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Thread: Tail between the legs "cure"?

  1. #1

    Default Tail between the legs "cure"?

    Yesterday I went to the vet with my new adopted girl, Meg. She met a Great Dane and was at the vet. The GD scared her a bit, as did the Alsation pup (big) lunging and barking at her: she was a farm dog used to dogs her size (kelpie cross) and just had not seen such big dogs..oh yeah and she _did_ know vets, so there was a bit nof pressure .

    Crikey! My last dog would almost hyperventilate, go bug-eyed, and get quite upset at the vet, and in the end the best thing to do seemed to be to stay calm and pretty much ignore it.

    So anyway....the guy from the pet rescue place was there and he told me that when the dog puts their tail between their legs, you should lift it out, because it shows that they are scared. I pointed out that just because the tail was no longer down (it was temporary) did not mean the dog was not scared. That was sort let by to the keeper. I also thought to myself that if the dog is a bit scared, then fair enough!

    For a couple of minutes the tail stayed normal, but then crept back between the legs at the next challenge: actually going into the vet's rooms. But AFAICS the dog sorted it out herself after a while.

    So is the guy right? It seems to me like saying that if you have a cold, you must stop the coughing because it shows you have a cold. But the tail did seem to stay where it should be for at least a few minutes, so it worked at least partly.

    Thanks for any help.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    melbourne australia


    With young pups, that 'hide' between my legs, i step out, exposing the pup. ie. i prevent the 'hide' behaviour using me.
    And have been encouraged to do with by trainers. Nerves are best ignored, not pandered to. There are ways to behave that are far safer than hiding for pups. And it cant use them, learn them between my legs.

    As i have multi dogs, a pup meeting us is like a gang of yobbos meeting them, and must be scary.
    Far better to give the pup some room to roll over and expose his belly for a good sniff by my dogs, then a quick clean up of your horrid human smell on the pup by licking it, and if the pup accepts all of that, he's accepted by mine as part of the 'in' crowd.

    Its hard not to molly coddle pups, they look so vulnerable and cute. But they have instinctive behaviours that save their asses, if allowed to perform them by owners, all goes well usually.

    The German Shepherd pup barking and lunging at your pup. Bad manners and would of been stopped if it were mine.

    So I ignore timid behaviour, and reward reward reward for coming out from behind your legs to meet n greet giants GD's and motorbikes, and children, and cats etc etc etc. Some dogs are more sensitive than others, more shy. Pups go through fear periods your's may be in one. Either way, ignore timidness, reward polite boldness.

    And a pup that is scared to enter the vet's examination room: walk off, encouraging pup to follow you confidently. most pups will follow owner, when given a choice: Me, or stay alone to face the GSD shark?

  3. #3


    Oh deary me – lifting a dog’s tail up when it scared and apprehensive is not something I would do with my pups. It may have worked as a distractor for the pup – this time – but I definitely would not be looking to do this with a rescue or any sort of pup.

    The pup was giving a message to everyone about how she was feeling. She was also telling the other dogs she was unsure. Pulling the tail up has the potential to give the wrong message to the other dogs and maybe that was why one dog started lunging and barking at her ?

    You have the right idea Nick – by your demeanour and the way you handle situations – the pup will get the message and gain confidence and trust that you have everything sorted and there is nothing to worry about.

    This is all about socialisation of the pup and time and different experiences will help with this.

    Some nice treats, moving the pup away from the other dogs, putting the pup behind you, talking to the pup would be ways that I would handle the situation.

    Some links that you may find interesting. It is not only about thunderstorms.

    You Can’t Reinforce Fear; Dogs and Thunderstorms

    Scared dogs may show aggressive dog behavior | Patricia McConnell | McConnell Publishing Inc.

    A link that I like is all about the 3s for situations with a new pup:

    Three Ways to Confuse a New Dog
    Good Luck ! smiley-eatdrink004.gif

  4. #4


    Thanks for the replies guys.

    So basically you feel as I do that lifting the tail out from between the legs may at best mask her fear for a while. I did feel it was a bit "suck it up and get over it" ...tough love over a situation that was in no way her fault!

    I would never have placed her in this pressure position if I had the choice. But this was organised by the people arranging her adoption by me, as a final health check before allowing me to finalise the takeover. The vet happened to be packed.

    Couple of things. Firstly this is not about the dog between my legs, but about the dog having her tail beetween her legs.

