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

Pet tail talk goes beyond dogs wagging tails. 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 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 tail wag behavior.

pet tail talk

What’s that body language and tail talk saying to the puppy? Image Copr. TBones Green Acres/Flickr

It goes beyond the wagging tail or the slurping face-lick. Canine happiness can be expressed in many ways. 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.

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! But when Bravo entered our lives, Karma-Kat already understood dog language (and vice versa) and so the transition was much easier. 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.

tail talk

This cat’s tail expresses friendliness and interest.

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.

dog tail injury

Partnered with a play-bow, this Chihuahua sends clear signals with her 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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