One of the most obvious communication postures observed in wolves is tail position. Although the positioning of the tail is one of the most frequently
observed communication techniques, it is also one of the simplest forms of communication.
There are two factors to evaluate when discussing tail posture: elevation and movement. The elevation of the tail correlates to the hierarchy rank of the individual, generally the higher the tail placement the higher the wolf's rank.
Erich Klinghammer and Pat Goodman (from Wolf Park) described five different tail heights that have become the standard in explaining all tail positions. As Klinghammer and Goodman described in their Wolf Ethogram, a T1 tail posture is when the tail is at full height, pointing straight up in the air. This position is typically reserved for the alpha-pair of the pack.
A T2 tail is when the tail extends in a straight line pointing away from the body, parallel with the spine and ground. This position is usually utilized by beta-males and other high ranking members.
A T3 tail occurs when the tail is held at a relaxed state, or pointing straight toward the ground. Most mid-ranking wolves maintain T3 tails. A T3.5 tail is when the tail points at the ground like a T3, however the tail is pressed against the back of the hind legs in this lower rank posture.
Finally, a T4 tail, which is usually reserved for omegas, is when the tail is tucked against the abdomen between the legs. Each individual wolf can alter their tail posture as necessary to communicate their dominance or submission. For example, a mid-ranking wolf may display a T2 tail when near an omega, but then quickly change the posture to a T3 or T3.5 if an alpha approaches the area.
The movement of an individual's tail is also an important communication factor. Wolves wag their tails like dogs, however contrary to most dog owners; we do not describe the behaviors as a sign of happiness. Generally, wolves wag their tails when there is an increase of energy or excitement occurs.
There are two specific styles of tail wagging that wolves perform: rigid or fluid movement. A rigid tail (like a pendulum) wag means the wolf is excited and has dominant tendencies. A fluid, or snake-like wag typically is a signal of play or greeting toward other pack members.
The elevation and movement of each wolf's tail work together to describe the behavior of each individual. So, a wolf who is rigidly wagging a T1 tail is exhibiting intense dominance, however a wolf fluidly wagging a T3 tail is probably soliciting social play with other pack members.
Wolves can alter their tail posture rapidly in order to maintain coherent communication within the pack structure. Tail posture is an important tool wolves use to maintain hierarchy stability through accurate communication.
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