    Secondly, it's sort of irrelevent, but this is not a pup! She is 6 yo. However she was a working dog on a farm, kept caged unless working and associating only with cattle and other dogs her size. So I guess something that _smelt_ like a dog but looked like a cow spooked her. So yeah in many ways I have a pup to deal with: socially inept and shy and having to learn. I will say that with all the other dogs at the vet, she just wanted to sniff...excpet that alsatian pup, but that was in no way her problem. I agree that lunging (the pup also barked at and wanted to chase several children who ran past!!!) even in play, should be firmly and uergently dealt with. The owner did very little, just pulled the ndog back, then took it a bit further away. Problem NOT solved.

    She is a Border Collie Kelpie cross, so very bright, but a bit timid. Add to that being taken from a farm where she was very much "a working dog" and I think had little affection (they had 10 working dogs) and then going to a foster home then to us, and she has an emotional load beyond belief.

    As to the other advice, yeah ignoring it and not fussing I realise is the best way (but jeeze it can be hard). I did just walk into the Vet. She dragged a bit, but she is SO polite on lead that she followed. I will add that she had been neutered only 10 days before: so full op, anaesthetic, the works. Scary load to add to her confusion.

    In all other situations she is showing huge, almost unbelievable bounds towards conming completely out of her shell, in just the 5 days I have had her.

    Thank you very much for all your input.

    Nick Peg n Benny (or is it Peg n Benny n Nick?)

    (nTess, forever in my heart)

  5. #5


    Lifting the tail is what I would class as a crude behavioural interrupter – that is it interrupts the behaviour and gets her mind off the problem. It gets her wondering what the hell you are doing – and hopefully she will focus back on you ! A nudge on her hips or shoulder would achieve the same sort of thing.

    The only time I touch the tail is in the show ring to get the stand looking good. But if my pup had her tail between her legs in the show ring – then I have failed !

    Just to explain - All of my pups I class as pups – whether they are 3 months old or 10 years old. It is just what I call them ! Probably helps that GSPs never grow up !

    I don’t ignore any behaviour of my pups – even when they are doing what I want them to. I watch them like a hawk when we are out and about. It is up to us as owners to look after our pups and keep them safe.

    Pleased to hear the results that you getting with her after five days – it will only improve. She is obviously a smart pup and knows she is in a good situation with you and your family ! Keep it up !

    Socialising is very important – different situations will build confidence and trust.

    Good Luck !

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2009


    I would allow a rescue dog at least a month to get used to me, no off lead time, because there is a risk of the dog just not seeing you as a safe place to return to, and they might decide to go "home" on their own.

    Old Nick - you've only had this one 5 days. And from what you write - she hasn't had much exposure to new things. And she's got a cautious personality ie her response to new things is avoidance (and maybe fear).

    It's good you acted calm and confident. And then all you need to do is wait for the dog to figure out for herself that there's nothing scary.

    I used to have a horse, who would just freak out at some scary things or places, and forcing him to work through it - just gave him an excuse to be scared ie this is scary place where I get booted... and he'd panic. I see the same thing in my dog from time to time. If I give her time at a distance from the scary thing where she can still think - she will figure out everything is ok by herself and come good.

    Sometimes you can't wait at a suitable distance and you just have to push the dog through it, and at times like that I don't expect her to be anything but terrified and I don't try to punish her for that - because - that just piles it on and gives her a reason to be terrified eg a bad thing really did happen.

    I test my dog's level of anxiety by offering treats. If she's not that bothered, she will eat the treat, and the act of eating the treat will make her feel better. I try to position the treat so she has to move out into a more "exposed scary" place for her eg over the vet scales (why she decided to be anxious about those last time I have no idea).

    If the problem keeps getting worse - you might have to do some more work but I think it's too soon to tell.

    If you can give her a new experience every day - eg a different park, showing up near a school that uses a council park, walking near busy roads, meeting new but known friendly dogs in controlled environments etc, and give her time to figure out it's all ok...

    Border collies remember bad experiences forever. It's important to prevent them as much as possible until she builds confidence to handle. So stay away from dogs that blast into her face like labs and labx and puppy mill specials until she's had a chance to get used to dogs of all different shapes and sizes. Actually I still stay away from rude dogs as much as possible.

    If the vet corridor has one of her trigger dogs in there, I don't go in.

  7. #7


    RileyJ I agree that distracting the dog if they are showing discomfort or insecurity is good. I consider tail between legs to be just that. I have seen scared dogs who were gunshot or thunder sensitive and _that_ was scared: drooling, shivering, wimpering. It was just that I felt that lifting the tail was questionable as a way to fix the situation.

