Okay, well first I want to be clear that the auto-IK system is simply a tool for posing the bones. It has nothing to do with animating the character, it simply allows you to pose the character quickly and easily in an intuitive way.
The way it works is if you select the hub of a joint hierarchy (like the shoulders/chest in your case), then the auto-IK will try to keep all the ends of any child joint chains in place (as happens with the arms, feet, and likely the tail - and maybe the head depending on your parenting setup). Whereas if you select a bone at the end or middle of a chain, it will work the other way - going up the chain instead of down. If you were to grab the left toe for example, then the right leg would most likely not try to stay in place, nor the tail.
To answer your specific question about the tail, try this:
- go into edit mode and select the last/top bone that you want to be part of the tail auto-IK system (near the hips)
- press alt+p to unparent it from the hierarchy
- shift+click to select the bone you just unparented it from (so you have both selected, parent selected second), and press ctrl+p to parent it back in, but this time choose ‘keep offset’ in the options
- move the end of the tail with the auto-IK length set to 0 (mousewheel), and it should only be able to effect up to that bone
To use the auto-IK in a full rig, it is common practice to parent each limb (tail, wings, legs, arms) with ‘keep offset’ so the auto-IK will only effect the active limb and not the whole body. Yes, the whole body can create a nice effect, but it offers very little control when animating to have it set up that way (since you will be animating in FK - meaning the bones aren’t actually locked in place as they appear to be, again: it’s just for posing).
I do know that trial and error works for learning rigging as well, because that is how I have learned it after watching some tutorials to get introduced to some of the main concepts, tinkering is the best way to learn!
I know a lot of people seem to have the idea that rigging is a ‘cookie cutter’ kind of process and that there is a ‘right way’ and a ‘wrong way’ to rig. Really there are only efficient and inefficient rigs. At the end of the day, if it does what you need it to then it’s ‘right’
I think it is far more useful to think of the rigging components like lego pieces. True, they are much more complex, but when you understand them individually then you are able to put them together to create whatever it is you need. Otherwise you will be limited to copying the work of others. Which is alright I suppose, if you aren’t too interested in learning rigging, but I find having the ability to design a character yourself is much more fun
Do not underestimate what you can learn from the work others have done, even if the characters are entirely different from yours. The concepts are similar, and many of the mechanisms are useful in multiple situations.