Dogs Wagging Their Tails

So you head over to your friend’s house, and here comes her husky, wagging its tail and running to meet you.  Oh hey, puppy!  It comes up to you and you bend down to pet it….only to get growled at and have her husky back away from you.  Huh?  What happened?  Aren’t dogs supposed to wag their tail when they are happy?  Well yes, but that is only about half the picture.  If a dog displays other alert characteristics, like stiffened muscles, dilated pupils, or pinned ears, the reason they are wagging their tail is not because they are happy to see you.  A dog’s tail wag is much like a human mouth expression, they can be smiling or frowning, or even baring their teeth.  It is very important to judge a dogs attitude by not only its tail wag, but its entire body language and demeanor.  Like any other language, a dog wagging its tail has intricacies that must be learned, it’s like dog vocabulary!

Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tail?What a dog tail wag actually means is a feeling of strong emotion from the dog.  It can be a happy emotion, an angry emotion, or even a sad emotion.  Dogs will wag their tail both to say Hi and seek comfort.  Sometimes, they will even wag their tail when they are afraid, anxious, or are challenging another dog or human.  In fact, an Italian research group determined that a dog wagging its tail to the left is generally an indicator of negative emotion while a wag to the right usually means a positive emotion.  Dogs actually understand this system of tail wag communications much better than we do, and it suggests that dogs have asymmetrical brains just like ours.  Certain motions of the body directly correspond to parts of the brain.  Although dogs do not use their tails to communicate (they communicate with howls and barks), they instinctively know what different types of tail wags mean.  Kind of like you or eye would be able to tell the difference between a happy and sad person based on body language.

So why do dogs wag their tails?  Well, now you know.  A tail wag can mean many different things, from happiness, to fear, to a social challenge.  Dogs use their entire body to communicate just like we do, and a tail wag is only part of that communication.  So the next time you see an unfamiliar dog, you should gauge their attitude by their entire appearance, even if they are wagging their tail like crazy.