    I probably overstated my stance. I don't ignore them, but I have a fear of a fuss just making them worse...if I impose it! If the little guy comes to me for solace then they simply get whatever they ask for, for the duration of the event. If they want to snuggle then that's fine. If stroking their ears is good then fine. I have never been much of a treat giver, partly because I had a lot of dogs that, right from the get-go, were simply not food motivated. My new little girl is a different case! :-O

    As far as protecting them goes, I would have literally protected my last girl (anyone remember my posts about Tess?) with my life. But thunderstorms and gunshots were things that as I say, I did not impose on unless asked. I feel that if the dog wants to hide under the bed, then diving in and either fussing, or trying to get them out is where the problem can start. But in social situations where she was unhappy: vet, early in public places, heavy traffis on the footpath etc, I would do everythong to comfort her. They are things she often almost _had_ to get used to and should have all the calm help she could get. Tess had trouble with all of those and helping her through that gave us a bond that I haver never had with any other dog. And it went in both directions: we were devoted to each other, until the last few months, but that is another story.

    Interestingly, I remember that the people at the refuge where we adopted Tess chipped us for consoling Tess when she started at stuff. They said she would see us as protector. Then and now I thought "Well yuh! So what? I AM the protector!" Our lives together made me feel that I was right.

    The really hard part is when the final time comes and you are helpless. That hurts! Every time.... That was a couple of months ago and I am really having a hard time writing this, even though my new girl has saved me from despair and I can usually think about Tess without cracking up. I could not even look out the windows, because I would see her foraging among the trees. But I can do that now...just. I still see her but the pain has turned to sad, fond memories.

    Sorry about that, guys.


    HAH! They call this a quick reply?

  8. #8


    Hyacinth, hi. I have very good experiences with my new dogs getting used to _me_. Just luck I guess although I work very hard at it.

    That does not necessarily mean imposing myself on them, unless that is taken positively. It means watching the dog at all times and doing the best I possibly can think of to help. However it's all the scary new _other_ things that take time. Peg is certainly twitchy, but seems bright enough, if exposed on a regular basis, to sort it out. I am there to help and comfort. I learned a lot from my last girl Tess, who took 18 months to finally agree that life was not all bad after all!

    Yeah the vet's was a classic bad situation. As I said I had no control over timing, place or present company. For myself I would have let Peg stand at the edge for a while and look things over or even had another go at a quieter time (this was a non-appointment vet), but _I_ was not sure what was going on myself. Strange Vet, not my timing, obligation to the rep from the rescue place etc. So basically pushing through was the go. I would never ever be angry at or even coerce a scared dog, as you say.

    Yeah the new experience. If ever I go out I take Peg with me and try very hard to include exposure to something new and pleasant: a park walk, bush walk etc. We haven't met any new dogs yet, due mainly to timing, but next week we are going to a dog park at times when it's quiet and I know a lot of the dogs. Meg will definitely be on-leash, but any sign of "over interaction" by other dogs, especially if the leash makes Peg feel trapped, will be politely rebuffed. I look for a nice quiet hello, until things are surer.

    I greatly respect that a dog on a leash is highly vulnerable and knows it.

    Sometimes it's hard to stay away when ignorant owners don't adopt the idea that if _either_ the owner, or in particular the other dog, are unhappy about your dog's behaviour, then that is _their_ decision and not yours! I have had _arguments_ and verbal abuse for requesting, with explanations, that another dog be controlled.


  9. #9


    Just to add that yesterday we had a meet and greet with a new adoption. He is a former farm-mate of Peg's. They would have had little time actgually together, but do know each other which I reckon may smooth the way. We liked him a lot. He respondded well to approaches by us, complete strangers and has already learned to chase and retrieve with his foster carers. Comparing him with Peg I see that she should never have been ordered to be a cattle dog. He is far more self-assured and content, showing no fear. Hope this works.


  10. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2009


    I have had _arguments_ and verbal abuse for requesting, with explanations, that another dog be controlled.
    Me too. I think it's the double whammy of being sprung doing something they know is wrong ie having no control over their dog - and thinking that if their dog is "friendly" then yours should be too, or never allowed out.

    They've got no idea about the dog laws in every state that forbid dogs from harassing other animals or being out of control in a public place, and they blame anyone but themselves for their lack of control.

    You just have to do the Taylor Swift thing and "shake it off", take no notice and don't engage or argue with or explain anything to idiots and crazy people.

    I find the easiest way to deal with a dog like this that is threatening my dog, that doesn't upset the owners too much - is to grab the dog by the collar until it calms down, then let it go again, if it starts harassing my dog again - repeat. This can get interesting because my dog is usually trying to get her say in too - which can be painful for the other dog, which means I have a hand on each collar holding them apart, until they both calm down or the other dog decides it would like to leave now (then I let it go).

    My first option is to be sufficiently far away that the other dog doesn't approach.

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