Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails?

Dog Nutrition
We love it when our dogs wag their tails, right? It’s especially adorable when their whole body gets the wiggles. Well, some of our VetOrganics patrons have asked, ‘why do dogs wag their tails?’ We’ve got answers. Dogs Wag Vet Organics

What Is A Dog’s Tail Made Of?

It’s not a leg. It’s not an ear. What is a dog tail? It turns out, it’s actually an extension of our pup’s backbone. That’s right. It’s their spine. Muscle and bone work together to give our canine companions balance, and the ability to communicate with us and other dogs through common non-verbal cues.

Fun Facts About Why Dogs Wag Their Tails

  • A wagging tail doesn’t always mean a dog is friendly and wants to be petted. Look for dilated pupils, stiff muscles or posture, and ears pinned all the way forward or back, instead of being relaxed and moving toward us as they wag and wiggle.
  • Just like other body language, tails communicate strong emotions. They can be happy, agitated, annoyed, angry, or excited. Use tail wagging as a cue, but also factor in other body language cues. If uncertain, ask the dog guardian.
  • It’s thought that the original purpose of a dog’s tail was for balance, similar to the way a cheetah uses its powerful and massive tail to help him make sharp turns at high speeds.
  • Puppies don’t automatically know how to wag their tails. That’s a communication skill that shows itself around a month and a half when they are trying to communicate with their mom and the rest of the litter.
  • As a littermate, puppies will use their tail to signal a white flag type of surrender when roughhousing gets too intense. Or they may wag their tail to ask for food from the canine adults in the family.
  • Dog vision is particularly attuned to movement, more than detail. This makes the tail an important way they communicate. When dog tails are cropped, we are essentially muting them, making it more difficult for them to communicate with fellow canines. For about how dogs see the world around them, check out "Can Dogs See in the Dark?"
  • Like docking a tail, cropping ears creates a very similar problem for dogs because ears are also an important way dogs communicate with each other - and with us.

ecotreats-beef-spleen-bites Dogs Wag Vet OrganicsNothing gets a dog’s tail wagging like dog treats. And what better way to train them to stay calm under pressure than with delicious treats our canine companion will WANT to work for? Vet Organics has all-natural EcoTreats pups love. These Slow-roasted spleen bites are nutrient-rich and free-from by-products. Just give them a try. You’ll see the difference in their wagging tail and your dog will taste the difference.

Decoding Tail Wagging

When dogs wag their tails, it can say a lot. The position, direction and movement, speed, and context all play a role in the complex language of doggy tails. Studies have been done and redone. Let’s dive in.

Position

Dogs Wag Vet Organics

Dogs have a natural position in which they keep their tail when they are relaxed. Different breeds will have a slightly different natural position, but in general, when it is hanging down, behind their legs, it means they are relaxed, calm, and happy. Some breeds have a tail that naturally curls up and over their backs. If it’s not moving and this is where it tends to stay, this will be their natural position. A raised tail can mean a few things. It can mean our canine is on alert. It could mean Fido is feeling unsafe or aggressive. It can also mean our pup is excited. This is where context and other body cues are important to read and interpret correctly. A tail that is being held down low or even between the legs, instead of behind their legs, is a submissive sign. Again, context and other body cues are important, but if a dog has his tail low, he may not be happy, and he is certainly showing deference.

Direction & Movement

Dogs Wag Vet OrganicsThere are a few ways tail movement plays a role in doggy communication. Side-to-side movement is something we’re all familiar with, but sometimes dogs will move their tail more to the right or more to the left, and those variations each mean something different. Strong movement to the right is not actually an indication that our pup is right-handed. Barring any injury that might cause limited mobility, a tail moving primarily to the right is a positive indicator, like interest or excitement. Movement to the left is a negative indicator, like fear or anxiety. The right-left wagging tail dominance factor is because the left side of the brain deals with the positive and the right deals with the negative. We know that each side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body, so now we can better understand why there is a bias to one side or the other.

Speed

The speed of our pooch’s wagging is also important. The higher the speed of their wagging, the more intense their emotion is. So, the faster they are wagging their tail to the right, the more interested or excited they may be. The faster their tail is going to the left, the more fearful they may be, meaning we should do what we can to help calm down and feel safe. This is where people often misread a tail wag for happiness and end up with aggression.

Context

Dogs Wag Vet Organics

Right, left, fast, slow, up, down - it all matters, but in the end, we can know our pups best by taking it all into consideration, along with other body language cues and the situation. A dog who is typically timid or aggressive, entering an uncertain situation - it’s pretty safe to say a wagging tail isn’t the entire message they are sending. Watch for tension, a ridged hairline on Fido’s back, and highly alert or pinned ears. Our canine companions are always communicating with us. And each will have their own way of saying things, kind of like humans with lots of different accents and personalities. This article a great starting place, but nothing replaces the responsibility we have and joy we’ll get out of getting to know our dogs by listening to them. We love it when dogs wag their tails and we know you do too. How does your dog communicate with you? What does he or she say? Any fun quirks to report? We’d love to hear from you. Send us your best pictures, comments, and stories on Facebook or Instagram, using #VetOrganics

Michelle Lievense

Michelle is a writer and ghostwriter, specializing in wellness, sustainability, and global social change. She is particularly fond of serving ethical organizations who contribute to a better life for people and animals through humane and environmentally responsible missions. At Vet Organics, Michelle uses her time as a vet tech, her academic studies in animal science and behavior, and nearly a decade working on a ranch teaching animal husbandry to write on a variety of cat and canine health topics. When she isn't writing, Michelle can be found hiking in the mountains of Colorado with her dogs or snuggled up with a good book and her cats.

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