If I Only Had a Tail…

This is the time of year that I regret not having a tail. If I had one, I could curl it around my nose as did Nellie and Polly this morning, the thermometer descending toward single digits. Better yet, I could use it to wag from the shoulders back, like Willie does when Jim comes home. Or perhaps I could toss it up into the air, stiff and straight, and leave a committee meeting in a huff, my tail rising up like a standard held high in medieval England. I’m not sure where that image comes from, given that I’ve never left a committee meeting in a huff in my life. But then, it doesn’t mean I haven’t wanted to, and if I did, wouldn’t a raised tail make it that much more effective?

The fact is, tails are amazing things. Just look at all the functions that tails provide: BALANCE (see Willie on the left), WARMTH (foxes), SOCIAL SIGNALS (see earlier blogs on tail wagging translations and lateralization in tail wags), LOCOMOTION (fish), PREDATOR DEFENSE (lizards who drop their tails if caught, deer who flash the underside of their tails when pursued), THERMOREGULATION (Ah Ha! Now we know why those poor rats have naked tails.), COURTSHIP (see the elegant Tom turkey below), WEAPONRY (alligators and scorpions), PEST DEFENSE (horses), GRASPING (New World Monkeys and prehensile tails). Whew. No wonder I’m feeling the lack of a tail.

willie and frisbee 12-11                     220px-Gall-dindi                    220px-Jydske-rear

 

We actually begin life with a tail, but in almost all cases, it is absorbed by the body long before we are born. We’re left with nothing but a tail bone composed of a few vertebrae fused together, that primarily functions to hurt like hell if you fall on it. Trust me.

Tails have been on my mind lately not just because my nose has been cold and I’m jealous of Willie’s ability to let Jim know how happy he is to see him. (We humans do have other ways after all.) After reading Quaranta’s research on laterality in tail wagging, I’ve found myself watching Willie’s tail more than ever. A lot. You might recall the research: The dogs in the study wagged more to the right when facing their owners, and more to their left when facing a dog in a threatening posture. In addition, in 2013 Vallortigara and colleagues found that the heart rate of dogs was elevated when watching dogs whose tails wagged more to the left than right. All this suggests that a right-handed tail wag is a sign of a relaxed or happy dog, while a wag more to the left might suggest a certain amount of anxiety. Ever since then I’ve been watching Willie’s tail, and in summary: It is all over the place. This morning I walked down the stairs, while Willie stood at the bottom. As I began to descend, his tail clearly wagged more to his left. As I got closer to the bottom of the stairs, his tail wagged more to the right. Hummm. Clearly this is a complicated issue, but Vallortigara’s research is a fantastic start.

I leave you with three suggestions: First, start watching your dog carefully, really carefully, to see if there is a difference in lateralization. I will continue to the same. Second, here is a video of Willie and Tootsie, wagging their tail in two contexts (dining room and at the base of the stairs as I walk down.) You’ll note a ridiculous amount of me cooing to them; I found that the best way to elicit tail wags without leaving the house for a while.) If you want to play, watch the videos and evaluate the wags of either or both dogs. I’d suggest watching a few times, then beginning to focus on one dog at a time. Continue watching until you are confident you have seen what there is to see, and practice describing what you’ve observed clearly and concisely. I’ll read your comments and we can get back together about what we are seeing, or think we see, (or don’t see) sometime next week.

 

Third, I invite you to enter a contest based on the fact that I can’t get the following song from The Wizard of Oz out of my head. Your job, should you decide to accept it, is to channel Ray Bolger, and come up with an equivalent song about having a tail. I’ll continue skipping down the yellow brick road while you do.

Here are the words to replicate, except with a tail as a focus:

I could wile away the hours
Conferrin’ with the flowers
Consultin’ with the rain
And my head I’d be scratchin’
While my thoughts were busy hatchin’
If I only had a brain

I can’t wait to read the entries! Send yours in by Wednesday December 18th, and we’ll get the book of your choice sent out right away (signed, of course, by me and Willie, after I teach him to write.)

 

MEANWHILE, back on the farm. Did someone mention that it’s winter? Oh yes, I think I read that somewhere. That might explain the frigid weather, the snow on the ground and the roaring wind. Brrrr. At least we missed the two feet of snow west of here. Any of our readers stuck in the storm?

