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Why do Dogs Wag their Tail?

A lot of people believe that dogs wag their tail in order to let people know that they are happy and ready to play. However, this isn’t always true. While they do wag their tails to let us know this sometimes, they can communicate other feelings that they have through tail wagging too. It all depends on the position of their tail.

When a dog is relaxed, their tail will be in a natural position. This all depends on what breed of dog you have, as some have smaller tails than others so will look different when relaxed. Just use your best judgement to learn what the most natural position for your dog’s tail to be in is. To help, most dogs’ tails hang down slightly towards their heels, but greyhounds’ tails will rest between their legs, and pugs’ tails curl upwards. It is all about getting to know your own dog and their own tail.

When your dog is feeling nervous or submissive, it will lower its tail much further than usual and in extreme cases, if your dog is feeling particularly scared, it will tuck its tail between its legs entirely. This could be an evolutionary response to protect themselves from attack. Because the tail is one of the extremities on a dog’s body, it is an easy place for a predator to attack. By tucking their tail away, they minimise the risk of their tail being bitten or pulled at and thus are protecting themselves from suffering serious injury.

On the other hand, if your dog is excited or aroused by something, their tail will likely point upwards – towards the sky. This is because the dog uses its tail to show other’s that it is ready to play and an upwards pointing tail is a sign that it is not afraid of the other dogs in the vicinity. When a dog holds their tail straight out, this shows that it is curious about something. The way they wag their tail also indicates what kind of emotion they are feeling. Studies have shown that when a dog wags their tail to the right they are experiencing positive emotions such as happiness or excitement, whereas a tail wagging to the left indicates negative emotions like nervousness or anxiety.

Dogs don’t just wag their tail to communicate with their human owners though. When puppies are first born and living in close quarters with their brothers and sisters, they use their tail to signal different things to them. If they are playing and they play becomes a little too rough, they may wag their little tails as a sort of ‘white flag’ signalling to their play mates that it is time to stop the playing. They may also use their tails to show that they are hungry. Litters of puppies which are still being fed by their mother need to get her attention somehow when they are hungry. Unfortunately, dogs can’t talk to let us know they are hungry, so they wag their tails in order to get their mother’s attention and let her know it’s time for a feed!

Dogs wagging their tails is a purely social thing, and research has shown that dogs don’t wag their tails when they are alone. In the same way that humans don’t smile, laugh or use other gestures when they’re on their own, dogs don’t use their tails. This is simply because there is no need. They only use their tails to communicate with others and if no one else is around then there is no point.

Dogs also wag their tails as a way of spreading their scent around. Each dog has a completely unique and individual scent that other dogs can smell and come to recognise. If a dog is walking around with their tail high then they are bold and want to spread their scent to others in the area. When you see a dog with their tail held high you might want to assume that it is a confident dog. On the other hand, if your dog tucks its tail between its legs when out and about then this may be because it doesn’t want to spread its scent – it is a dog’s way of flying low. If you see a dog with its tail between its legs when you are out walking, it could indicate that it is nervous and you may want to keep your dog away from it, particularly if your dog is particularly friendly or excitable.

A dogs tail wagging is both an innate trait that is an evolutionary response and also a learned behaviour. Dogs start wagging their tails when they are around a month old, to communicate with other dogs in their litter. They also wag their tails to release or hide their scent – this is not a learned behaviour. However, as they get older they learn that certain tail wagging behaviours will elicit certain behaviours and responses from others. Certain things like tucking their tail between their legs to protect their tail from attack by predators is a learned behaviour because they do it once and a dog will leave them alone, so they learn to do it every time that a dog is too inquisitive or they are feeling nervous.

Like humans, all dogs will have their own unique tail wagging behaviours, and when yours wags its tail, it may mean something different to when another dog wags theirs. You should learn what your dog’s own individual wagging means and then you will be able to better communicate with them or give them what they need.