Dog Body Language: Tails and spines

Continuing our body language series! Last week we had a quickie overview of body language. Today we’re breaking down tails and spines!

The rule of thumb: The height of the tail generally indicates the level of energy and the willingness to engage. (The willingness to engage may or may not be a good thing.) The higher the tail, the higher the energy and the more likely the dog is to engage. The lower the tail, the lower the energy/likelihood. It is not an indication of happiness.

Sometimes, you’ll hear people refer to a high tail as “high confidence.” I don’t. Some of the most confident dogs I know have low tails. They’re usually older dogs who are happy to engage if approached, but would rather be off doing their own thing, kthnks.

A high tail might mean, “I’m so happy to see you; I’m going to jump on you!” or it might mean, “I’m going to rip your face off!” Both are a willingness to engage.

A low tail might mean, “I’m so content right now, willing to hang out and nap,” or it might mean, “I’m terrified!” Both are not wanting to engage.

How do you tell the difference? The spine! The spine is the emotional state: the more pinched, stiff, tense, or still the spine, the more negative the emotional state. The more relaxed or wiggly the spine, the better the emotional state.

You take “willingness (or lack thereof) to engage” and “emotional state” and you combine them to create a rough estimate of a dog’s mood. You can kind of apply it to human moods, with a few alterations (such as anger; dogs don’t get angry, really. But they do get aggressive when we would be angry, so you can still match it up pretty well, knowing that ‘aggression’ is the substitute for ‘anger.’)

Ready? I’m going to post pictures. Hover over the picture to see the dog’s mood and a detailed explanation after you’ve made your guess!



Sheba and Dawn 3-2012


dog photo

All right, this was JUST a look at spines and tails. Adding in faces can give a great deal more information: we’ll start that next week!



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