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Why Do Dogs Hide Their Tails?

By: Alex Lieber

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The sight of a dog with his tail tucked between his legs tugs at the heartstrings. It looks as though the poor creature is so frightened he's trying to make himself as small as possible, or even to disappear.

That's pretty much the signal the dog wants to send. He's saying, "I'm not only no threat to you; I don't even take up much space. Please ignore me." By crouching and tucking his tail between the legs, a dog is actually trying to make himself look smaller.
Both males and females tuck their tails to signify submission. It's part of a repertoire of postures dogs adopt that communicate their mood and intentions. By tucking the tail, flattening the ears, and averting the eyes, a dog is transmitting his nervousness and apprehension about the situation.

A dog with a tucked tail may look pitiful, but a dog is not concerned with his reputation or pride. The display is deliberately exaggerated so there's no mistaking the signal. A word of warning though: Fear aggressive dogs often show ambivalent body language. This means that they might hunker down with tail tucked and hackles raised as they lunge and strike out at the offending creature.

Because dogs are social pack animals, they need to form hierarchies to maintain law and order. Each dog holds a rank in the pack, and that rank determines who eats first, who goes through an entryway first, and so on. Dogs feel comfortable when they know their place, even if it's a subordinate position. However, some dogs will challenge one another in an attempt to elevate their rank, especially if a higher ranker displays some weakness or uncertainty.

By means of an exaggerated display of tucking his tail and ear swivelling, a subordinate dog can often avoid a fight by indicating that he's not the more dominant dog. Two dogs meeting for the first time will also go through a ritual, including such signals, to establish which one is the top dog.

If a dog reacts to you by hiding his tail, you can reassure him by assuming a relaxed posture and by not staring at him. Don't try to approach a dog displaying such postures; instead let him get comfortable enough to approach you. Tossing a dog treat is a good way to indicate your friendly intentions.

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