The kitties are doing a lot of tail curling, given the frigid weather. King Charles seems oblivious, and has completed his mission. All four ewes selected to be bred have an ovine version of a scarlet A on their rump. Actually, King Charles has done more than his job, given that he got through a gate that I thought I had carefully latched… You know the rest. Willie and I found the entire flock up the hill together, King Charles standing possessively by Spot, a ewe I do not want bred again. Spot had triplets last year, each of whom needed to be hand fed for nine weeks because Spot’s udder went on strike. As it did the year before. Most producers would load Spot onto a truck and ship her out for mutton, but I am committed to keeping ewes into their dotage if they’ve been working for me producing lambs in the past. It’s their retirement policy, and I’m not a fan of businesses that promise one thing, and then change their minds when it doesn’t suit them. Thus, Spot and I are stuck with each other. Luckily, there is the equivalent of a “morning after” pill for sheep, so Spot will join the rest of the flock who have been taken out of the breeding pool, and be available for Willie and I to work while the others are nursing baby lambs. Whew. Yet another reason to thank my veterinarian.

Here’s Mr. Willie with his first “play in the snow” photo. Oh dear, I fear that “My Dog Plays in the Snow” pictures are a tad trite, but to those of us who live in the frozen north, we never tire of watching our dogs play after the first snow fall. Sorry, can’t help myself. But hey, notice that tail?

 

willie snow

 

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    Just some food for thought:
    My dog recently was wagging exclusively to the right, so much so that I actually thought that something was wrong with him so off to the vet we went. Turns out, his left anal gland was impacted.

  2. says

    I could lash away sadness
    Beatin’ hearts with the gladness
    Wagglin’ all the same
    And my friends would be laughin’
    While my bum was busy dancin’
    If I only had a tail!

  3. Gordon says

    I don’t know. Until someone proves me wrong…and by “proof”, I mean “proof” and not an opinion based on anecdotal observation, I’ll continue to be skeptical that which side a dog wags its tail on in any given situation is anything other than habit, the excitement of the moment, the way the hair falls, or any other inconsequential reason.

    But, I will admit that it makes for some amusing and entertaining conversation. :)

  4. Jacqueline says

    Sadly, my boy Simon Von’Wusburger has a docked tail. (Wish it was illegal in the US like it is in the UK). He is a 7 month old English Springer Spaniel. I am finding it difficult to read his signals. His hackles will raise if he is scared, but tail and floppy ears are tough for me to read. But, he does have the cutest but wiggle when he is happy (all the time). He does not just wag his tail, he wags his whole bottom. And if real excited (all the time) he wags his whole body!

  5. Terrie says

    After hearing about the study, I’ve been watching as well. My papillion wiggles her whole body, so I’m not sure which way her tail goes. My Lhasa wags his tail when he wants to be fed — but only on the left.

  6. Rick Hollis says

    Ever since I first read the note on tail wagging I have been trying to figure out which direction our Bella wags her tail more. All I can say is it is a lot easier with dogs with longer tails. she is a Brittany and her tail is short that is hard to tell. Plus she wags it like your little dog and her whole butt wiggles when she wags.

  7. Ann Katona says

    We have owned and shown (In just about all venues) our versatile Rottweilers for 30 years. Of late there has been quite a bit of fervor over docking or not docking the Rottie, here in the U.S. Has really caused a split with Rottie owners and clubs. I am used to seeing the breed docked. I could really go either way. I said that until…

    I now have a Borzoi. Quite a change from the Rotties! However, I am amazed as to how the Borzoi uses its tail!! More than simply expressing itself!! I will now seek out video of working Rotties in Europe and pay close attention as to how the tail is used when the dog is working.
    I also wonder if the docked breeds are often “misread” by other dogs.

  8. Gordon says

    Hmmm. Channeling my inner Ray Bolger. As frightening and disturbing as that might initially seem, I just might give it a go. December 18th, you say. Ok, then…..

  9. liz says

    My observations on tail wags are generally in agreement with the study. It seems a left-sided wag often accompanies other anxious behaviors like tongue flicking, yawning, or stillness in the body.

