Most of us assume that a dog’s tail wagging suggests the dog is happy or excited. This is not strictly true and different tail wags can have different meanings. Assuming a dog is happy to see you and wants affection could prove to be poor judgement on our part. So we have explored the question "Why do dogs wag their tails?"

We explore the real reasons dogs wag their tails and what this means. This will help dog owners and others to understand what a dog is communicating and what kind of response is required.

Are there different styles of dog tail wagging?

In short yes, there are a lot of different styles of dog tail wagging. Before exploring dog tail wagging, it is worthwhile understanding what the position of your dog’s tail means.

The most common positions are illustrated below:

Normal or natural position 

  • with tail hanging down towards to dogs heals although this will vary with different dog breeds, for example a Pugs natural position is the tail up:
tail natural position

Tail up high.

A tail that is up usually means a dog is excited and also may be at high alert. This could be because of something they have seen, heard or smelt. A completely upright tail can also indicate aggression:

tail up meaning

Tail low and between legs.

The tail between the legs suggests a dog is worried and anxious about something. A larger or more aggressive dog may stimulate this response in a smaller more submissive dog.

tail between legs

Tail that is straight

  • and parallel to the dogs back. This position usually suggests a dog is curious and inquisitive about something. You may notice this position when your dog is smelling a lamppost for example:
tail straight

Tail wagging then adds another dimension, a tail wags in multiple ways and each different wag style has a different meaning. The most common are illustrated below:

Tail wagging fast.

This is a sign of excitement and will usually suggests positive excitement. A dog’s owner coming home, seeing a friend in the park and if you have a Labrador then dinnertime will always elicit this response!

Tail wagging slowly.

A slow tail wag demonstrates a dog is less enthusiastic about what it is sensing, unknown people may sometimes get this response when your dog is a bit unsure.

Tail wagging right or left.

A tail that is wagging to the left is usually negative and demonstrates a dog’s anxiety about a particular situation. A dog tail wagging right suggests more positivity with regards to a particular situation. The science behind this is directly linked to the brain. The left side of the brain (associated with positive feelings) regulates the right half of the body. The right side of the brain (associated with negative feelings) regulates the left half of the body. This explains why you have the variance in tail wagging.

Do dogs understand each other’s tail wagging?

Apparently, dogs understand what the different sides of tail wagging means. A study conducted by Siniscalchi et al (published in Current Biology 2013) found that when a dog observed another dog with a tail wagging left, their heart rate increased (suggesting a reaction and possible anxiety). However, when dogs observed other dogs with tails wagging right, they remained calm.

It isn’t currently believed that dogs are attempting to communicate with other dogs through tail wagging but is an automatic response based on the brain’s alignment towards left or right bias. Knowing this information can be useful for any dog owner.

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