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Pet Tail Talk: What Dog & Cat Wagging Tails Tell Us

by | Aug 26, 2019 | Cat Behavior & Care, Dog Training & Care | 1 comment

Pet Tail Talk: What do different tail wags mean?

Pet tail talk goes beyond happy dog tail wagging. Today is National Dog Day and it’s appropriate to talk about how dogs show happiness. It’s not always about a wagging tail, either. Dogs and cat tail movement meaning speak volumes with their tails, from happiness to fear or even warning. Some studies reported by behaviorists note that happy confident dog tails wag to the right, but wag to the left when the dog feels fearful. Read on to learn what do different tail wags mean, to better understand your cats and dogs behavior.

pet tail talk

It goes beyond the wagging tail or the slurping face-lick. Canine happiness can be expressed in many ways, even laughing! . We should think about our pets’ happiness every day, not just on special occasions like Valentine’s or Mother’s Day. It doesn’t take much to treat them with love. It’s important to remember that pets are individuals with unique personalities. They’re like furry snowflakes, with no two alike.

Learn what canine howls mean here, and all about doggy barks here.

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.

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.

tail talk

Speaking Cat & Dog: Happy Dog Tail versus Cat Tail Talk

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.

happy dog tail

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 the context of the rest of the body. Ear position, the 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 tell us that they want petting, are afraid due to separation anxiety or something else, 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 Bravo still isn’t real clear on everything Karma says to him (either that or he’s hard-headed and doesn’t care, LOL!).

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!


1 Comment

  1. Franklin Steele

    As always, great information. I have a dig and a cat. This makes a lot of how they behave very understandable.



  1. National Love Your Pet Day: 15 Ways How Pets Show LoveAMY SHOJAI'S Bling, Bitches & Blood - […] more about dog and cat tail talk in this fun […]
  2. Barking Problems: Why dogs bark & how to stop dogs from barkingAMY SHOJAI'S Bling, Bitches & Blood - […] Learn what canine howls mean here. And refer to this post on doggy (and kitty) tail talk. […]
  3. Have You Howled Today? Why Dogs Howl & What it MeansAMY SHOJAI'S Bling, Bitches & Blood - […] Learn about barking communication here, and what tail wags mean in this post. […]
  4. Dog Tail Injury: How to Prevent and Treat Dog Tail TraumaAMY SHOJAI'S Bling, Bitches & Blood - […] love it when our happy dogs wag-wag-wag with joy. Dogs talk with their tails, but too much wagging can…

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