Why does my dog wag its tail?

by Leanne Thompson on April 9, 2011

I had a friend who owned an Irish wolfhound; although gentle as a lamb, he was a huge brute, and best avoided when wagging his tail for fear of a walloping. Cal, as he was named, was the cause of many bruised thighs, hot drinks spilled in your lap and Hob Nobs cruelly whipped from your hand after barely a bite.

wagging tailWe commonly interpret our pet dogs wagging their tails as a response to pleasurable stimuli, whether it’s because they’re glad to see you, playing with a new dog toy or being fed. However, tail wagging is something that we don’t yet understand completely, as it is used to convey lots of different emotions. With a bit of practice, the observant dog owner will soon be able to gauge their dog’s mood from how he wags his tail.

Dogs are social animals and, as such, will communicate. They do this through scent, vocalisation and using their tail. When they are greeting you, any tail wagging is very energetic, and the tail is usually held high.

If you’re trying to take away your pet’s favourite dog toy, or encounter an unfriendly dog that takes a dislike to you, they may indicate for you to keep your distance. If bared teeth and a low growl aren’t enough to send the message to you, take note of the tail; it will be held high, and only the tip will be wagging. In this situation, it’s best to back away slowly, rather than adopt Mel Gibson’s strategy in Lethal Weapon 3 when confronted by an angry Rottweiler– that is, dropping to all fours, barking and offering dog biscuits as a peace offering.

A dog will also indicate with his tail if he is fearful. He may slowly wag his tail stiffly, or place it between his legs. You may notice him do this if you tell him off, but he may also display this behaviour if in the presence of a bigger, more dominant dog.

Alternatively, if your pet is the dominant one in his pack, he will lord it over the lesser hounds by wagging his tail high, fast and wide.

Understanding your dog’s emotional state by his tail is just part of building a closer relationship with him.

Filed under: Care & Training