Barking and tail wagging are the most common behaviors we try to ascertain. What they mean can be very different from what we think.
Do you have the misconception I’ve had that a tail wagging dog is expressing friendliness? That the dog is happy? According to an article in Discover magazine, the position of a dog’s wagging tail has a lot to do with the meaning of the wag. Some wags can denote fear or even a warning that the dog is about to take a piece out of you. If the tail is held at medium height, you are facing a relaxed dog. The higher the tail is raised signals a more threatening meaning. A vertical tail is the dog’s way of telling you he is in charge.
Barking is also an indicator of what the dog has in mind. Low pitched growls make the dog seem larger and more dangerous. That type of growl is an indication of anger and a possibly aggressive animal. High pitched sounds mean the opposite. A large dog will use the higher pitched sound to tell you he wants to come closer or that it’s safe for you to approach him.
Giving an alarm: A fast string of two to four barks with pauses in between warns that the dog feels something should be checked out. Continuous barking at a low pitch means danger.
Hello: One or two sharp barks in the high to midrange pitch is meant as a greeting.
Companionship: If a dog barks a long string of solitary barks, he has missed you and wants to be with you.
Let’s play: A bark sounding a bit like a stutter “r-r-ruff” which usually he speaks with his front legs flat means he wants to play.
Greeting: The slight wag tells us the dog is saying “hello.”
Satisfied: The happiness wag is a broad, wag that seems to drag the dog’s hips.
Confused: A slow wag at half mast neither dominant(high) nor submissive(low) signals insecurity or uncertainty about what to do next.
Fight/flight: Small, high-speed tail motion close to vibrating signals the dog is about to take action, either run or fight–usually it means fight.