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What your dog’s tail wags actually mean

What your dog’s tail wags actually mean

Happy dog = waggy tail, right? That’s the image that pops into our brain when we picture a joyful doggo. Well, according to dog behaviour research, not necessarily.

Here are some things your dog’s tail might be trying to tell you.

Body language experts

First, though, let’s look at why dogs even have tails.

According to a recent study, dog tails are not much help when it comes to their physicality. Unlike other animals such as lizards, squirrels and even cats, a dog’s tail doesn’t have much manoeuvring functionality. It can’t, for instance, help them to flip mid-air when showing off at the dog park.

But it does serve another important purpose …

The way your dog positions and swishes their tail says a lot about how they’re feeling and also, what they want to communicate.

Learning to ‘talk tail’

So what IS your doggo trying to say? Before we start interpreting tail wags, we need to remember that, like people, dogs come in all different shapes and sizes. As such, a bushy Golden Retriever tail might be easier to read than say, a tightly coiled Pug’s, but even still, the tail is talking! It just looks a little different in different dogs.

Here are a few things your dog might be saying to you via their booty

1) I’m chill

This tail is your dog’s natural, ‘neutral position’. It’s the ‘usual’ and is the way your dog holds their tail when feeling totally relaxed.

There are no sirens or other dogs barking to alert them. They might even be just walking from one room to another, looking for a patch of sunlight to sleep in. For most breeds, this ‘neutral tail’ will be low hanging and floppy but in others, like a Beagle or Dashhound, the ‘I’m chill’ tail might appear a bit higher and more erect.

2) I’m just so happy!

When your dog’s tail is wagging in a way that their butt wiggles along, too, they’re feeling pretty darn good. Perhaps because you’ve just returned from work for the day? Or said their two favourite words in a high pitched tone: “dog park?”.

This is our favourite tail wag of all!

3) I’m a bit suss

Studies show that dogs wag their tails a little more to the right when they are happy or feeling confident and more to the left when they are frightened or suspicious. It’s subtle, but you can see this if you look out for it.

If you’ve ever approached another dog on a walk and had that sinking feeling of, ‘oh-oh my dog isn’t going to be friends with THAT dog’, monitor the tail. They are likely communicating hesitancy via a more straight tail, which may be wagging slightly to the left.

Likewise, a dog in unfamiliar surroundings will have an ‘alert tail’ – usually one that’s pointing away from their body, almost horizontally. This is a doggo who is paying close attention to their surroundings.

4) I’m ashamed/in trouble

A dog who is feeling ashamed after being scolded may put their tail between their legs. This dog knows they’ve been a naughty boi or girl.

The ‘I’m ashamed tail’ will be harder to read on certain breeds with short tails, but you’ll be able to pick up on their variation. It’s basically a tail that lacks all excitement and joy.

5) I like you

This is a happy tail with no ‘I’m suss’ vibes.  It’s not as exuberant as a, ‘my pawrent has just walked through the door tail/butt wiggle’, but you’ll see it when they are being patted by someone who they feel comfortable with. It’s got a lovely broad swish to it.

You may also notice the same tail wag when your dog runs into their bestie at the dog park. This tail is communicating joy, but is also sending out non threatening vibes to the other dog.

6) Don’t mess with me

A dog wanting to convince other dogs that they think they’re top dog, will have a stiff horizontal tail that rises higher. Sometimes this is even carried with a sharp bend in it. If the hair on this dog’s back is also standing up and a growl can be heard, though, it can be precursor to aggression.

It might be time to change direction and walk the other way.

7) I’m scared/sad

Like the ‘ashamed tail’, one that is curled up between the legs, can also indicate a frightened dog.

A sad dog who sees you pulling out of the driveway going somewhere without them (how dare you), might also drop their tail in a similar way.

Just remember, tail wag number two will be waiting for you when you return home!

8) Say what?

Sometimes our dogs don’t understand English. Who knew, right?! If you are talking to your dog and their tail is at half mast wagging slowly, and all the while he or she is looking at you confused, it’s likely this is the case. Watch the tail and see if this changes to an excited one when you grab the lead and it clicks that you were asking if they’d like to go for a walk!

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