If Our Pets Could Talk
By Jackie Kellum
Tails can tell part of the story of how your cat or dog is feeling. But a dog’s tail and cat’s tail tell quite different tales in their own unique language. A cat’s upright tail and tail quiver are often signs of a friendly greeting. If your cat does the little tail quiver when he sees you, that means he is happy and content. Cats will often wrap their tails around the leg or arm of an owner to show affection. A feline that holds its tail low, extended rigidly, and flicks it back and forth, indicates displeasure, frustration or heightened emotion. And when kitty starts thumping the ground with her tail, she’s ready to attack.The low flick can also be indicative of an upset cat that is ready to pounce.
Different from the tail flick, the swish usually means your cat is about to pounce on your hand, normally a more playful manner and mood. If your cat is gazing out the window intently, accompanied by a slight twitch in the end of the tail is indicating her interest or concentration on something. If perceived it is in danger, the cat will make a fluffed-up tail with fur standing straight off the body. A bristled tail held upright or straight behind the cat indicates aggression. But the bottlebrush tail held in an inverted U shows fear or defensiveness. Tucking the tail between the legs signals ultimate fear.
That doesn’t mean your kitty won’t resort to using claws and teeth though, if she feels cornered. You’ll usually also hear lots of hissing, growling, and other vocalizations, and the terrified cat may crouch low to the floor with ears slicked back. Or she may turn onto her back — not in submission, but to get all four claw-filled paws ready for defense. Cats don’t do submission. Get to know your cat through her tail and body language.
The “language” of dog tail wagging can be complex, and the tail doesn’t “speak” in isolation from the other components of body language. The tail is only part of the communications. Wags can have different meanings depending on the situation and context, along with other body signals that a dog is showing. You should view a wagging tail as a sign of being mentally aroused within its environment and willingness to interact, but not a signal of a particular mood or state.
This tail action does not indicate how he will react to whatever is going on, being friendly or otherwise. The following are simplified examples of tail positions and their meanings. Tail stiffness: Generally, a loose, flowing wag is good, but a stiff wag can communicate tension or hostility. Tail Speed: A fast wag is generally good, but a slow wag usually signals that a dog will not be friendly. A big tail wag: where the butt is moving and the tail is making wide sweeping motions, generally indicates a friendly dog that is ready for a friendly interaction with a person or other dog. Dog tail wags and their meanings can also differ from dog to dog. Dog tail wagging is a pretty universal behavior.
What isn’t universal is the temperament between and within breeds. One individual dog may wag his tail a little lower or a little higher or a little faster than another individual. It is important for owners to get to know their dog’s body language. Although it is fun to try to guess what our dogs are feeling with their tail language, it is absolutely essential to look at your dog’s over-all body language to truly decipher what he may be feeling. The tail does not tell it all.