As far as we know, dogs can’t talk. But they sure are extremely skilled when it comes to expressing their feelings and communicating how they are feeling. They have been gifted with different tools that help them tell both humans and other dogs whatever it is they want to tell them: “I’m scared”, “I like you”, “I’m uncomfortable in this situation” and even things like “It’s time for dinner”.
Nevertheless, cracking doggo language might not be as easy as it seems. At the end of the day, it’s a brand new series of signs and symbols we need to understand.
On today’s blog, we’ll help you understand at least one of the most common things dogs do with their tail: tucking it between their legs. You will surely be surprised by the number of meanings it has.
What does a dog's tail between legs mean?
The tail is one of the most effective tools dogs have to communicate with others, it helps them to express themselves. And the list of things they can say just with the movement of their tail is pretty extensive. Today, we’ll go through the meanings of one particular movement: putting their tail between their legs.
Most people assume that a tail tucked between legs means that the pup is scared and fearful of something. Although this is in fact one of the meanings it has, there are many others. Let’s go through them.
Let’s talk a bit more about the most common reason why dogs put their tails between their legs: fear. Fear can be a result of an encounter with both humans and other dogs.
Your pup might tuck their tail when he is scared of another doggo. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the other pup did something to yours. Dogs can get scared of others because they feel the other one is dominant or simply just because.
Dogs can also be scared of people. Once again, this person might have done nothing wrong to your pup. But as you probably know, dogs are pretty good at decoding people’s vibes. So if your dog seems scared around another human, you might want to be careful.
Another reason why dogs tuck their tail between their legs is to show submission, either to another dog or to their human. There are dogs that are more dominant and ones more submissive than others. And that’s totally okay, as long as this doesn’t result in a violent physical aggression. When a dog senses another one is dominant, they might put their tail between their legs as a sign of submission. This behavior can also be accompanied by getting down on the ground with their belly up.
Dogs can also tuck their tail between their legs as a sign of submission to their human parents. Nevertheless, this shouldn’t happen 24/7. It mainly occurs when our dogs know they did something wrong or when we are telling them off.
The apology bow
Dr. Nathan Lents, a biologist and professor from New York’s City University, has adopted the term “apology bow” for the moment dogs tuck their tail because they have done something wrong and feel sorry about it.
What’s extremely interesting about his reasoning is that dogs have inherited this behavior from wolves and their pack mentality. Wolves do this when they know they have done something wrong and as a way to beg the alpha not to expel them from the pack.
This behavior is quite similar in dogs, the main difference is that the canine head of the pack has been replaced with their human parent. That’s why pups tuck their tail and leave their head hanging low whenever they go potty inside the house, destroy a sofa, rip the trash bag or eat some leftover food that was sitting on the counter.
If your pup shows these destructive behaviors, they might be experiencing some form of anxiety. Learn more about anxiety in dogs and how to treat it here. Heads up! One of the best ways to treat dog anxiety effectively is to use natural calming treats.
To protect themselves
When a dog is feeling frightened at the dog park, they might tuck their tail between their legs because they want to protect themselves, specifically, their genitals and abdomen. Instinctively, they feel like they need to protect these areas of their body, since they are extremely vulnerable.
Dogs might hide their tails between their legs when they are in a new environment where they feel uncomfortable or insecure. They are protecting themselves. This might be if a new dog is in the house, if there is a fight at the park and now they feel uncomfortable, if there are unknown guests in their house, if they are on at an unknown house or space, if they don’t like taking baths or if they feel uncomfortable when going to the vet.