’s tail informs me that it’s time for his anti-anxiety meds.

How to Handle Shy or Fearful Dogs

If you’re just meeting a shy or fearful dog, resist any temptation to get close and comfort him. A fearful dog may explode if he feels cornered. Instead, let him check you out at his own pace -- just hang out quietly as if he’s not there. You can watch his tail and other body language to let you know when he’s ready to make friends.

Your questions and comments help me prepare future episodes. Email dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com, call 206-600-5661, or talk to me on Facebook – search on The Dog Trainer. That’s it for this week! Thank you.

Additional Resources

Sophie Collins. Tail Talk: Understanding the Secret Language of Dogs (2007).

Barbara Handelman. Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook (2008).

Brenda Aloff. Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide (2005).

Sarah Kalnajs. The Language of Dogs (DVDs; 2006).

Dog Tail Wag image from Shutterstock


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).