What a Wagging Tail Really Means

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While we know a tail between his legs means our pooch is anxious or frightened, we sometimes erroneously assume that a wagging tail means our pet is a happy camper. You could be right, but you could also be completely wrong. Because a wagging tail can mean a number of things, including that your best buddy is preparing to do battle with that Beagle who just crossed his path.

And while we all know that tail wagging is simply non-verbal body language that can indicator how your pooch is feeling, it often needs to be considered along with other signals. Such as any sounds he’s making, how fast the wag, how high the tail, and even its direction, when you’re assessing what he’s trying to tell you.

But first, let’s take a look at a few of the basics:

  • The classic slow wag. We’ve all seen it, right? Your dog looks cautiously happy and is slowly wagging his tail back and forth – typically with it hanging a little low. Truth be told, it means exactly what it looks like – that he’s feeling a little uncertain about the situ and is slowly sizing it up before committing to his full-on wag.
  • The almost wag. He’s not happy, he’s not excited, in fact he’s not quite wagging his tail at all. It’s a hesitant little movement that says he’s intrigued and would like to learn more about this new person / pet / plant (or other) that you’ve just brought into his home. Its not an aggressive motion, its more curious.
  • Then there’s the energetic back and forth. You know the look. His mouth is open in a great big smile and he’s wagging so hard he can barely stand straight. We usually get this version when we’ve announced a walk or dog park visit and he’s jumped off the sofa, feeling miraculously energized. Note: can be combined with jumping and yipping.
  • Or how about that slower, full sweeping wag that he makes when you get up in the morning. He’s feeling chill, ready to start the day, happy to see you, but the high energy he puts into his wag when he’s super-excited about something, isn’t displayed. Your pooch is feeling relaxed and happy about life in general.

But while we’ve covered the more recognizable wags, what lies beneath is rather intriguing. For example, the faster the speed, the more excited the dog – that’s obvious. But if you’ve ever seen your dog wag his tail in a rapid, almost twitching motion, it can mean that he’s prepared to become aggressive if needs be. And at the University of Trieste in Italy, studies have shown that the direction of the wag can tell you even more about your pet’s disposition. More to the right of his body (stand facing the same direction your pet is) means he’s feeling good and relaxed. More to the left, and you’ve got a pooch who’s feeling anxious. Now my pooches have docked tails and while I can read the speed of wag, anything else is a bit of a challenge to decipher. Similarly, because different breeds have different norms for their tail position (think a drooping Greyhound, curly Pug, or super upright Basenji) its important to consider all aspects of your pet’s body language when re


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