Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails?
When people see dogs wagging their tails, they tend to automatically think that this signals happiness, when, in fact, there are a number of reasons why they may be engaging in this behavior. Learning to read and understand your dog’s body language tells you a lot about how they are feeling and helps you to get to know your pooch that little bit better. And this also helps you to modify your own behavior towards them.
What Does it Mean When Dogs Wag Their Tail?
The tail is one of the most important parts of your dog’s body that they use for communication. Facial expressions and body poses are a couple of the others. You shouldn’t only assume that a dog wags their tail when they are feeling happy and friendly. While it usually means that they are open to interaction, it is usually the case that your dog wags their tail when they are mentally stimulated and ready to react to the environment and stimulants around them. If your dog’s tail is wagging quickly, this is often a friendly sign. However, if it is moving slowly from one side to another, this could be more hostile, so this is the time to back off from your dog or watch out for them trying to attach another canine.
Direction of the Tail Wag
In fact, studies conducted by Live Science have shown that the direction that your dog is wagging their tail can also signify their mood. If it is going to the right, they are often feeling positive things, whereas the left reflects more negative emotions like stress, anxiety, or fear. And a 2013 study showed that other dogs pay attention to the direction of the tail wag. With right tail wagging dogs, other pooches felt more relaxed and were willing to approach, whereas the opposite was seen when dogs were wagging their tails to the left. This is due to different sides of the brain controlling the tail wagging. The left side deals with many positive emotions, while the right side takes care of the negative.
Now, what does it mean when you see the dog tail wagging in circles? Well, this is often a happy or friendly gesture. Sometimes also known as a ‘helicopter wag’, you may notice your dog’s whole body going around in circles when they are doing it. You may see this at particularly exciting times of the day such as at dinnertime. However, you are only likely to notice a circle wag if you have a pooch with a longer tail as shorter-tailed mutts cannot be as demonstrative with their little tails!
Is Dog Tail Wagging Involuntary?
It certainly seems that your dog’s tail moves of its own accord, but they do have muscles that control it. They just need to think to manipulate the movement. So, your dog can perform movements including raising, lowering, and wagging when they choose. As this is an important system of balance for some dogs, it is essential that they are able to have control over it. Also, since it is such an important method of communication, it wouldn’t make sense if your dog was not able to control it. However, there are probably times when tail wagging occurs without your dog thinking about it. From your own point of view, you often smile or frown without having to consciously make yourself do it.
Dog Tail Language
There are a number of positions that your dog’s tail could take that tell you a lot about them. For example, if it is lowered and between their legs, it is often a sign of insecurity or anxiety. A tail that is raised high can show alertness or dominance. Think of it like a flag waving up or down! Perhaps they have just spotted a smaller creature darting around in front of them. Sometimes, a raised tail can signify aggression, but this is not always the case. However, a lowered tail always signifies submission.
Enthusiastic side to side tail wagging while accompanied by a friendly facial expression is often a greeting or signifies happiness. However, if your dog’s tail is stiff, this can show hostility or aggression. And you will often have the other body language such as a rigid body and growling or barking.
You can tell a lot about how your dog is feeling about a particular situation based on context too. If you have just picked up their leash, it is likely that the tail wagging is down to excitement. However, if they are eyeing up an unfamiliar hound, there is every chance that more hostile feelings are at work.
The Importance of Tails
While your dog’s tail may be mainly used for communication, it also has a host of other useful functions. For example, it can work as a rudder when your dog is swimming. It is also important in allowing your pooch to keep their balance when they are running. Tighter corners would be much tougher without a tail. In years gone by, owners and breeders may have purposely docked their dog’s tail for cosmetic purposes – a procedure that is now illegal. Not only would they not have the balance and swimming abilities that we previously discussed, but they would lose an important method of communication with you.
While not all dog tail wagging can be categorised as the same, there are some general indicators that express their mood to you. At the same time, it is also important that you read their other body language cues to tell how they are feeling and react accordingly. If your dog is friendly, it is fine to approach, but this will not be the case if they are in an aggressive mood. Remember, context also plays an important role in identifying exactly how your dog is feeling. Usually, you won’t have to take tail wagging on its own. You can usually get indicators from other sources too.