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Decoding the Tail Wag: What is Your Dog Saying?

 by jaime on 13 Jul 2014 |
1 Comment(s)
People often bemoan the complicated language barrier that exists between men and women. In this case, at least men and women speak the same language or can translate between intelligible languages. What about dog owners? How are they to know what their dog is thinking when it walks through a room or starts barking at the mail man?
On a daily basis, your dog will wag its tail in a variety of directions. You might think this is a meaningless movement from your dog akin to you swaying your arms while walking, but in reality it is a means of communication. The direction and intensity of a tail wag offers insight into what your dog is thinking and feeling in that moment.
Wagging to smile

The tail wag of a dog is often associated with smiles in people. Dogs will use their tails in much the same way humans use facial expressions to convey happiness, sadness, or anxiousness. However, not all tail wags are happy smiles, just as no two human smiles necessarily indicate happiness. While you might smile awkwardly when someone tells a bad joke, a dog is also capable of conveying different messages with its tail.
Left and right

A recent study of dog behavior suggests that the direction of your dog's tail wag tells a lot about its current mood. The team of scientists involved in the study at Italy's University of Trento found that a tail wag that favors the right conveys a different message than one that favors the left.
When your dog is wagging its tail predominantly to the right it indicates that your dog is calm and happy. Conversely, a tail wag that predominantly swings to the left indicates that your dog is anxious and potentially upset.
Up, down, or in the middle

Most dog owners have probably noticed that their dog's tail will sometimes be wagging high in the air, or low behind its hind quarters. The height of your dog's tail when it is wagging conveys a message too. A high tail position and slow side-to-side motion indicates a confident, happy smile from your dog.
When your dog's tail is wagging quickly from side-to-side and is low behind its body, this indicates a sense of uneasiness. Your dog isn't necessarily upset or stressed, but it is definitely unsure of its surroundings and what is going on at that particular moment.

Then there is the mid-level, fast wag.
It is inevitable as a dog owner to see your pet's tail wagging so fast and wide that it seems to be tapping each side of the body with every swipe. This is similar to a child with a high sense of anticipation. Your dog is excited. It may not know why, but it is definitely excited by something or someone in the room.

While most owners would associate a fast tail wag with happiness, that is not always the case. Speed can be tricky when it comes to determining the emotion and message behind a tail wag. Generally speaking, a fast tail wag is a sign of happiness. However, as explained above, a fast tail wag when the dog's tail is low is a sign of nervousness and anxiety. Similarly, a slow wag doesn't mean your dog is unhappy.
Some dogs with larger tails will wag their tails with slow, sweeping movements in a high position when they are happy. Just because it is moving slowly doesn't mean your dog is unhappy.
There are a lot of messages coming from your dog's tail. If you pay enough attention and keep the factors mentioned above in mind, you'll be able to determine the mood of your pet with less confusion.

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Beverly - Comment
Beverly17 Jul 2014Reply
I've noticed several dogs doing a "round-the-world" or circular tail wag. What does that mean?

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