    What’s been especially intriguing since the study came out is what the heck a “snake wag” means. I refer to it as the snake wag, not a particularly appealing name, because it reminds me of those segmented, hinged snake toys. It’s a wag that has no directionality. The tail just rolls back and forth as if it’s hinged in a dozen places. This is counter to a wag at the base or tip, it’s wagging through each piece of the tail! The rolling motion amazes me. I also have really happy connotations with this type of wag because I usually see it when my dogs have found the scent of something strong and appealing. (A mouse hole, horse poop, the ball that we’d been searching for for too long.) It seems to be the wag of joyful discovery. But because they seem to be at their happiest, I wonder if I’m missing any right-handedness to the wag or if it’s truly symmetrical?

    Such a fun topic- will have no choice but to think about the contest and wagging video!

  10. Judi Haft says

    Fun stuff about what way a tail wags and why. I’m not sure they really had enough dogs in the study to make it statistically valid, but then again, does it really matter? My Cairn mix when he’s really happy, his tail is high over the top of his back and slightly curled and goes back and forth evenly.

    In response to your Ray Bolger request…

    I could wile away the hours
    Chewin’ up all the flowers
    Bringing in the mail
    And my nose I’d be a lickin’
    While my rear end was busy tickin’
    If I only had a tail

  11. Ayelet says

    Tootsie:
    First half of video tail was wagging to the right. At one point she let out what I can only assume was an annoyed “sneeze” or a harrumph and then the tail was mainly wagging to the left.

    Willie: harder to read because it seemed like tail circles. He did send out calming signals half way through with two body stretches (first down dog and then up dog). He also licked his lips, yawned and looked away. His tail, though mainly circles, had an emphasis to the right half way through which is confusing because he was licking his lips and yawning during this time .

    And now the song:
    I could sleep away the day-time,
    Just worry about play-time,
    Never bother with the mail.
    I would spend my days chasin’
    And my shadow I’d be racin’
    If I only had a tail!

  12. EmilySHS says

    I’d beguile away the squirrels
    With my fancy twirls
    Confound ‘em with my sail
    And the ducks I’d be tollin’
    With my brush busy rollin’
    If I only had a tail

    I could flag when I saw Tuffy
    And wag when I saw Fluffy
    At the vet’s I’d tuck
    With my tail I’d be talkin’
    When I was out a-walkin
    But a Corgi’s outta luck

    My current dog does have a tail, and ever since I read that report, I’ve watched her… she doesn’t do it all the time, but when she greets her Most Favorite People, or me after an absence or first thing in the morning, she is outrageously lateral–her entire body curved and the tail wagging hard hard right–doesn’t even break the mid-line. Other contexts, not as much.

  13. Margaret McLaughlin says

    What about circle wags? My Elly used to run agility with her tail spinning so fast it looked like a propeller was pushing her around the course. I always took it to mean that she was happy & excited, but I’d be interested to hear other possible interpretations.

  14. Rose C says

    Interesting to learn the many other functions of tails in different animals. Also interesting to learn that tail can provide balance — in which case, all the more we humans should have one to keep us from falling on our so-called tail bones (yup, done that too!).

    From the video, it is a bit hard to see exactly if there is laterality in Willie and Tootsie’s tails because their bodies partially block the way by which I can view them. Also, their tails’ fur fringes could possibly make it appear to be moving in a way that it is actually not. However, I can still point out what I *think* I saw:

    Tootsie:
    - appears to me to be wagging to her right in the beginning
    - increase in speed corresponded to your verbal cooing
    - even more increase in speed and amplitude and appears equal in laterality as you motioned closer to them
    and as she stood up to come closer
    - appears to wag more to the left as she sat at the base of the stairs (maybe she is starting to wonder
    what is it that you want for her to do or just wondering what’s next?)

    Willie:
    - tail not moving in the beginning, looked at Tootsie, tail started wagging corresponding to your cooing
    (also at 1:00)
    - also increase in speed and amplitude as you coo and motion towards them
    - appears like a mid height circle wag more to his right

    *Hard to keep observing tail wags for hours without getting dizzy or a headache but I do believe there is meaning to tail wag laterality unless there is some structural or physiological limitation in the dog. Would be interested to see definitive conclusions to other tail wag studies as well.

  15. Maryk says

    You talk about Willie using his tail for balance; my Gracie (cardigan welsh corgi) does the same with hers.

    When she goes down a flight of stairs, her tail goes in a continuous clockwise circle all the way down. Every time. Very funny to watch if you’re following behind her.

  16. Claudia says

    they’re both clearly thinkin’,

    “Is she going on about that tail waggin’ thing again? Ok, here we go. Maybe there’s a treat in it when she finally comes down the stairs.”

