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.)
Source: pg.16 * February 1, 2004 * Parade
For links to more on how to understand “dog language.”
Visit Parade on the Web

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