The Tail Wagging Myth | PetFirst
The Tail Wagging Myth
Pet Care & Health

The Tail Wagging Myth

by PetFirst Pet Insurance
2 years ago

When your dog wags his tail, most automatically think ‘awe, he’s so happy.’ However, this isn’t always the case. There are many variations of ‘tail wagging’ and they each mean something different for your pup.

For example, a wagging tail in a young puppy may mean that he is hungry and needs his mother or that he is letting his siblings know he’s done playing with them.

Tails as Communication 

As humans, we use words to talk. That’s our language. As you know, dogs don’t use words and although they learn our language to an extent, they don’t speak it. Your dog’s primary method of communication is through body language. 

Body Language and the Tail 

Before we can dive into tail wags, you must first know what your dog’s natural tail position is (varies by breed). Most dogs have their tail relaxed toward the floor when they’re in a neutral state of mind.

The position of your dog’s tail can mean one (or more) of the following: 

  • Diversion: Your dog may be attempting to ‘agree’ with another dog if his tail suddenly stops wagging and he freezes in place. This body language is common when your dog encounters someone he does not know for the first time.
  • Aggression: When your dog’s tail moves from a relaxed state to vertical or arched, this is a sign your dog is displaying aggressive behavior. 
  • Submission: If your dog is being submissive (AKA showing he’s not a threat), her tail will likely be tucked between her legs.
  • Curiosity: We’re sure you have seen your dog’s tail ‘light up’ when she hears or sees something she’s curious and excited about. Generally, the tail is in a horizontal position in these cases.
  • Happiness: Finally, the tail also does indicate happiness. A tail wag could simply mean your dog is happy.  

There is also new research out there which suggests positive feelings within a dog are associated with the right side. For example, if your dog is about to receive a treat or snack of some sort, their tail will likely move from right to left.  

On the other hand, negative feelings are typically connected to the left side.

Essentially, the research suggests if your dog is moving his tail from left to right, that’s a sign of negative feelings (and vice-versa). 

Be Aware 

Make sure you are aware of your surroundings, of any triggers, and the situation you are in when reading your dog’s body language.

The tail is only one factor in your dog’s language, but it is certainly a great start when you’re learning about your dog’s behavior and moods.

Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances.

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