Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails?

Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails?

Dogs wag their tails to communicate how they are feeling. It is often thought that tail wagging shows that dogs are happy but there is much more being communicated. Dog’s tails are an important communication tool and their position can indicate nervousness, excitement, relaxation, and more. 

The Importance Of Tails For Canine Communication 

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Dogs wag their tails instinctively and it is an important part of canine communication. Puppies will start to wag their tail within the first month of life. Tail wagging is a way for dogs to show how they are feeling and this ranges from excitement to nervousness. 

Dogs that have had their tail docked are at a disadvantage when it comes to communication. This is due to not having a tail makes it harder for others to interpret how the dog is feeling. 

Having a docked tail makes it more likely for the dog’s intentions to be misunderstood. This is why it is important to take into account other aspects of the dog’s body language to help avoid miscommunications. 

Reading Different Dog Tail Positions

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When looking at a dog’s tail position it’s important to also observe their body language and the situation. This will help you more accurately understand how your dog is feeling. 


When a dog’s tail is in its natural position without wagging it is a sign of them feeling relaxed. For most dogs, a neutral tail position is hanging down near their back paws but for some breeds, the tail is naturally curled up over their back. 

Broad, Sweeping Tail 

A broad, sweeping tail is not tucked or held high. This is an indication that the dog is comfortable and relaxed. 

High, Wagging Tail 

When a dog is holding their tail high and is wagging it fast it indicates excitement. 

Common examples of this are when the dog sees something that excites them such as a friend visiting the house or a cat passing through the garden. When dogs are this excited their behaviour may be more erratic than usual. 

Helicopter Tail 

When the tail is moving in circular motions it indicates the dog is feeling social and excited. This tail movement is usually seen around close friends and is a sign the dog is very pleased to see you. 

Backwards, Gently Wagging

When a dog’s tail is held backwards and is slowly wagging the dog may be curious but unsure of the situation. Common scenarios where this tail position is seen include when a dog is looking at an unfamiliar object trying to figure out what it is. 

Tucked Tail 

When a dog tucks their tail or is slightly wagging it but holding it low it is a sign that they are worried. This tail position is used to communicate to others that they are not a threat. 

Clamped Tail

When the tail is not just tucked but is clamped between the dog’s legs it shows they are very worried. A dog with a clamped tail most likely feels the need to protect itself. 

Vertical Tail 

If the dog’s tail is high and rigid, this can be a sign of aggression. The dog is letting others know that they need space and a chance to calm down. 

Tail Wagging To The Right

Research suggests that when a dog wags their tail slightly to the right it can indicate the dog is relaxed and recognises the person or dog.

Tail Wagging To The Left

The study also showed that when the dogs wagged their tail slightly to the left it would indicate anxiety and more negative emotions. 

Side to Side Wagging

When dogs are focussing on a scent they may move their tails from side to side. This is not thought to be communication but is likely to be a sign of concentration. 

Does The Direction Of The Wag Mean Anything?

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Yes, a study found that when a dog wags their tail to the right it is usually positive while wagging its tail to the left is generally negative. 

The left-sided tail wagging was often associated with anxious behaviour and an increased heart rate. Right-sided tail wagging was associated with relaxed behaviour and was thought to be a signal of companionship. 

Looking For A New Dog? 

If you’re ready to be welcomed home by a dog with a wagging tail, use Puppies to find a healthy puppy from a reputable breeder. 


Is a dog happy when it wags its tail?

Dogs use their tails to express how they are feeling and wagging their tails can communicate to others their excitement, friendliness, and energy. When dogs are excited they typically wag their tails fast and may wiggle their hips too. 

When dogs lie down, why do they wag their tails?

Dogs use their tails to communicate, wagging their tail while lying down can have different meanings depending on the situation. They may be being submissive or could be feeling relaxed and happy. 

If your dog is wagging their tail while asleep they are likely dreaming. 

If a dog is in trouble, why will it wag its tail? 

Dogs wag their tails for a variety of reasons including when they feel anxious, threatened, submissive, and nervous. Tail wagging is not just reserved for excitement and happiness. 

This may also be why some dogs wag their tails when they are dying.  

When I talk to my dog, why does it wag its tail?

Your dog is probably wagging their tail as they are happy and ready to interact with you. 

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