    I wonder if the left/right thing really has any significance, if there are left-tailed dogs and right-tailed dogs. They may not all be expressing the same emotion on the same side ;)

  17. Frances says

    I know exactly what you mean about tail bone pain. A GP once cheerfully told me I was born with a straight coccyx, but after falling on it a few times it was curving nicely …

    Sophy, my Papillon, has a wonderful tail, and often uses it to keep her nose warm. She is not a great tail wagger, flicking more than wagging – perhaps a high tail carriage inhibits wagging? – but her tail is extremely expressive even so. I do wonder if dogs with high, curving tails that fall to one side follow the same left/right pattern when wagging – or even whether the side the tail falls is an indicator of mood or general temperament. Now there is a whole new research area…

  18. AL says

    I could use it running weave poles,
    Or sending social signals
    Catch a Frisbee without fail
    I could waggle with delight
    To the left or to the right
    If I only had a tail

  19. LisaW says

    One of our dogs came with a docked tail so not much to watch, although after about six months, she started wiggling her stump when she is happy or expecting a treat or a ball toss. Our other dog thumps her tail a lot. Her tail is her greeting, her appeasement gesture, her pleading, her barometer of the room, and her ballast. Her tail is always moving except when she’s asleep and even then it will do a few thumps on occasion.

    I’ve wanted a tail many times, almost as many times as I’ve watched the Wizard of Oz. So much fun singing the Scarecrow’s Song. Here’s my adaptation:

    We could lay prone in the fallows
    And wade through all the shallows
    What things we could unveil
    If it’s hot it will cool us
    Nothing much will ever fool us
    Oh the wonders of a tail

  20. Gordon says

    Frances. That’s my position. I have Alaskan Malamutes. Their tails are of the high flying waving plume variety. The tip of their tails (although my female is a long hair, so her “tip”, like the rest of her tail, are foot-long strands of hair) do tend to “fall” to one side or the other when at rest. At the risk of treading on thin ice, I contend that this is no different than the tailor asking male humans if they “dress left” or “dress right”. It has no significance other than that is the way it is so the tailor can, um, make the proper alteration. Same with my dogs tails while at rest. It just falls one way or the other.

    On another subject… The “if I only had a tail” contest is intriguing, especially getting to see all the other entrants before I submit my own (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, knowwhatImean?).

  21. says

    Another spin: I’ve been working on turning the right side of my body toward the dogs and wiggling in a right-more direction to see whether they react any differently. I think they think I’m a little nuts.

  22. emdee says

    My new dog is missing her left back leg, so her tail almost always stays to the left, whether wagging or still — for balance, I imagine. Pretty amazing how the body adapts! But, she’s also a bit aggressive with unfamiliar dogs (a rather heartbreaking surprise after taking her home from the shelter — we’re working on it), so perhaps she would have always wagged her tail to the left!

    Here’s my song entry, inspired by my parents’ dogs — forgive the rhyme scheme; I’m a prose gal.

    The Corgi’s Song (Long Tails are Overrated):

    My family is laughing
    While my tail is busy wagging
    And asking for the ball
    They say it’s just a-twitching
    So now I dream of switching…
    If I only had a tail!

    My best friend’s tail is glorious
    Amongst tails, it reigns victorious
    As she wags it to and fro
    A fan of Golden fur –
    Oh, I could be just like her
    If I only had a tail!

    Her tail attracts attention
    But it’s worth a mention
    The cat has seen it too!
    Teeth and claws meet tails a-swishin’
    And I’d be wishin’ I was twitchin’
    If I only had a tail!

  23. Joe says

    Recently met a very friendly hound (Kind of half Bluetick and half Black-and-tan) who wags his tail in a circle much of the time. When he wags it laterally, it goes from very full left to very full right, and back again, but it’s mostly circular. I have no interpretation to offer, beyond “Gee, I’m glad to see you–Can we go outside and play, please? Oh, and I need to pee.”

  24. liz says

    I’d be proud to show the dogs,
    Be as nimble crossing logs,
    Or traipsin’ down a trail
    Just imagine all our fun,
    Waggin’ til the day is done,
    If I only had a tail

    By many other measures,
    Could I express my pleasures,
    But one way would ne’er fail,
    A glance in my direction,
    Would show them my affection,
    If I only had a tail

  25. Tina says

    What liz referred to as a snake wag, i call a puppy wag, and it is usually related to play or chasing lizards & rodents in brush. And puppies seem to snake wag continually…

    I have not yet been able to observe right vs. left differences, but I am on the lookout. Whenever a family member returns home my mixed breed gives the helicopter wag.

