After being gone from home, one of the things that gives me great joy is seeing how hard my dog wags his tail when he sees me again. It always makes me feel like he is so happy to see me.
I have been lucky with the dogs that I have owned, since all of them have an over exaggerated tail wag when they are happy, from it almost knocking them off their feet to them thumping their tail on the floor sounding like they are beating a drum.
So why do dogs wag tails? It isn’t always because they are happy to see you. That is why you need to be able to read your dog and the signs of other dogs to know which dogs are approachable and which ones you should back away from.
Dogs use their tails as a way of communicating to people and other dogs. If you don’t know the dog, but they are wagging their tails, you need to look for other body language to determine if they are friendly or not. Pinned back ears or a rigid body are signals that the dog wagging his tail at you isn’t doing it because they are glad to see you.
A dog wagging his tail is telling you he is happy to see you, he is afraid of you, he is in charge, or maybe he doesn’t like you. You need to understand what type of tail wag they are giving you, so you understand if you can pet them or if you need to back away.
Understanding Your Dog’s Tail And Personality
The first thing you need to understand in order to understand the meaning of a wagging tail, is to know what is the neutral position of your dog’s tail. This is the position that they hold their tail when they are completely relaxed and there isn’t anything exciting them.
This position will be different for every breed of dog and can even vary slightly from dog to dog of the same breed. You will need to learn this in order to understand how your dog is feeling.
You will also need to understand your dog’s personality to determine how your dog is feeling. Dogs that are more high-strung might always carry their tails a bit higher and their ears more alert. Calmer dogs will probably carry their tail in a lower position as they tend to be more relaxed.
Different Types Of Tail Wagging – What Do They Mean
Full Circle Tail Wagging – This is a dog that is really excited to see you. Usually this wag is reserved for a specific person or the family. This wag might get so exaggerated that their entire body is going from side to side. This is a happy dog and a very approachable dog. It would be hard to misunderstand what message your dog is sending you with this wag.
Sweeping Tail Wag – With this tail wag, your dog will be holding his tail height close to their relaxed height. It is showing that your dog is happy and relaxed. It will indicate that they are calm and curious. This is also a dog that is approachable and anyone should be able to greet this dog.
Stiff Tail – This tail is generally held high above its body and is either still or moving very stiffly. Or, if the tail is moving back and forth rapidly while held is this high position, this is a warning that you need to back away from this dog. This dog may be indicating he is getting ready to attack.
Up Tail – This could be an indication that your dog is feeling excited, alert or is being dominant Generally this is an approachable dog, but watch for other signs that your dog might be showing. Look at if their body is rigid or the position of their ears to determine if they are relaxed or not.
Low Wagging Tail – Your dog could be afraid or being submissive. They are feeling insecure. This could be because they are afraid of another dog or person. It would be good to reassure your dog that everything is fine if everything is fine. If this is a dog that you are meeting, be very cautious, since the dog could bite. They aren’t feeling comfortable with the situation.
Tail Tuck – When your dog tucks its tail between his legs, curled up to their stomach, they are very afraid. They are being completely submissive and feel like they are going to be punished.
Carrying Tail Lower Than Usual – If your dog is carrying their tail lower than usual, it might be indicating they are in pain or exhausted from hard exercise.
Chasing Their Tail – This is a whole different matter, but I thought I would mention since I am talking about tails. If your dog is rounding around in circles chasing their own tail, it usually means that they are bored and have some extra energy that they are trying to release. You are going to need to either exercise your dog more or provide some type of mental stimulation for your dog.
There has been a fairly recent study conducted that adds even more information in relation to a dog wagging his tail. The study shows the more positive your dog is about someone or something, the more their tail will wag to the right side of their butt and the more negative feelings they have, the tail wagging is biased to the left side. You can read more from the study here if you are interested.
Other Body Language Your Dog May Show
Smiling – Yes, some dogs do actually smile when they greet people. It is considered a submissive smile and they generally use it when first seeing someone and wanting attention from the new people. They will generally lower their heads, be wagging their tails and can show a full on smile.
Golden Retrievers many times are smiling dogs. I had two brothers that both would do it every time they greeted someone. You will want to warn people that your dog smiles, or some might be alarmed and feel like they are being threatened.
Winking – Dogs can, and do wink at you. This means they are a very happy and playful dog.
Why do dogs wag tails can change for different situations. It is good for you to understand what does the tail wag mean and the different types of tail wags you might see from dogs
Generally, most dog owners have a pretty good understanding of how their dog is feeling about a certain situation, but you should learn where your dog carries his tail when he is feeling relaxed or happy. That will help you be aware when you dog meets other people or dogs if he is feeling stressed, agitated, or afraid. It will help you prevent any unwanted behavior from your dog by removing him from the situation.
You also need to be aware of other dogs that you are meeting. If you are a dog lover and you see a dog you want to go up and pet, I suggest first asking the pet owner if it is OK, since they will know their dog’s disposition and if their dog is friendly to strangers. Just because you see a dog wagging his tail doesn’t mean that dog wants you do come up and pet them. Watch for the other signals the dog is giving off, and watch for the tail position and the type of tail wagging he is doing.
It is better to be safe, than just reaching out to pet an unknown dog. You don’t know why that dog is wagging his tail.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. Or please share your dog experiences.
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I love this post, dogs are so loving and give their all to us.
Throughout our 51 year marriage, my wife and I have had 5 dogs, such great companions, our last dog, a white German Shepherd died last year and sadly, I don’t think we will own another dog as, since a fall, my wife is now disabled and I now care for her.
Ken, I’m glad you read my article. Five dogs is great, but I am sorry that you lost your last one last year. That is really hard. I am also sorry you won’t be getting another one. They are such great companions, but maybe you can friend a neighbor’s dog.
Hey Marla thank you for this, I’ve always had that uneasy feeling when a dog I don’t know wags their tail at me! Now I have a better understanding of what to look for before freaking out hehehe. Side note for lols – I was chased by a huger than huge great dane as a kid – it was scary as hell.
Nadia, I’m glad this will help you be more at ease when you see a dog wagging his tail to know if you should approach him or not. I have found that most dogs are friendly, but every once in a while that is not the case and you need to be careful. I am sorry you got chased by a dog when you were young. That can really stick with you.