why dogs wag their tales

Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails?

We all like to see a dog wagging his or her tail – mainly as we have been told that a dog wagging their tail means that they are happy. However, this sadly is not always the case and so, in this article, we look at all the reasons why a dog wags its tail. It makes for an interesting read as it dispels the myth that all dogs that wag their tails are friendly dogs and totally safe to approach.

We investigate how to read the situation that you are in to help best determine what exactly a dog could be saying with his or her tail. This is because of the wide range of emotions that a dog can display through a tail wag. Bearing this in mind, when it comes to figuring out how a dog is feeling by looking at their tail, we also need to take into account the situation alongside the rest of what their body is trying to convey to us.

happy dog

When do Dogs Begin to Start Wagging Their Tail?

Dogs don’t start wagging their tails as soon as they are born. Instead, puppies will start wagging their tails when they are about three, maybe four, weeks old. The variance comes from what breed your dog is. How a tail wags is also subjective to the breed.

The reason they start wagging their tail in the first place is that tail wagging is an instinctive reaction for dogs. What’s great about it, while it is not an exact science, is their tail wagging provides owners with a good idea about how they are feeling at that moment in time. Tail wagging, despite the differences in shape, size and manner depending on breed, is also a way that dogs communicate with each other – especially when they have been exposed to other dogs and socialized from an early age.

For this reason, it is always a good idea to socialize your dog as early as possible after their vaccinations. It can make all the difference in their ability to read future situations where dogs are involved.

What a Dog is Feeling – According to its Tail

As previously mentioned, a wagging tail is not the immediate sign of a happy dog. While it can certainly indicate that your dog is, in fact, very happy, there are other meanings behind dog tail wagging too. All of the below variations are good to bear in mind, especially when you are a dog owner because it can help you control your dog’s behavior – whatever the circumstances.

  • What does a sweeping tail mean?

Seeing a dog wag his or her tail at a natural height to their body (so not elevated or tucked between their legs) generally will mean that your dog is not only happy, but also content with the current situation.

  • What does a helicopter tail mean?

Dog owners will most likely see this movement (where the tail moves quickly in circular motions) the moment he or she steps in the door. Dogs usually keep this tail motion for when they are most excited and pleased to see people they know and even dogs that they know well.

  • What does a tail wagging to the right mean?

While not always the case, it has been shown in a large number of circumstances that a dog that is wagging his or her tail to the right, ever so slightly, means that they recognize a person or another dog that is approaching him or her.

  • What does my dog’s tail tucked under mean?

It’s always sad to see a dog with a tucked tail, even if it is wagging slightly. It means that a dog is anxious or stressed for some reason and is trying to communicate his or her submissive attitude. They want to relay to others that no threat will come from them. An extension of this is when a dog’s tail is firmly held between his or her legs. This means they are extremely anxious and want to protect themselves against a danger they perceive within the immediate situation.

  • What does a dog holding a tail high and wagging mean?

This, more often than not, will mean that a dog is not only excited but aroused too. This is not always the case however and it will largely depend on what breed the dog is as well as personality.

  • What does my dog wagging his or her tail from side to side mean?

This is quite an interesting tail wag and can’t always be seen in all dogs. However, for some it can mean that they have picked up a scent that they want to concentrate on more. They may well have discovered something that they are extremely interested in – like an old toy or something that is hidden in hedgerow. Essentially, wagging their tail like this means that they are thinking very hard about something.

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Be Aware of These Signs In A Dog’s Body Language

As a dog owner, one of the best ways you can address your dog’s needs is by being able to interpret their body language. The tail is a huge part of that but also remember that your dog is stressed if they are looking away from you or licking their lips repeatedly. Additionally if they are yawning a lot or in general just displaying behavior that is uncharacteristic to them, something will be bugging them. Either give them space when this happens or remove them from the situation that is causing them anxiety.

You may also like our article on: Tail Biting in Dogs – What Are the Causes?


  1. Matt Soniak, Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails?, PetMD
  2. Dr. William Fortney, How to Train a Dog, HowStuffWorks

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