Why do dogs tails wag?

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Many people believe that dogs only wag their tails because they are happy.   A dogs tail wag could mean something entirely different.   Read on to find out all about those waggy tails. So, why do dogs tails wag?

Why do Dogs Tails Wag?

Dog’s use their tails as a method of communication; tail wags are part of the dance that is body language.  It’s important to view the wagging tail in context with the rest of the dog.  Regardless of the shape or size of the dog’s tail, it is an effective communication tool as long as everyone else knows the signs! 

Although it’s an instinctive behaviour, dogs are not born with a waggy tail.  Using the tail to communicate develops at around three to four weeks of age, depending on the breed of dog.

Dog’s use their tail to communicate with other dogs, other species and with humans.

The shape, size and way the tail moves is something that varies from breed to breed and in how individuals use the tail to communicate.  Whether it’s long, short, straight, curly, carried with a curve or cropped, a dogs tail is used as an indicator of how they feel.  Changes to their tail and how they wag it can especially show how they feel about a particular situation.  

Despite different breeds having different natural tail carriage characteristics, dogs of different breeds understand the signals from other dogs. Huskies and Pomeranian’s are examples of breeds that carry their tales high and curved of the body.  Golden Retrievers and German Shepherd Dogs have large bushy tails that mainly follow on behind and are easy to spot when they do something different with their large tails.  Whippets carry their tails low, in a tucked in style.  Terrier’s (such as Jack Russells) tails vary, as many terriers have cropped tails as those who have longer tails, but they can still use it to express how they feel.

To work out what a particular wag style means, you need to assess the position of the dog’s tail, the speed of the wag and what else the dog is doing.

Types of Tail Movement:


A relaxed-looking tail means the dog is currently relaxed.  As mentioned above, the position depends on the breed of dog.

Gentle Sway

Gentle wagging with the tail slightly dropped is common when dogs are unsure of a situation.

Fast High Wag

A fast wagging, fast tail held high when it’s not the normal position usually indicates excitement.  Watching the rest of their body is crucial to work out their meaning and intentions as it can be a sign of aggression and dominance. A high, wagging tail with the hackles raised or any indication that the dog looks bigger is likely to be an unfriendly gesture.  It can quickly change to a high rigid tail expression.

High Rigid Tail

A tail that is held high and rigid is almost always a sign of aggression, and you should never approach a strange dog that is using that tail expression.

Big Carefree Wags

Big carefree wags and a relaxed-looking body and facial expression indicate a happy dog.  Sometimes, in some breeds, the whole dog seems to wag with exuberance.

Right Wag

When a dog’s tail wags slightly to the right, it’s a friendly gesture.

Left Wag

When a dog’s tail wags slightly to the left, it’s a signal that the dog is not yet sure of the circumstances or how they will react.

The Makes you Dizzy Wag

A dog moving their tail in big, extravagant circular movements signifies excitement; it’s often surprisingly fast.  It’s usually how your dog greets people and dogs they are really delighted to see.

Low Slight Wag

When the dog slightly wags its tail low, it’s a sign that they are slightly worried or showing subjugation to the other dog or to the person. 

The Clamp

When a dog clamps its tail down tight between their legs, they are apprehensive about the situation.

Side to Side

Some but not all dogs will move their tails from side to side quickly when focused on a scent or when tracking. It’s thought to be a sign of concentration.

Watch the Whole Dog

Remember, dogs use their whole body to express and communicate their feelings.  Low Slight Wag can often be accompanied with lowering their stance to show they are unthreatening. The clamp can sometimes be accompanied by eye rolls, bulge or looking away; this dog is really worried and fears an attack.  The left wag could very quickly change to rigid tail or fast high wag if the dog feels threatened.

Being aware of dogs body language, including the tail, can help you understand your dog and keep them safe and happy.

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