Help me be friends with my tail-less pup
June 1, 2010 3:07 PM   Subscribe

My dog's tail was docked and she doesn't wag. How can I tell what she's feeling?

About a year ago, I adopted a corgi from a rescue. Her previous owners docked her tail quite closely. I've been around other dogs with docked tails - even had one growing up - but they all had something, a little bit of stumpy tail. They all wag. My dog doesn't seem to even have a stump, and she doesn't wag. She kind of sashays, because she's a corgi, but she doesn't have that whole butt-wiggling thing going on like other dogs.

Since we have been living together for a year, I have obviously picked up on some of her other body language. Unfortunately, I suspect she may have been abused by her previous owners, and much of her body language is fearful - cowering, running off when I walk near her, panting when she's anxious, etc.

I think I can tell what she doesn't like, but how can I tell what she does like?

(I'm one of those librarian MeFites. Book recommendations are always welcome.)
posted by rikhei to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How about her ears? When my dog is relaxed and happy her ears are ususally back and her eyes are not wide open. When she's feeling like she's in trouble her ears go down too, but then her eyes get big and I can see the whites. That's the tail between her legs posture. When she's tense and alert her eyes can be big, but that's when her ears are up. When she's upset scared and protective she gets a ridge of hair that stands up along her back, plus the alert ears.

Dogs have a lot of body language other than their tails, I think you'll pick it up with time.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:28 PM on June 1, 2010

I had a doberman that was docked but yeah, she still had a bitty little tail which she surely did wag, along with her butt. But she was also remarkably expressive, facially, and in the set of her ears, even the set of her walk, how she carried herself, and she'd talk, too, as best as she could, well enough to let most anyone awake know if she was happy, that's for sure. My next-door-neighbor has a herding dog, Benny, (border collie? the black/white/brown splotchy breed, often blue-eyed, her dog yellow eyed) that sings to you (me) with happiness, he talks all the time, and wiggles, and hops around, sets his ears up or down depending.

I guess what I'm saying here is that you'll get to know that pooch real well and learn its moods and how they are expressed. Look to it's eyes, for sure, the windows of the soul, right?
posted by dancestoblue at 3:40 PM on June 1, 2010

Amusing aside: one of my coworkers has a tail-less dog. When he's happy, he wags his entire backside. It's hard to see it and not die laughing.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:04 PM on June 1, 2010

It can take a really long time, sometimes years, for a dog to work through previous abuse. It's very possible that your dog will wiggle her whole behind in joy, but she just hasn't been able to yet, mentally. Keep treating her well and loving her right and she'll probably surprise you one day with new, positive body language that's as clear as crystal. Corgis are extremely smart, so she'll also figure out how to communicate with you as you learn her mannerisms. Dogs know that humans use their face to show emotion, so watch for what she does when you're obviously happy. When I would smile and laugh around my childhood dog, her ears would perk forward, and she'd prance a little, the way puppies do when they're all ready to go into super jumpy play mode. I hope your corgi works through her doggy issues successfully!
posted by Mizu at 4:19 PM on June 1, 2010

My greyhound had his entire tail, but we'd had him for quite some time before he finally wagged it in happiness. He'd been abused and was "spooky" for a long time after we first adopted him. Look for other signs of happiness or contentment with your dog - the lips pulled back in a "smile" when you pet her, ears perked up when you talk to her, the goofy look on her face when you rub her belly. Eventually you'll see other "happy" body language, and one day in the future she may well wag her entire butt.
posted by Oriole Adams at 4:22 PM on June 1, 2010

Are you sure she is docked? Pembroke Welsh corgis are often tailless from birth.

Along with the ears, look for a "smile." Some dogs will smile for the same reasons people do, out of happiness; yours may smile back at you when she's happy. Corgis have fairly smiley faces to start with, so you'll have to look closely at the corners of her mouth and her eyes. If she's sitting with you and you're petting her, she may smile; she may also smile in an exhilarated sort of way when running around.

Best of luck with your sweet dog; she's lucky to have such an attentive owner.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:37 PM on June 1, 2010

When a dog wags his/her tail, it doesn't always mean he/she is happy. I have seen aggressive dogs wag their tails before attacking. Look for other signs, i.e. smile, energy, eyes. Here is an article that might help you.
posted by zombiehoohaa at 4:56 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]
posted by zombiehoohaa at 4:56 PM on June 1, 2010

Even a dog who has not been abused takes quite a while to feel relaxed and interact happily with a new owner. All three of our rescue dogs took (at least) two years to demonstrate the "I feel safe and happy" body language. Eyes relaxed and slightly squinty, mouth open and pant-y, ears perky. And we are nice dog owners: positive reinforcement only and lots of fuss/interaction. Give it time. Make her feel safe and wanted, even when you are tired. Interest her with puzzles and lots of play. You'll see the whole butt wiggle and experience that wonderful corgi cuddle in time ... :-)
posted by Susurration at 7:42 PM on June 1, 2010

Best answer: This right here is what you want: Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog. I'm not sure that I agree with every single thing in it, but it is really a tour de force of dog body language interpretation, and I learned a lot from thinking about why I disagree with a few things in it. Mostly it's just awesome, though.
posted by HotToddy at 7:43 PM on June 1, 2010

I came in to recommend Canine Body Language but I see HotToddy has beaten me to it. It really is a fantastic way to start seeing the little things, particularly stress signs. Honestly, every dog owner should read it. It's fantastic, and so many people I know, even experienced dog owners cannot read their own dogs very well, which gets them into trouble. I do wish the picture quality was better and it should be in color, but if you read through it, you will learn a ton about how to read your dog.
posted by hindmost at 12:35 AM on June 2, 2010

Panting is often a sign of happiness and excitement. Think of it like laughing.
posted by General Tonic at 7:53 AM on June 2, 2010

My rat terrier came home with me complete with a little stub of a tail as well. and I generally have to look to his ears and eyes. Fortunately, at least with him, these are comically exaggerated when happy or sad.

My cattle dog, on the other hand, has a full brushy tail, and I can hardly ever tell what she's thinking regardless of what her tail is doing. Some dogs are just subtle and it takes time to get their cues.
posted by quin at 1:06 PM on June 2, 2010

In the vein of more book recommendations, Patricia McConnell's The Other End of the Leash is an excellent book written by an animal behaviorist on how to read your dog. It's a fantastic read if you love dogs and want to learn more about them, and when my trainer saw me reading it she exclaimed "GREAT BOOK! Such a great book!". It pairs really well with Canine Body Language because The Other End of the Leash mostly talks about how dogs tick and how you can start reading them, common misperceptions, etc. It's more in depth and it really started me on the path of learning how to read my dogs, what to look for, how to behave around them, and understand deeper behavior issues. It's not a how-to training book, but it probably did more to change how I relate to my dog than any other book, with CBL coming in a close second. It filled in a lot of of the why behind the actions.
posted by hindmost at 12:27 PM on June 3, 2010

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