from "What Do Dogs Know?":
the average person how to teil whether a dog is happy,
and they will advise you to look at its tail -- if the
dog is happy, the tail is wagging. Unfortunately, this
is only partly true. Rapid tail wagging, where the side-to-side
swings are not very iarge, is actually a sign of excitement
rather than pleasure. It is when the 'ail wags broadly
at a moderately fast rate that the dog is trying to say
either "Im pleased" or "I like you."
Some tail wags have totally different
meanings. A slight wag with the tail held at its normal
height, for example, usually appears when greeting someone.
It can be interpreted as "Hello there," but
can mean "I see you looking at me. You like me, dont
A slow wag with the tail held
lower than its usual height is a sign of insecurity. It
often shows up when a dog is working on a problem -- trying
to understand what is going on. During dog training, I
interpret this signal as "Im trying to understand
you. I want to know what you mean, but I cant quite
figure it out." Once the dog finally solves the problem,
the speed and size of the tail wags will usually increase
until it becomes the broad wag that we interpret as happiness.
© 1999 Stanley Coren.
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