To avoid dog bites, people have come up with a number of signs they look for when they’re approached by an animal. Most people go by the rule that a dog that is wagging its tail is happy and friendly, but this is a myth that could end up causing serious harm.
Did you know that the tail is an extension of the dog’s spinal column? It helps stabilize the dog as it moves and plays a role in body language. When a dog’s tail is wagging, it means that the dog is aroused in some way. Arousal isn’t necessarily positive.
Wagging tails may mean a dog is fearful, anxious or excited
A wagging tail alone is not enough to mean that a dog is happy and friendly. The positioning of the tail along with the way the dog’s body language reads overall is also important to consider. For example, a dog that wags its tail in a lower position while pressing its ears back may be fearful or anxious. One with its tail up and ears up may be alert and excited.
A dog’s tail may also point to dominance. For example, the tail may be carried high and point upwards when it wants to show that it is confident and dominant. Lower tails tend to mean a dog is being submissive or fearful.
Then, you do have to consider that not all dogs have the same kinds of tails. Some breeds have curly tails that always seem to be up. Others have docked tails that make it hard to visualize how they’re feeling based on their tail movement.
A dog’s overall body language is the best measure of its mood
Reading a dog’s overall body language is a better choice. If you don’t know a dog or are unable to tell how it is feeling, then you should do your best to keep your distance. If a dog is approaching you, don’t look at it in its eyes or try to assert dominance. Wait for the dog to come to you, and you may be able to avoid a dog bite or attack.