What’s That Tail Wag Mean?
With dog bites on the rise, it’s more important than ever for canines and humans to understand each other.
By: Sarah and Brian Kilcommons
The woman on the phone was worried. When she tried to hug her sister’s usually friendly dog, it growled at her. We explained. It was a classic case of human/canine mis-communications. For dogs there is no such thing as a hug. Putting your hands on its shoulders is rude at best and a threat at the worst. It’s the same as if a person came up to you and put you in a none-too-friendly headlock.
Realizing what our canine pals are “saying” to us is increasingly important. With more than 4 million people are bitten by dogs in the U.S., many of them children---- and the numbers are on the rise. Often, bites could be avoided if more people understood dog talk. Here are some common canine “words and phrases” and what they mean.
A dog plays with you, then walks away and lies down under the table.
Meaning: “Leave me alone.” Dogs can get tired of endless games. When they do, they generally move away. Going under a table or into a den-like area underlines the message. Pursuing a dog that has retreated can force the dog to say it louder and clearer next time.
A dog comes towards you, mouth closed, tail up, stiff, wagging fast.
Meaning: “I’m not sure about you.” A wagging tail is something like a human smile----often friendly but not always. Tail position is a better indicator. A straight-up and stiff tail says, “I’m alert, confident and bold.” A tail tucked under equals a dog that’s fearful, anxious and stressed. A tail held at spine level is neutral. Rover is at ease and relaxed. There are breed variations, of course, but even a curly tailed pug will tuck his tail when worried.
A dog comes up to you, seems to be friendly, but then flashes its teeth.
Meaning: “Howdy!” A grin by another name is still a grin. A dog with ears back, head and tail low, wiggling and grinning is usually a friendly, polite dog, who is saying “hello.” If this really were a threat, the head and tail would likely to up, the fur along the neck and spine would be up, and the dog would be growling and barking.
A dog is standing still, tail raised, mouth closed, staring at you ut not barking.
Meaning: “Beware.” In general, when a dog is very, very still, it is focused on something----like a squirrel, or just a leaf blowing by. When that something is you, however, total stillness is a cause to pause. Likewise, dogs who stop chewing a toy or eating when you approach are warning you. If your dog does this, get help from a professional trainer. If it happens to be someone else’s dog, back off and tell the owner.
A dog puts its front end on the ground with its rear in the air and barks at you.
Meaning:. “Come on, let’s romp!” Called a “play bow,” this is an invitation by your dog to let the games begin.
Understanding basic canine body language is a skill everyone----even nonowners---should have. If we can understand how to recognize when a dog is relaxed, stressed or less than friendly, we’ll all be safer and happier.
(The authors are professional pet trainers, writers and lecturers.)
Church of the Science of God
La Jolla, California 92038-3131
© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993