Even the Most Aggressive Dog Wags his Tail
There is this myth that frequently, if not CONSTANTLY gets circulated in the dog world.
And, this myth will get you, your significant other, your children, your friends and anyone else who falls prey to it BITTEN; sometimes significantly!
I’m not even sure where it started… but it is horrifically wrong and always has been!
People are under the impression that if a dog is wagging his tail… he is friendly and not showing aggression, even if he IS SHOWING other signs of aggression.
Oddly enough, it doesn’t matter if ever other signal is telling the person the dog wants to bite him.
Hackles up, teeth bared, lunging, eyes hard, body stiffened; people see a wagging tail as some kind of form of friendliness that negates any other outright sign.
The truth is: even the most aggressive dog wags his tail and usually WHILE he is being overtly aggressive.
It is not about the “wag”, it is more about where the tail is held in accordance to his body; and what the other bodily signs are showing.
It’s All About the Tail Carriage
In my opinion, deciphering dog body language is all about tail carriage.
And by “all about” I am only talking about the tail.
We will get into other part of the body in a moment.
The Scared Wag
A tucked tail, as most people know, is a sign of fear or submission.
But don’t be fooled, a dog with a tucked tail can also be aggressive if pushed to do something he doesn’t want.
And, that tucked tail can also wag quickly as the dog is threatening; this doesn’t mean the dog is friendly!
Whenever I see a tucked tail, I give that dog space; tucking means he is uncomfortable about something and it may very well be ME. I may be an animal lover, I may think he is wrong for being fearful of me… but I am going to respect him and give him space and the ability to figure it out on his own.
I never force myself on a nervous dog!
The Rattlesnake Wag
A very highly held tail can be a sign of an aggressive or agitated dog.
Even dogs with cropped tails and curly tails can be assessed if you know the dog and the breed, as these dogs are still capable of raising their tail higher in its socket.
If the tail, or nubbin is at about a 90 degree level to the back, you should take note.
In my opinion, the dog with the most intimidating tail carriage is one that carries it high on his back.
These dogs are often very stiff with their bodies and sometimes lunging forward.
These also dogs often wag their tails uncommonly fast.
I call it the “rattlesnake” wag, it is like the dog can’t wag it any faster.
To me this denotes a dominant, aggressive, or super over excited, overstimulated dog.
When I watch dog/dog play and see 2 super high rattlesnake wags, I worry about the interaction of the dogs, unless one of the dogs rapidly changes tail carriage and body positions.
Keep your eye out for a super high tail and an exceptionally fast wag.
The Parallel Wag
When the base of the tail is parallel to the dog’s back (the tip may be higher or lower than the base), this usually denotes a friendly dog. However even a friendly yet excitable dog can bite for more on that read this Why Your Dog’s Extreme Excitement Might Lead to a Bite.
The tail is neither up and agitated or low, scared and tucked.
The more vigorous the tail wag at this stage, usually the more excitable the dog and as mentioned an excitable dog is more prone to bite.
I like a slow methodical wag and a soft squishy face for more on that click here.
The Circular Wag
And, I really like a circular tail wag!
Much research has been done on dogs and dog body language (which I find fascinating to read) btw. I won’t get into right side/left side wags…
But in my opinion, the circular tail wag shows the happiest dog!
Not all dogs will wag their tail in a circle, which doesn’t mean they are unhappy, but I have found through experience and study of my own too, that a circular wag denotes the happiest of dog moments: like owners coming home from work, dogs seeing their favorite friends etc.
That’s Not All!!!!
But that is not all!
The tail is but one small piece of a dog’s language.
He also tells us his intentions through
- His facial countenance
- His eyes
- His ears
- His lips
- His body posture
- And of course his voice
You wouldn’t read the front cover of a book and be able to pass a college exam on it would you?
Then why… oooh why would we take one tiny piece of information from a dog and think we KNOW the dog?
I try to assess all I am given, but take special note of tail and eyes.
Well, and of course if a dog is barking and growling at me I will take that as a direct message of intent.
The truth is we need to be better about reading and understanding our dogs.
They learn our language, yet we barely take the time to know and assess their language!
Do your research, watch some dogs and learn!
And, above all spread the word,
A WAGGING DOG IS NOT NECESSARILY A FRIENDLY DOG!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.