Probably the most obvious, and most misunderstood, form of tail language is the wag. Even people who have spent their entire lives around dogs assume that full-throttle wags mean a dog is saying “hi” with all her might. But tail wagging can’t be interpreted this easily because dogs that are aggressive and are preparing to attack will also wag their tails.
A wagging tail means nothing more than that a dog is feeling excited about something. Sometimes the excitement is positive, and sometimes it is negative. You have to look at the dog more closely to figure it all out.
High, stiff, and wagging = “I’m in charge”
A common misconception among many individuals is the belief that a dog’s tail held high and upright, similar to a flagpole, is an indication of aggression. However, this is not always accurate. While such a posture does not exclusively denote aggression, it is a sign of a dog asserting herself with confidence.
Indeed, the key to understanding a dog’s behavior lies in observing and correctly interpreting its tail movements, and many individuals make mistakes in this area. One of the most common errors is the misinterpretation of a tail wagging in a stiff manner. People often mistake this for a friendly gesture, a canine version of a happy wave. This misunderstanding has unfortunately led to many people getting bitten by dogs.
A stiffly wagging tail that is held high is not a friendly gesture in the canine world. It is instead indicative of a dog asserting dominance. This body language from a dog is a sign that the dog perceives herself as being in control of the situation. It is also important to note that this could potentially signal that the dog is prepared to attack if provoked.
Therefore, understanding the nuanced meanings behind a dog’s tail wagging is essential for safe interactions. Recognizing these subtle signals can help to prevent misunderstandings that could escalate into dangerous situations.
Low, fast wags and short sweeps = “I’m no threat”
In the diverse world of canine communication, understanding tail wagging and posture is crucial. When a more submissive or timid dog is confronted by a more assertive one – one that carries her tail erect and wagging rigidly – the former has only one reasonable response: to demonstrate to the more dominant canine that she doesn’t pose a threat.
Dogs that possess a more introverted or submissive demeanor typically react to the approach of another, more assertive dog in a very specific way. They maintain their tails in a lower position, and wag them with a minimal, almost cautious, motion. This behavior is their unique way of signaling a message of non-confrontation to the other dog.
This subtle wagging of the tail, low and close to the body, essentially translates into “Hey, I am not here to compete or challenge you. I am friendly, and I don’t pose any threat whatsoever.” This response is instinctual and serves to de-escalate potential conflicts, showing the dominant dog that the submissive one recognizes and respects her status, and is not interested in a power struggle. By acknowledging these complex interplays of behavior, we can better comprehend and appreciate the intricate world of canine communication.
Low, slow wags and large sweeps = “It’s good to see you”
Sometimes a wag is really just a wag. You’ll know your dog is wagging because she’s happy to see you and wants to play when her tail is low or even with her body and is wagging a little slowly, but in wide sweeps back and forth. Usually, her whole butt will be wiggling as well.
Dogs don’t speak only with their tails, of course, and the only way to accurately interpret tail movements is to know something about the breed. Some hunting dogs, like spaniels, have been bred to wag their tails constantly while pursuing quarry. To signal that they’ve found their game, they stop wagging and hold their tails stiffly up in the air. On the other hand, herding dogs are bred to have less tail movement so that their wagging tails don’t distract or excite the animals that they’re trying to herd. If you didn’t know that about these animals, you might think one was overly excited while the other was overly staid, when it’s really just the way they were bred.