Wouldn’t it be great if we had tails!
Dogs’ tails are so expressive. You can see what they’re thinking when you’re behind them, beside them, at a distance. There is a whole chapter in the Dog Body Language Primer on Tails. You may not have heard of this volume, but all dogs get it downloaded into their brains at birth - it’s how they naturally express themselves.
And we - people - tend to dismiss it. “Oh, he’s wagging his tail - he must be happy.”
Some of the time he’s wagging his tail - yes, he’s happy. But some of the time he wags his tail out of anxiety, anger, anticipation. Many a person has been bitten by a dog with a wagging tail!
It’s how they are wagging it that’s important
Did you know, for instance, that when a dog is greeting someone he knows and loves, he’ll wag his tail to the right? Sometimes, when really delighted to see his person, the whole back-end will wag to the right. Your dog will be in a kind of banana-shape as he runs towards you, tail a-wag on his right side, ecstatic grin on his face.
You can see some great info in this article by Stanley Coren which tells you about some of the finer points of tail carriage and movement. But if you just realise that your dog is speaking to you through his tail, you’ll learn an awful lot of his lingo by just tail-watching.
The skeleton all being connected, it’s impossible, of course, for the tail to go a particular way without affecting the whole body posture. A terrier standing with tail stiff and erect will also have a stiff and erect body, stiff face, closed mouth, and unblinking eyes. A spaniel in full pleasurable wiggle will have trouble keeping any part of himself still - he’ll stay close to the ground, wriggling in a blur.
And a gundog on point will do just that - stand as still as a statue, every fibre pointing towards his prey, foreleg poised, neck stretched forward, tail stretching straight back: one big arrow pointing at the bird.
So you need to look at the whole dog when you decide whether this dog is friendly or not. His body - and especially his tail - will tell you more than just a bland “He’s happy”.
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