What does a wag actually mean?

By October 3, 2018 No Comments

I talk to a lot of people about their dogs

Never, you say!! 😀
Anyway, a lot of people tell me that their dog does things like barking, growling, or lunging on lead and looks essentially aggressive – but he is wagging his tail, and it is very confusing.

Most people think that when their dog wags his tail he is happy

Not necessarily!
Dogs use their tails to communicate and show their emotional state.
But a wagging tail isn’t always a happy one
A wag can mean a whole host of things

You need to learn ‘tail’

The neutral or natural position of your dog’s tail will vary depending on his breed but most dogs have tails that hang down when they are relaxed. But some dogs, like Beagles, hold their tails higher as a normal position and some, like Spitz breeds have tails that coil tightly against the body and don’t have as much movement so you need to learn to speak tail by watching your own dog. It will help you no end assessing your dog when they approach another dog and in all kinds of situations to keep you both out of trouble.

So, what do we look for in a tail wag … height, speed and direction

When a dog is happy, he holds his tail in a neutral or slightly raised position and adds a nice broad wag.
When a dogs is alert he will stand with ears up and tail raised; watching and ready to confront whatever caught their attention.
When a tail moves from a neutral position to a higher, more vertical position (or it arches over the back) it may indicate that the dog may become aggressive (yes, even if it is wagging). The higher the tail, the greater the threat. This high tail position also releases more scent from the anal glands which announces the dog’s presence and marks the territory.
If the tail is tucked tightly between the rear legs, or very low with a small fast wag your dog is scared. He thinks there is a threat and is asking not to be hurt. This low tail position reduces the amount of scent emitted from the anal glands and allows the dog to remain less ‘visible’
When a dog is curious about something he may hold his tails straight out in a horizontal position.
If your dog suddenly stops wagging his tail and freezes, it may mean that he wants divert a threat without being aggressive. Many dogs do this when petted by strangers to communicate that they don’t want to interact with them.


Excitement; Generally, the faster the wag, the more excited the dog.

Insecurity; A dog that is tentative about meeting a new person or another dog may wag his tail ever so slightly to indicate that he is insecure.

Friendliness;  A dog that is very friendly may wag his tail more freely and loosely.
Aggression; When a dog wags his tail very fast while holding it vertically, it may be an active threat. So, remember you can can get bitten by a dog that is wagging its tail!


Even the direction of the wagging can be important. Studies show that dogs wag their tails to the right when they are happy or confident and to the left when they are cautious.

…. and the reason for this fascinating wag fact …

It is because the left side of the brain controls movement on the right side of the body and vice versa. So the left brain is engaged when the tail wags to the right and the right brain causes the tail to move to the left. Since the left side of the brain is associated with positive feelings like love and serenity, a happy dog wags his tail to the right whilst the right half of the brain is associated with negative feelings like fear and depression, so a cautious dog wags his tail to the left.

So watch your dog, read his tail and understand him a little better

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