    Also dogs ears are great, too. I wish I could change the angle of my ears to keep the cold wind from blowing in!

  26. Wendy W says

    As I head to work each morning,
    And Hope reverts to snoring,
    My thoughts go down this trail…
    With my friends I’d now be strolling,
    And in cat poop I’d be rolling,
    If I only had a tail!

    Disclaimer: While I am not a particular fan of stray cat poop, my dog Hope tells me it smells/tastes great and – if applied liberally to the neck ruff – serves as a fabulous way of soliciting attention just before departures and bedtime.

    As for Hope’s tail – I’ve been watching it while doing trick training. I find that shifts to the left seem to signal uncertainty or frustration, while shifts to the right seem to signal happiness and/or confidence.

  27. Wendy W says

    Oh my… does anyone know how to get this ditty out of one’s head?

    What would life be like with Hopie
    My always joyous puppy
    If bod’s could be conjoined?
    I would savor every minute
    Being happy I was in it
    If she’d only share her tail.

    Her heart… her nose… who knows where this will goes… :-)

  28. Mary Wildavsky says

    Wags bring joy to my heart and a smile to my face, even when I am sad or feeling low. I know this from my own dogs. I watched the video of Tootsie and Willie, then I watched it again and again, (and with the sound off!), and each time it triggered the same smiles and the same almost physical joyous sensation in my chest. I am not sure that my two greyhounds wag with quite such intensity (I must focus more), but my little Cavalier X, Remy, has the best Wags, and my old Dobie/Rottie, Winston, taught me about Maximum Wag, when the tail just goes at multiple rpms for 240 degrees – “I love you Mom!” Wow!!! As Mary Oliver writes: “Could there be a sweeter arrrangement?”

  29. Trisha says

    Ah, Wendy W, I’m so happy to share the pain. I CAN’T get the melody out of my head either, not since I first thought of this idea last week.

    Good idea Mary W to watch the video with the sound off (especially with the sound off!) to cheer a person up. That brings up such an interesting question. WHY do wagging tails make us feel so good. Is it all learned, or is there some component that is innate? (Which could be problematic, since a cat wagging its tail is not a happy cat…, for that matter, neither are all dogs who are wagging.)

  30. Stacey says

    My mixed breed dog Moose had a high set tail that curves up over his back – like you see on the Spitz family.

    The tip generally sits to the left but i observed his wagging today during play, when greeting me home after a short absence and again when collecting him after ducking into the corner store and in response to me he definitely is wagging it to the right.

    The whole tail windmills but the base and thrust of the wag is to the right and the greater his response the easier it is to see.

    Will have to see if I can see some left handed wagging – shouldn’t be difficult, there is always a couple of “rude” dogs at the park ;)

  31. Ben says

    Wow, cool. The first time I watched the video I was like “these people have gone crazy, the tails are wagging in both directions.” Then I watched it once for each dog.

    I agree with Ayelet.

    Tootsie for the first half or so of the video is wagging to her right (our left). Then after that, Tootsie is wagging to her left. Willie is harder to read, I think. But around the 1:00 – 1:15 it seems to me that he is wagging to his right.

    I found that instead of paying attention to any particular part of the tail, it helps to just focus on the tail/butt region and look at what the dogs motion is. Especially with Tootsie, its easy to tell the direction because (say she is wagging left) she really throws the tail left HARD, and then when the tail goes right it is more of a wind-up. Although the tail does extend more to the right than to left, I think its easier to ignore the displacement and focus on the motion. The problem with displacement is we are not at right angles with the dogs.

    I do think that with only one study out, the only way you can draw anything from how/why a dog wags its tail is to study that particular dog closely. I would bet that there is too much individuality among dogs’ wagging habits for one study to tell you much. Even with a large enough amount of studies, you’re looking at averages. Many dogs are not average.

  32. Robin Jackson says

    Interesting stuff. However, I wonder if they figured in the fact that some dogs definitely show “handedness”–that is, they have a dominant paw, and favour either left or right to do things with, like reach under the couch for a lost toy or treat.

