Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails?

Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails?
August 19, 2021 Samford Pet Resort

People see a wagging tail as the equivalent of a smile – if a dog wags its tail, it’s happy! In reality, how dogs move their tails is more like a sign language than an expression, and even the direction of the wag can communicate a lot that humans don’t understand. How neat!

But this leaves a lot of questions in the air, like how do they learn to communicate and how can I be sure I understand my pup to the best of my ability?

Fear not, a happy dog is pretty easy to spot compared to an angry dog, as you know. But, there are times when people and other dogs may get mixed signals and put themselves in a stressful and potentially dangerous situation.

Have you ever wondered “why do dogs wag their tails?” Well, learn the answer to that question below.

Happy Golden Retriever

Learning To Wag

Just like our babies, dogs need to learn how to communicate. If your pup was moved from its litter at the correct age, it likely picked up a few details, but ongoing socialization helps it understand communication better!

Isolated dogs may give off mixed signals to other dogs simply because they can’t properly communicate their emotions and may give off the wrong cues. Dogs use their tails to convey a range of emotions, and wagging is often involved.

A Wagging Tail Means A Happy Dog, Right?

Do you know a person who hardly smiles, even when they’re happy? Well, a dog’s tail can be influenced by its unique personality and temperament. Not all dogs wag when they’re excited. We’ve met a lot of friendly pups who grin ear to ear but rarely wag. This is also a common trait for larger dogs that need to use more energy to move it around.

A wagging tail and a few licks make it clear that a dog is friendly. Dogs that are excited to see you will probably try to move towards you. Their body language will likely tell you they want to say g’day and have a good head scratch.

So tail wagging is a sign of excitement or stimulating emotions. Because of this, some dogs will wag their tails when they’re anxious. This anxious wag can confuse people, particularly children who want to pat the dog because they think the wagging tail equals a happy dog.

Puppy with a passive tail posture

Know The Other Signs Of Distress

Body language is just as important as noticing the tail movement. An anxious dog is more likely to move away from you, and have skittish eyes that move around quickly.

The eyes are great indicators of a dog’s emotion too. If you can clearly see the whites of their eyes, it’s a good sign that they’re panicking.

What’s Your Dog’s Tail Telling You?

Different dog breeds rest their tails at different levels and can have different mannerisms. Still, most of their common behaviours have the same tail movements.

Neutral – A relaxed dog will keep its tail in its neutral position. Most dogs hang their tails near their heels and may sway them lightly when they’re not feeling any strong emotion. Some breeds have tails that curl upwards or droop down more.

Submissive – When a dog’s tail is between its legs, it’s a sign that they are afraid or trying to appear non-threatening. It may wag a little between its legs or pin it to its belly or leg.

Curious – A dog’s tail may go still and horizontal to the ground when it’s interested or focused on something, like a scent or movement. This queue is most common with hound dogs or retriever breeds.

Alert – A stiff tail pointed skyward often indicates a dog is aroused and potentially defensive or aggressive. It’s best to avoid contact with a dog that is indicating these signs.

Understand the exceptions – There’s no direct translation for what a dog’s tail is trying to communicate. Some dogs will tuck their tail between their legs while they’re aggressive. A dog may keep its tail still but come up to you for attention. The best process is always to ask the owner if the dog is friendly.

Happy beagle wagging tail on the beach

The Direction Of The Wagging

The above signals seem pretty simple, right? Well, they’re more a loose definition than a definite answer. Studies have shown that dogs notice nuances in tail movement, even picking up messages from the direction the tail is moving.

A dog will probably wag their tail to the right when it is happy or sees something it wants to approach. In contrast, if it sees something it’s afraid of, or views as a threat, the wag may change direction and sway to the left.

This happens because of the neurological pathways in dogs’ brains. The right side of the body is steered by the brain’s left hemisphere – the side that controls positive emotions. The same happens vice versa for the right side of the brain, which is associated with negative emotions. Pretty interesting huh?

Dog behaviour is super fascinating! If you want to take the best care of your canine friend, sign up to one of Samford Pet Resort’s Doggy Daycare services. We help manage your dog’s requirements by giving it plenty of time and space to play, exercise, socialise and relax. We have several sessions available to make sure dogs of various temperaments have a great time. If you ever feel limited for time and don’t want your canine companion to suffer because of it, contact us today and we’ll send them back to you grinning ear to ear.