What Does A Dog's Tail Wag Mean?

As more scientists study dog behavior, the more they find that a wagging tail means more to a dog than "I'm happy". The dog's tail can provide a lot of insight into the dog's emotional state, both positive and negative.

Dogs in general are more sensitive to movement than they are to colors or shapes, so they communicate with each other mainly with body movement. Many dogs have distinct tails - whether bushy, white-tipped, or very long - and this may be for the purpose of having their tails more visible to other dogs. Research shows most dogs don't wag their tails when alone because there's no need.

Of course, there are different dog "dialects" based on tail shape, natural tail height, and breed, but here are some general tail meanings:


What Does The Tail's Position Mean?

Straight & Horizontal: Attentive & Alert
Angled Upwards: Dominant & Threatening
Middle: Relaxed
Lowered: Submissive, Worried, or Sick
Tucked Under Body: Scared


What Does The Wagging Type Mean?

Speed: The faster the tail wags, the more excited the dog is
Width of Wag/Sweep: The wider the wag, the more positive the dog is

Wag With A Right*-Bias: Relaxed
Wag With A Left*-Bias: Anxious
*Right & Left from the dog's perspective

Narrow, Slow Wag: Tentative, Curious
Broad Wag: Friendly, Pleased
Medium-Height, Slow Wag: Insecure
Quick "Vibrating" Wag: Ready To Act/Attack/Run
Circular Wag: Extremely Excited

Of course, there are many more combinations, but hopefully this has shed some light on your dog's behavior. If you see a dog moving its tail and are still unsure of whether s/he is excited by you or threatened by you, look for other body clues, such as a tense torso or relaxed ears to get a clue into what the dog may be feeling.

[Sources: Psychology Today, QuickandDirtyTips.com, Animal Planet]

1 comment:

  1. I have definitely observed the angled upwards, dominant tail (I have a chihuahua who thinks he is alpha over my other, larger dog) and some of the other mentioned in this post. I was always interested in the body language of animals. It will be cool to watch my dogs more closely now and read their moods.