What Your Dog’s Tail Is Trying to Tell You
Your dog’s tail is an important indicator of your pet’s emotional state. It’s a form of body language that dogs take very seriously, and you should too. It can be a lifesaver, particularly when teaching young children how to react toward strange dogs.
Stanley Coren, author of the book How to Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication, explains that when a dog holds its tail lower than the horizontal, but still some distance away from the legs, the dog is usually relaxed and communicating, “All is well.” An occasional relaxed swishing back and forth may happen during this state.
When your dog’s tail is down and near straightened hind legs, your dog may be communicating some level of distress, either physical or mental. If your dog’s hind legs are bent slightly inward, your dog is probably expressing insecurity. Coren explains that dogs will often assume this posture and tail position when they are introduced to a new, unfamiliar environment. They may even do this when a favorite family member leaves, with the dog knowing (from experience) that the person’s return may take a while.
The tail position that you describe is a bit more extreme. The dog’s apprehension has now turned into fear. Coren says that it communicates, “I’m frightened!” or, “Don’t hurt me!” This makes sense, as the dog is protecting its vulnerable tail from possible attack. While the dog might be feeling submissive, it could also attack in perceived defense. It’s therefore best to not approach a strange dog that is displaying this level of insecurity.
It’s a myth that the tail-between-the-legs stance conveys guilt. While dogs may feel guilty at times, this visual tail/legs display is more out of fear of punishment than regret over past misdeeds.