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Tail Wagging and its Many Meanings

Welcome to my Journal. My name is Kim, I am a Haslemere dog walker and student in canine behaviour. To find out more about me head over to my about page.

I am looking forward to using this journal to share the insights I gain through my work and study. My hope is that these hints and tips will help you and your dog live a more tranquil life. Read on to find out exactly what your dog tail signals mean.

Have you ever wished you knew how your dogs was feeling? Learning to interpret your dog’s tail wagging could give you a valuable insight into their emotions.

As dog owners, we are all familiar with our dog’s ‘happy wag’. A dog wagging with fast, broad swings of the tail, sometimes with added wiggly hips if very excited; this is the wag we all love to see. Did you know, however, that a wagging tail can be associated with whole host of emotions, including anxiety and even aggression?

Firstly, getting familiar with your dog’s natural, neutral tail position is important as we need to read all tail wags in relation to each particular dog. Dog breeds vary greatly in the height at which the tail is naturally held and dogs may hold their tails high, like Beagles or Chow Chow, or low, as with Greyhounds or Whippets. Of course, your dog may be distinctly lacking in the tail department, one of the bull breeds or Corgis for example, or may have a tightly curled tail that has limited movement; in this case, the tail as an indicator of your dog’s mood is more difficult to interpret. For these owners, other body language becomes more important in assessing the dog’s feelings. In fact, we should all look at the whole dog when attempting to decipher emotions, but for now, we will stick with the tail.

Slower Wag

If your dog’s tail is lower than neutral and their wag is slower and less enthusiastic, it could indicate that they are feeling slightly nervous, insecure or not completely enjoying a situation. In a moderate to low tail position, it could also mean they are feeling confused or don’t understand something.

Quick Wag with Short Swings

When the tail is held in a lower position, this tail wag is indicative of apprehension about something. It often happens when dogs meet for the first time and can show a degree of submission.

Very Small, Fast ‘Wag’ with Stiff Tail, Held High

The tail looks although it is almost vibrating. This is a ‘wag’ that we should all take note of, in both our own and other dogs. It is a signal that things could be about to go badly. If your dog is exhibiting this tail signal it could mean that they are about to attack.

Circular ‘Wag’

The helicopter tail as it is sometimes called, is a sign of extreme happiness – something fantastically fun is happening and your dog is delighted!

Tail Wagging Left, or Right?

Is your dog’s tail wagging to the left, or the right? It is quite tricky to spot initially, but look closely. Research by Giorgio Vallortigara et al (2007, 2013), has revealed that dogs wag their tails to the right when experiencing positive emotions, such as when greeting their owners. Tails tended to wag to the left during more uncomfortable scenarios, such as when faced with a more confident, unfamiliar dog. The research also showed that upon seeing a digitalised silhouette of a dog wagging to the left, the dogs experienced stress related responses such as panting and an increased heart rate. The same silhouette wagging its tail to the right did not elicit such reactions and the dogs remained relaxed.

If we take the time to make these observations, we can get an insight into what makes our dogs content and happy and we can try to avoid any undue stress on them.

I hope this article has provided a new understanding of your dog and provided you with some insights and tips you can use. I am very much looking forward to sharing more pointers in the coming months. Keep an eye out for my next journal entry by following me on Instagram and Facebook.

Head to my Home Page to find out more about my work or to contact me to discuss your dog walking and sitting requirements.


For those interested in Vallortigara’s et al’s research, I have left links to below:

Vallortigara, G, Siniscalchi , M, Quaranta, A & (2007) - - ‘Asymmetrical Tail-Wagging Responses by Dogs to Different Emotive Stimuli’-

Vallortigara, G, Siniscalchi,M, Quaranta, A, & Lusito,R (2013) ‘Seeing Left or Right-Asymmetric Tail Wagging Produces Different Emotional Responses in Dogs’ -

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