Dog's tail wagging.

Dogs communicate with us in many ways—through looks, barks, whines, wags of their tails, and more. One form of communication that is often misinterpreted is the wagging tail. Contrary to popular belief, a wagging tail does not always equal a happy dog. Your dog’s tail movements could be signifying something else entirely. 

It’s important for us to learn our dog’s body language and understand what they are communicating through their movement at any time. The team at Godspeed Animal Care is here to help you decipher your pup’s body language and help you figure out what your dog’s tail is trying to tell you. 

Position and Placement 

The position of your dog’s tail can tell you a lot about their mood and intentions. Here are some important positions and placements to take notice of: 

High and Still: Your dog is showing alertness, preparedness, or agitation. They are also showing intention to display dominance. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this posture indicates they are alert to whatever got their attention.  

If the tail starts in a more neutral position, however, and moves higher and higher, this could signal aggression or a threat. Higher tail positions release more of your pet’s scent from the anal glands to signal to other dogs they there and are marking territory. A general rule of thumb is, the higher the tail position, the greater the threat. 

High and Wagging: Your dog is showing happiness, but is still very alert. They are still showing signs of dominance, but is also cautiously demonstrating excitement as well 

Low and Between the Legs: Your dog is showing fear, concern, and submission 

Straight Out: Your dog is showing neutrality, and is feeling neutral to the situation. They could also be showing curiosity. If your dog is happy, their tail will be in a neutral or slightly raised position with a wagging tail. 

Tail Freezes Mid Wag: This is your dog signaling that they’ve had enough of the situation. They are showing a threat without being aggressive. This may happen when a stranger is petting your dog, and your dog is trying to communicate they are no longer comfortable. 

Wag More, Bark Less? Wagging Does Not Always Mean Happy 

While wagging tails can be signs of happiness and excitement, they can also mean many different things. It is important to pay attention to their other body language signs in relation to the tail movement, especially if you are dealing with a dog that is not yours.

For example, if your dog is wagging his tail, but has tense facial muscles, it could mean signs of stress or fear. If the face is relaxed, it could be a sign of happiness. Other areas to pay attention to is your pet’s fur: is their coat smooth and relaxed, or is the fur bristled up along the spine? Paying attention to these other signals can help you understand your dog’s mood, behavior, and stress levels. 

Each Dog is an Individual and Unique 

Just as humans express themselves differently in similar situations, so do dogs! While the tips above are great general ques to pay attention to, each dog is unique and will express themselves differently from the next. Pay attention to your dogs tail and body language in different situations, so you can better read their mood and understand their intentions.

The veterinary experts at Godspeed Animal Care are here to help you decipher your pup’s many signals, and care for your pet throughout their lifetime. Call us at (757) 253-0656 with any questions or concerns regarding your pet’s behavior.