A wagging tail is a form of dog communication. Dogs wag their tails to tell us something about how they’re feeling, just as they do with other forms of body language. But do you know what canine tail wagging really means?
Why Dogs Wag Their Tails
Dogs wag their tail to communicate with humans and other animals. Often, it seems fairly obvious what the dog is trying to tell you when it wags its tail. Most people look at a dog with a wagging tail and assume it is happy. While this is usually true, there are times when a dog wags its tail just before it becomes ᴀɢɢʀᴇssɪve. It is important that you pay attention to how the dog is holding its tail when it’s wagging it. Where the tail is and the way a dog holds its body while it’s wagging it can give you a clue about what it is trying to communicate. You should also pay attention to other signs in the dog’s body language.
A Dog’s Tail Position Has Meaning
The position of a dog’s tail can communicate information about what that dog is thinking and feeling. Here are some examples:
- Tail held straight out means that the dog is taking in new information and is so far responding neutrally.
- Tail held between the legs indicates fear or submission.
- Tail held high and still indicates alertness and the desire to portray dominance.
- Tail held high and wagging shows happiness but also a state of alertness. The dog is cautiously excited but showing dominance.
But Tail Wagging in Dogs Doesn’t Always Mean Happiness
Tail wagging can mean many different things, and it must be interpreted along with a dog’s other body language at the time.
Relaxed vs. tense facial muscles, upright vs. laid-back ear position, and whether the hair coat is standing up, bristling, or relaxed can all give information about a dog’s feelings.
In general, dogs’ tails wag faster as they get more excited, slower as they are less enthusiastic about something, have broader strokes as they are feeling happier, and smaller strokes as they’re getting more uptight about something.
Even the direction in which a dog’s tail is wagging means something. Researchers recently found differences in whether a dog’s tail wagged to the left or right:
- Tail wagging to the left means a dog is encountering a person or other dog that isn’t known to him, and he wants to show dominance
- Tail wagging to the right means a dog is feeling pleasant and is encountering something or someone known to him.
As with people, individual dogs can have their own habits with regards to their tail position and movement. You will get to know your dog’s tail communication as you get to know him.
When you are approaching a new dog, it’s best not to rely on tail position and movement alone to gauge his friendliness. Look at all of his body language together and also ask his owner whether he is generally friendly before you approach him.