Expressive dog, cat tails have meaning
We have a cat and dog, and both seem to have such expressive tails. Is there a common tail language, or is it all just individual expression?
Answer: Cats do share a common tail language. A confident cat holds its tail high, straight up in the air like a chopstick, and wants you to know that it is a fine-feeling feline. It is also a warm greeting as if to say aloha. If the top third of its tail twitches as it walks toward you, this means you are the cat's meow.
A tail that rounds at the top like a question mark is an invitation to play or give it a nice rub. If just the tip twitches, it is letting you know that it is curious and excited. Just as you would wrap your arm around a friend, a tail wrapped around another animal or you is a loving gesture of friendship.
While a tail pointed downward parallel to the legs can represent aggression, a tail puffed out like a bottle brush means it is agitated and afraid.
Q: Does my dog's tail also tell me things?
A: Canines are much more complex. For a dog it is just the tail end of a system of body language that accompanies vocalization and body postures.
A wagging tail can indicate joy or irritation. But whether the dog means it as an invitation to play or to warn another being to back off depends on other body language. For example, if its ears are erect and pointing forward, and it is in the classic "play bow" position, it is inviting you to play.
A tail that is held higher, whether wagging or not, indicates dominance and an increased interest in something. If the end of the tail arches over the back and is twitching, you could be faced with an aggressive dog.
Regardless, a dog's tail begs for you to listen. Studies show that tails generally do not wag when no one is around. When a person feeds a dog, it may wave its tail in satisfaction. But if a food bowl is already full and no one is around, the tail will not wag, as there is no one around to tell it is happy.
The Hawaiian Humane Society welcomes questions by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. Indicate "Pet Ohana" in the subject line. Or, write "Pet Ohana," Hawaiian Humane Society, 2700 Waialae Ave., Honolulu 96826.