Pet tail talk goes beyond wagging. Dogs and cats speak volumes with their tails, from happiness to fear or even warning. Learn what pet tail talk means, to better understand your cats and dogs.
Pet Tail Talk & What It Means
Cats and dogs speak volumes with pet tail talk. A simple wag or twitch of the tail as well as the position of their furry nether regions signals your pet’s emotional state. It also communicates important information to other animals–and to you, if you can read tail talk.
There can also be some misunderstandings between pets because cat and dog tail talk doesn’t mean exactly the same thing. I suspect that’s one reason it took my Seren-kitty and Magical-dawg so long to come to an understanding! Cat “felinese” and canine “dog-erel” is compared more fully in ComPETability: Cats/Dogs.
Tails can either invite you to approach, or warn you to keep your distance. A relaxed pet’s tail curves down and back up in a gentle U. The more interest he feels, the higher the tail.
Speaking Cat & Dog: Pet Tail Talk Compared
For example, cats don’t only “talk” with meows. The high-held cat’s tail pointed straight up is the feline equivalent of a “howdy!” and means Kitty welcomes attention and interaction. Dominant and confident dogs hold their tails high, and wag rapidly in tight sharp arcs. But aggressive dogs also hold their tails high, often tightly arched over their back with just the end jerking very quickly back and forth. And a dog’s high-held stiff tail signals imminent attack.
A dog shows his low standing relative to you (or another animal) with loose, wide low arcing wags that often include hip wags as well. While these “friendly” wags often invite your approach, a wagging feline tail expresses agitation. This increased kitty arousal may mean simple excitement, fear or even aggression warning you to “back off!”
Dogs hold their tail in a low position to show submission or fear. A tucked tail is the dog or cat equivalent of hiding their face because it covers the genitals, and interferes with the sniffing behavior that identifies them to other animals.
Pet Tail Talk & Conformation
Remember that tail shape and display (conformation) also influences how and what dogs say. Northern breeds such as Alaskan Malamutes with curled tails automatically “signal” confidence to other canines, whether they truly feel that way or not. Tailless dogs literally have one avenue of communication cut off. Labradors that wag too hard may cause dog tail injury.
Of course, tails don’t tell the whole story. What your pet’s wagging or wiggling means must be taken within context of the rest of the body. Ear position, elevation of the fur, and vocalizations also offer clues about what your pet wants to communicate.
Educate yourself—and especially your children—to the many “faces” of doggy wags and cat tail semaphore. In almost every instance, pets very clearly tells us that they want petting, are afraid, or warn you to keep your distance. Problems arise when humans either don’t understand—or don’t listen.
I’m curious–do your dogs or cats ever act confused about the other species’ “tail talk” or other signals? How long did it take them to figure out the new language–or did they? I think Magic still isn’t real clear on everything Seren says to him (either that or he’s hard headed and doesn’t care, LOL!).
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