    As for our dogs…Dilly throws his whole body into every possible direction, so there’s a lot of tail wagging going on, but the body is moving around at the same time! And this is a big dog with a long tail. But like most Danes, I suspect he’s a switch hitter–his tail goes left, right, and around in circles all in the same session.

    This isn’t my dog, but it’s very typical Great Dane happy dance tail AND body wagging. And the tail is definitely going both left and right.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Uqq3ef5V3s

    And this closeup from yet another Great Dane I don’t know is the “horizontal metronome” that’s classic for the breed. Although this one seems to be a lot less wiggly than most of the ones I know.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1i35Ndj79M

    I’m not seeing any preferred direction in these–am I misunderstanding the concept?

  33. HFR says

    I wonder if it is the same reason as when people see people they love laughing, it always makes them laugh and feel super good. I think that’s how it is with our dogs, it brings us joy to see them joyful. And because we love all dogs, it makes us happy to see even dogs we don’t know wag their tails. And to add to the body wag, how about the tap dance? My larger dog does this. He wags his whole body and does a little tap dance with his front feet. The phrase “barely contain myself” comes to mind. For me tho, the thing that makes me most happy is watching 2 dogs play with each other. Face fighting especially…oh my goodness, I could just watch that all day and I am incapable of not smiling while doing so. I guess their wag is our smile?

  34. Jackie d says

    My springer has a different reason for wagging to the left – since a foreleg injury over a year ago she got so me secondary stiffness in her back and now I can reliably tell whether she is feeling a bit achy by how much she is carrying her tail to that side.

    I shall therefore concentrate my wagging observations on my other dog, who gets very stressed so if there is a difference it might be a useful thing to notice.

    Both my dogs are half docked but I find that leaves quite a lot of fluffy tail to observe the signals of. (I am in the uk, but it’s still legal to dock working dogs, and anyway they are both Irish rescues who were docked before they came over.)

  35. Margaret says

    Interesting to hear from other owners of dogs with curved tails. My dog has a fluffy, tightly curled tail (we think he’s an elkhound or an elkhound mix, though don’t know a ton about his background) and I realized that we’ve always characterized his tail wags more as speed and gesture to the extent to which they have nicknames. Sometimes he almost shakes it like a pom pom and sometimes it ticks back and forth like a speedy metronome. When he’s scared, concentrating or ticked off, he can mostly uncurl it. and then generally doesn’t wag it. He’s much more people than dog oriented and sometimes seems to have what I’d call a low social IQ for dogs ; ) I have from time to time wondered whether some of that is that he gets and sends less information with his tail than, say, a golden retriever.

  36. Peter E says

    This song has been stuck in my head now for three days. I once read a science fiction story about a song that had to be passed to somebody else (as kind of a curse) to get rid of it. So on the off-chance there might be something to that:

    Whether Labrador or Shih Tzu,
    when doggies come to meet you,
    I really don’ wanna’ fail.
    All the puppies I am meetin’
    sure would get a better greetin’
    if I…..

  37. Megan says

    It’s up most every morning
    and wagging without warning
    this glorious tail of mine

    It’s a swishing and a swaying
    telling all I’m up for playing
    is this glorious tail of mine

    My tail wags with hopes for all to see
    Nothing alarming comin from me
    There’s such a thrill
    It can’t stay still ,Are you with me?
    So full of glee

    A tale can be told by tail
    I’m not talking sending mail
    The way we wave it to and fro

    Expressing my heart’s a blessing
    and I am just a guessing
    There’s no better job for my tail !

  38. em says

    @ Robin Jackson,

    Great videos of waggy danes! I have to say, though, I think that the vid of the bouncy puppy showed quite a pronounced rightward wag. It was harder to see a difference in the calmer dog. I’ve been trying to get a read on my own dogs and having pretty much the same experience- Sandy is an effusive wagger and body curler- she shows quite a bit of rightward preference.

    Otis is not really a wagger most of the time. He’s careful and conservative with his motion most of the time in general, and his wagging behavior is quite limited. He whips his tail around for balance, does a bit of a slow metronome when excited- such as in greeting or waiting for something to happen and small, restrained mini-wags when greeting someone new (I think there are some mixed feelings when I see these wags- anticipation, happiness, anxiety- he’s not really one to wag all that much when truly relaxed and happy, I see it more often when he’s slightly stressed (even if in a good way). He will wag a bit like the puppy in the video during excited play, though, and I thiiiink it’s right-leaning, but it’s hard to get a bead on because I’m often focused on his head and shoulders when he is roughhousing- trying to see if I need to leap out of the way. What I notice about his wagging during these times is the broad sweeping motion, sometimes snaky, using a slightly raised tail, often with ‘emotion moves’ seemingly interspersed between ‘balance moves’. He’s a hard one to get a good read on, though, which is surprising, given the length of his tail!

