It is important as a pet owner to learn how to communicate with your pet.  Since dogs can’t speak to us verbally as pet owners it is our job to pick up their communication in a way they know how.  The best way dogs communicate is through their body language.  This includes their tail wagging.  Interpreting your dog’s tail wag can help you understand what they like, how they are feeling, and how they may react to something. 

Tail wagging can happen for many reasons, not just because your dog is happy.  Dogs are more attuned to movement and motion, so tail wagging is a key element to communication in the canine world.  


Understanding Tail Position

It is important to learn about the breed of your dog, and their neutral tail position.  This means the position their tail is at when they are at their most relaxed state of mind.  Some breeds have tails that hang low down by their back heels.  Other breeds have tails that are held more vertically like beagles.  Some tails curl tightly under the belly naturally.  Pugs have tails that are tightly curled, or have stubby tails.  Knowing what their neutral tail position is will help you be able to decipher what their wags mean when they are having different emotions. 

Position of tail is just as important as how much they are wagging their tail.  If your dog is prepared or agitated they may raise their tail high.  Their ears may be perked up as well.  Negotiating, or deciding on something may cause your dog to stop wagging and freeze.  They are assessing their surroundings, or trying to divert a threat without aggression.  Curiosity can also cause your dog’s tail to stick straight out horizontally.   This can also happen when they are petted by a stranger.  Aggressive tails are held vertical or arching over the back.  Higher the tail means higher aggression.  Scared tails are tucked between the legs, this is when your dog perceives a threat.  Submission can cause the tail to drop to a neutral position or slightly lower.  Happiness can cause your dog’s tail to be neutral or slightly higher with a lot of wag.  


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Tail Speed & Direction

Wagging speed and direction can help with deciphering your dog’s tail wag as well.  When your dog is excited their tail will wag faster.  The faster the wag the greater the excitement.  The tail may also wag more to the right or wag in a more helicopter rotation.  If your dog is insecure their wag may be small or reserved.  Friendliness your dog will wag freely with hip wiggles as well.  Aggression may cause your dog to have a fast wag of their tail while their tail is in a vertical position.  Aggressive tails may wag more to the left.  Even when a dog is wagging their tail in an aggressive state they can still bite you.  It is important to notice when a dog is communicating aggression  so you know to back away and keep yourself out of harm’s way. 


Be Aware Of Tail Injury 

A dog’s tail is an extension of their backbone with vertebrae.  It is an important body part for your dog.  It is subject to hurt, damage, or injury.  If you notice that your dog doesn’t wag, or holds their tail limp then there is something wrong.  Tails can be sprained, broken, dislocated, or have nerve damage.  It is important to seek medical help with your dog if their tail is limp.  


Communication Thru Body Language

If your dog has a stubby tail you can still figure out what they are trying to tell you with their tail position and wag.  It is important to look closer to the base of their tail instead of at the tip.  Stubby tails will still be held in different positions as well as move.  You can also look at their other body language to learn how they are feeling.  Learning your dog’s neutral tail position will make it easier for you to notice emotional changes in them when they are in different situations.