What Does a Wagging Tail Really Mean?

A wagging tail does not always signify a happy, friendly dog!

Most people assume a wagging tail means a friendly, happy dog, but is this always true? Dogs use their tails to relay information to people and to other dogs, and generally do not wag their tails when they are alone.  Some experts believe that the wagging tail helps to transmit their scent to other dogs.  To decipher why a dog is wagging his tail, you will need to be aware of other social cues.

If a dog is in the presence of other dogs, a wagging tail held high may actually be a sign of dominance or even aggression.  A wagging tail, along with barking or growling can be a warning to stay back. Wagging just the tip of the tail can indicate uncertainty.

However, a tail held straight out and wagging broadly generally indicates excitement and/or happiness.  This type of tail wag is commonly seen when a dog is greeting his owner. Keep in mind that wolves rarely wag their tails, and when they do so, it indicates submission.  A dog is showing fear or submission when his wagging tail is held low, and sometimes even tucked between the back legs.

If you pay attention to your dog’s body language, you can learn to better interpret what his wagging tail really means.

About author

Erin Gleeson

Erin Gleeson is the Outreach Specialist at 1-800-PetMeds® and works with the 1-800-PetMeds Cares donations program. She has loved animals as long as she can remember and has worked in several veterinary offices in the past as a veterinary technician. She has one cat, Kitsy, and frequently fosters kittens for a local rescue group. You can also find Erin on Google+.

There are 2 comments

  • rebecca says:

    How does all that apply to a dog with a curled tail?

  • Abby PetMeds Pro says:

    For dogs with short, curled or no tail, you will need to focus more on other cues such as overall body language to read his mood and intention.

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