  39. Ben says

    Robin: I think in both of those videos, the dogs are wagging right. In both videos, its easier to tell in the first half of the video compared to the second (angle, etc). Its really a subtle thing to pick up on though (at least it takes a fair amount of concentration for me). Everything happens so fast you have a lot to pick up on. And I could be wrong. But I do think both those dogs are wagging right. See my first post on this page for a description of how I analyze the wag. It has more to do with watching how the dog is moving than viewing where the tail ends up. More emphasis seems to be put in one direction, even though the tail goes both directions.

  40. Beth with the Corgis says

    I have tailless dogs, so I can’t tell where they wag. I just wanted to throw out there, for those who wonder if tail issues interfere with dog-dog communications; one of mine is totally bombproof with other dogs, and we meet many, many dogs whose owners say they are iffy with other dogs who love Jack. I have noticed he seems to slightly exaggerate other postures (ears, etc); I wonder if it’s in compensation? He was intensely socialized with other dogs as a puppy.

  41. Diane Jonas Locker says

    I could signal with an angle
    Fierce or saucy, or a-dangle
    As I stop to inhale
    And my whole rear I’d be waggin’
    When my folks’d join me playin’
    If I only had a tail

    I would perk an ear and listen
    Before I’d give a frisson
    To that portion of my frame
    Such a figure you’d see standin’
    Fine and dandy, so commandin’
    If my tail I could just tame!

    Oh I would wave it high
    When new and excitin’ things go by
    But I’d also sometimes have to tuck it low
    If scared or wo- rried, sayin’ “Whoa!”

    Left or right, now pay attention!
    High or low, say, did I mention
    I’d hoist a fine top sail
    And my thoughts you’d be knowin’
    Sure enough they’d be showin’
    If I only had a tail

  42. Diane Jonas Locker says

    Meant to mention with my verses: we miss our English Cockers, who had docked tails but still managed to be quite expressive with that end of their anatomy, as did the Kerry Blue, with a less severely docked but still just handle-sized “mast,” I had as a kid.

  43. Kat says

    If I Only Had a Tail

    I would wag it by the hours
    Sniffing pee upon the flowers
    When hiking on a trail
    It’d be my balance running
    And my shade when sunning
    If I only had a tail

    I’d wrap it round my paws
    And I’d grab it in my jaws
    It would be my best plaything

    I’d show all my emotions
    My tail would make the motions
    It would nearly sing

    I’d knock down all the fragile
    I’d sweep it ‘cross the floor
    I’d wag in ways that no one has
    Ever seen before

    I’d wave it to and fro
    My state of mind to show
    In a kind of canine Braille
    To the left when things are crappy
    To the right when I am happy
    If I only had a tail.

    Ranger has a magnificent plume of a tail and Finna has a short little stub. Both of them have the light colored tip that makes it easier to see what they are ‘saying’ although in Ranger’s case his white tail tip is three inches long and in Finna’s case it is about six tan hairs that twine together at the very tip of her black stub.

    I confess to finding their tails endlessly fascinating. Ranger is very easy to read and generally expresses relaxed confidence. One thing I’ve noticed that I find especially interesting is that when hanging out with Huskies Ranger will carry his tail high over his back and curled, very much like the normal Husky tail carriage. He doesn’t do this at any other time or with any other breed (Sheba Inus and Spitzes also have the high curved carriage but he doesn’t carry his tail that way for them, maybe it’s a size thing?). I think his tail usually has a right wag bias but it’s subtle.

    Finna’s little stub usually expresses the fact that she is frantically conflicted. She’d like to be happy to see you but she still expects that you’re going to do something terrifyingly unpredictable. I work really had at being predictable for her and as a result when she sees me the bias is to the right but with everyone else it is frantically helicoptering with a left bias. I’m surprised at how well I’ve learned to read her stub in the two years she’s lived with us. In the beginning it was really hard for me to understand what it was telling me. I was used to living with a dog with very clear tail diction (if I can call it that) and now I had to learn to understand a dog with a tail speech impediment.

