Why Do Dogs Put Their Tails Between Their Legs?

dog tail between legs
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When I first dogsit my friend’s Chihuahua Coco, I could see how frightened Coco was. Throughout the day, Coco, the Chihuahua was barking a lot and slinking around the house with her tail between her legs. Could it be that she was feeling scared? Looking back, there were many other reasons why Coco had her tail between her legs (I will explain all of them below), but first the short and simple answer.  

Why do dogs put their tails between their legs? There are many reasons why dogs put their tails between their legs including feeling frightened, fearful, scared or showing submission. Your dog may not want other dogs to sniff her bottom area so she may put her tail between her legs to prevent any partnering attempt or to safeguard her vulnerable area. 

Why do dogs put their tail between their legs?

why do dogs put tail between legs
Chihuahua tail between legs

So why do dogs put their tails between their legs? The position of a dog’s tail tells us a lot about how our canine friends are feeling. 

For instance, when a dog is feeling happy, you can expect her tail to shoot right up and wag furiously or at a fast pace like there’s no tomorrow. This can occur when: 

  • Your canine friend is happy to see you.
  • When you pet your dog.
  • Your dog can’t wait to eat her food.
  • When your pooch sees her favorite toy.
  • Your furry friend is anticipating your return from home so you could both take a walk outside.

Other times, you may see your dog with her tail hanging and droopy with her body language appearing to tell you that she is sad.  

There are times when a dog can have her tail up or down in a natural and relaxed manner. This can show that the dog is calm and enjoying the moment. 

But, what if your dog keeps tail tucked between legs? If your dog keeps her tail tucked between her legs, then it is something you’ll need to pay close attention to. Her body language and her tail between her legs can tell you a lot about how she is feeling. 

Keep reading to find out what this tail behavior means, what you should be aware of, and how to help your dog during these times.

You might also like: My Dog Is Acting Drunk And Wobbly-Should I Be Concerned?

What does it mean when my dog’s tail is tucked between his legs?

why is my dog shaking and tail between legs
Dog tail between legs and shaking

Your dog’s tail is tucked between his hind legs because he is feeling afraid or scared. If your dog has his tail between his legs when there are other dogs around, it could be a sign of submission. Your dog may be afraid of other dogs. 

Sometimes if the owner yells at their dog, the dog could become frightened and will put his tail between his legs. Dogs that are constantly being tormented or shouted at will get into the habit of tucking their tail between their legs. 

This behavior shows how traumatized the dogs are and you’ll see this body language in dogs at rescue centers.

Why do dogs tuck their tails when they eat?

Just like we focus on our food when we eat, dogs also need to focus on their food when they’re eating. However, when dogs are hungry and want to eat but are scared of their surroundings, they will tuck their tails in when eating. 

This shows you that they’re trying to focus on their food while feeling hypervigilant of their surroundings in case they need to defend themselves. When a dog tucks its tail while eating, this behavior provides a sense of protection.

Every now and then I would dog sit my friend’s Chihuahua and I would notice her dog has tail between legs and shaking whenever it’s mealtime. The reason for this is because she’s in an unfamiliar environment (my house) and when she’s eating, she still feels afraid and vulnerable so she’ll have her tail tucked between her legs even while eating. 

Speaking of vulnerability, the dogs’ abdomen and especially their rear areas are their most vulnerable areas. When dogs feel afraid or threatened, they instinctively cover these areas with their tails in order to protect these vulnerable areas.

You may also be interested in: How Long Can A Dog Go Without Eating?

What does dog tail position mean?

When it comes to our dog’s tail position, it’s important to also read their body language and understand the environment they are in. Since dogs aren’t able to communicate with us verbally, we need to find out why their tails are tucked between their legs by reading their body language carefully.

The combination of your dogs’ tail position along with their body language is key to know how they are feeling. 

Below is a list of what the dog tail position means: 

  • Dog with tail down close to the legs: If this happens, most likely your pooch is feeling stressed, unsafe or insecure. 
  • Dog’s tail tucked tight between the hind legs: When this happens, your furry friend is feeling afraid, frightened, and scared. When dogs feel vulnerable, they often become submissive and this is a sign of submission. 
  • Dog with tail tucked slightly between the hind legs: Although your dog is still feeling afraid or frightened, he or she is refusing to be submissive and may attack if he needs to. 
  • Dog’s tail positioned slightly below the top line: Feeling hesitant and insecure, your pooch may position his tail slightly below the top line.    
  • Tail is held more up and wagging: This shows your furry friend is happy and excited and will wag his or her tail in large sweeping movements.
  • Tail is held more down and wagging: Your pooch wants to make sure he or she is safe and is gauging the situation by making small sweeping motions.   
  • Dog’s tail is held upright and stiff with slight wagging: When a dog’s tail is stiff and upright with slight wagging motions, it means beware. Don’t cross a dog that is feeling hostile and aggressive. 
  • Dog’s tail is horizontal and stiff with slight motion: Dogs on high alert or being hypervigilant will have their tails positioned horizontally.  
  • Tail is lowered, listless, and drooping: Dogs that are sick or not feeling well will often have a drooping lowered tail that is listless.   

