Dogs Talk with Their Tails - But Can We Understand?One of the biggest misconceptions that we hear about dog body language is that “ the dog must be happy, he is wagging his tail”. In actuality a wagging tail is one of least reliable indicators about how a dog is feeling, unless you know what to look for. There are many different types of wag and there is only one type that indicates a safe dog for children to pet. Let’s start with that one!
The Calm Wag
Watch this video to see the difference between a high, stiff wag (as discussed below) and a calm wag. Notice that the white dog holds his tail very high and stiff while he is meeting and sizing up the other dogs, but when he interacts with the child he holds his tail lower and wags loosely. This is an excellent demonstration of what we mean by loose versus stiff. The dog is loose with the child and stiff with the other dogs. His interaction with child is entirely appropriate and this is the type of wag we want to see in all dogs who interact with children. If you don’t see this, then intervene and redirect the dog and child to other activities.
From the CD: What is My Dog Saying?
The Propeller WagIn the propeller wag, the whole tail goes all the way around like a propeller. This is usually reserved for greetings to special people that the dog is particularly happy to see. This dog wants to greet you and this is fine if you are adult. The level of excitement here may be too much for a child and the dog may jump, scratch or knock a small child over by mistake. It is best to wait for the dog to calm down before he is allowed to greet children.
The Whole Body WagSometimes a dog is so happy and excited that the whole dog wags in a frenzy of activity. Again a dog this excited should not be allowed to interact with children until he calms down.
The High TailFind a behavior consultant who will use positive reinforcement-based training to help you make sure that your dog develops a more cooperative relationship with the family. Teach your children to Be a Tree right away if any dog puts his tail up to them, even if it is their own dog or a dog they know.
The Slow Wag
The Low Wag
Learn more with our online course: Basic Dog Body Language (CEUs from many different dog training and vet tech organizations)