    Knowing how had it was for me to learn to read a little short tail (Finna’s stub is maybe 4 inches long) makes me wonder if there’s a correlation between lack of tail and canine social skills. My unscientific observation is that dogs with short or absent tails are less successful socially in a group of dogs. They tend to be the one being ganged up on or ignored. Some of them do just fine without a long tail and are social butterflies but more of them seem to me to be the socially unsuccessful.

  44. Suzanne says

    I’d go hoppin’ and a’skippin’
    Lickin’ and a’sniffin’
    Onward down the trail…
    My glee would not be mistakin’
    My whole behind would be shakin’
    If I only had a tail!

  45. Hank Simon says

    I’ve noticed that my dogs apply their tails for two other uses:
    1. When their rears were stiff from arthritis, their tails may stick out to the side of the stiffness
    – balance? Pain?
    2. Unrelated to the above (?), when I scratch their rears, in addition to jiggling them to get my hand to the correct spot, they’d wrap their tail loosely around my hand – to help?
    Both behaviors were repeated by 3 dogs [Lab or GSD mixes] many times over multiple years.

    I only watched Willie:
    At first, he looks at you, then looks at Tootsie.
    When you talk, his ear open slightly, and tail wags low.
    As you continue videoing and cooing, his tail seems to circle more to your right.
    As you begin to move (to come down?), he wags more, appearing to playbow ( show submission?)
    He stretches forward, appearing to be more receptive to you.
    But he also scratches, and yawns, not clear about what you are doing, or why you’re moving slowly?
    I guess you stop coming down, b/c he licks his lips. Then he lowers his ears, looking to your right, then left.
    [Note, I tease my dog by staring at him, to get him to play... He will show these behaviors, just above.
    I interpret it as a reaction to my 'rude' staring .... maybe as if I were sticking my tongue out at a person.]

    I feel you’d get different responses, if someone else ran the video, or if you just stood at the base of the stairs, or if you walked continuous towards them. The stop&go motion, and the videoing might be complicating parameters.

    Song:

    When I set my rear a’ twerkin’
    Smoother friendships would start workin’
    Just flowin’ like fine ale
    I’d be strutin’ and be stalkin’
    And by waggin’, I’d be talkin’
    If I only had a tail.

  46. Claire says

    They took mine when I was wee
    With a long one how cool I’d be!
    but a nub will have to do
    I could knock things off the table!
    I could wag so much more able!
    These thoughts kinda make me blue

    My balance would be better
    In the river I’d be an otter!
    but a nub will have to do
    I could whack so many shins!
    and beg so many more muffins!
    if my tail miraculously grew

    I actually don’t care
    what length of tail I wear
    I’m just a simple mutt
    I wiggle my behind so quick!
    I can wiggle and I can lick!
    I tell my mom I love her with my butt

  47. Wendy W says

    As our Christmas gift to Trisha
    Why don’t we join to wish her
    Sweet dreams with cherished tail…
    Endowed, with Will she could be leaping
    And his Frisbee slyly sneaking
    Then delight us with the tale!

  48. Sera says

    I could wag away my feelings
    Consultin other’s leanings
    Conferrin without fail..

    And my foes I’d be warning
    While my nose I’d be warming
    If I only had a tail

  49. Chris from Boise says

    Feeling great or feeling yuck,
    Is it high or in a tuck?
    You would know it without fail.
    Instead of barks and squealin’
    You would know just what I’m feelin’
    If I only had a tail.

    Oh, how to tell you “Wow!”
    That is what this tail is for,
    I would wag at you, the one that I adore -
    And then I’d wag, and wag some more!

    If my spirits were a’saggin’
    my tail would not be waggin’ –
    it would tell you that I ail.
    But to tell you my delight
    I would wag it to the right,
    if I only had a tail.

  50. Lynnda L in Mpls says

    I like the first song lyircs — Nicole on 12/9/13.
    Just a comment on Tootsie — I have only watched the video once — she wags vigorously like my field-bred English cocker. After all Cavaliers were bred down from hunting spaniels so they are cousins way far back. My cocker’s tail, when he is awake, wags slow, fast, extra fast or “found a bird” fast [its a blur]. Just saying… her style of wag is very different than Willie’s.

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