Being knowledgeable about these different dog tail positions will help you determine how your furry friend is feeling and thinking. 

However, it’s important to note that not all dog breeds will show the exact tail language. For instance, when Chow Chow and Terrier breeds feel afraid or are being submissive, they won’t put their tails between their legs. 

Another example is dogs that do not have long enough tails to show you how they are feeling or thinking. Take French Bulldogs. They have such small stumpy tails that it’s almost nonexistent. Thus, they don’t have the ability to wag or even tuck their tails between their legs.

Dog’s tail is tucked between legs, why?

As you can see, your pups will tuck their tails between their legs to tell you that they are feeling scared, frightened, fearful, or being submissive. It’s also important to understand the situation your dog is in. 

Here are five situations that can cause a dog to place his tail between his legs. 

1. Dog tail tucked between legs to apologize for something bad he’s done

Your most expensive furniture was scratched badly and chewed on that it’s almost to the point of being unsalvageable. When you find out, you’re so appalled by this that you react by yelling at your dog. 

Some dog owners in this situation may even give their pooch an evil eye or glare. Whether you yell at them or give them the evil eye, they immediately know they have done something bad. 

Your dog reacts by slowly curling his tail inward between the legs, his body slouching over, dropping his head suddenly, and avoiding your eye contact. This body language is telling you this, “I apologize for ruining your furniture and I am very sorry. I beg your forgiveness.” 

Because your dog knows he is in trouble, he instinctively tucks his tail between his legs and wants to tell you he is sorry for his ill behavior.

2. Dog tail tucked between legs because he has made a mistake

In most cases, when dogs see your reaction to something bad, they already know they did something wrong even before you raise your voice. It’s safe to say that yelling at your dog is not necessary as dogs are very smart and will know they did something wrong as soon as they see your reaction. 

If you’ve caught your dog doing something bad and he gets caught again, he’ll walk away from the scene with his tail tucked between his legs which tells you he knows he did something wrong and is feeling ashamed.

3. Dog tail tucked between legs as a sign of submission

Owners should establish themselves as the alpha and let their dogs know they are in control. Once their dogs understand this, they will become submissive. Dogs tuck their tails between their legs when their pack leader is not happy with what they have done. 

When they get chastised by the pack leader, the dogs will put their tail between their legs. Not only does this show signs of apology but that they are being submissive. 

Since you are their pack leader, if they get reprimanded by you, they will tuck their tail between their legs to let you know that they apologize for their bad behavior and are being submissive to you. 

Keep in mind that there are certain dog breeds such as Beagles, Siberian Huskies, and German Shepherds that may refuse to accept you as the leader of the pack because they are very stubborn. Because of that, they may not see them tuck their tails between their legs.

4. Dog tail tucked between legs because he is in a new environment and feeling insecure

When a dog is in a new environment, they often feel confused, vulnerable, and scared. That’s because everything is new to them in this new environment and they don’t know what could hurt them. So anytime a dog is in an unfamiliar place, you’ll notice him tucking his tail between his legs. 

Unfamiliar places and situations could be a new house, meeting other dogs, first time at the dog park, at the vet or dog groomer, or even in someone else’s house with other dogs in that house. 

If you’re bathing your dog at home and you know how much he hates bath time, then you’ll most likely see his tail tucked between his legs. 

As you can see, being in an unfamiliar place can cause your dog to tuck his tail in between his legs to prevent another dog he doesn’t know to sniff his bottom or be near his abdomen. So in strange new places, make sure to keep your dog close to you so he feels safe and secure. 

5. Dog tail tucked between legs because she isn’t interested

Like us, our dogs sometimes need time alone and don’t want to be bothered. This is especially true when a female dog is in heat. If she doesn’t want a certain male dog to be with her, she may put her tail down between her legs. This helps to prevent any unwanted male dog from partnering with her. 

If you’re at a dog park and there are other male dogs who want to sniff her and mate with her, she may also tuck her tail down between her legs.  

So if your female pooch is in heat, comfort her and let her know she is safe. Make sure she isn’t bothered by other dogs, especially male dogs who may want to approach her. 

Final thoughts

As we can see, there are many reasons why dogs put their tails between their legs. We can’t always assume that our dogs tuck their tails between their legs because they are feeling sad or insecure. That’s not always the case. To really find out how our dogs are feeling or thinking, we must also read their body language as well as being aware of the environment they are in.

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