Why do dogs wag their tails?

Published 5:00am 19 June 2022

Why do dogs wag their tails?
Words by Moreton Daily
By Kylie Mackay, Northshore Pet Resort

Have you ever wondered why your dog’s tail is wagging? While it is often their way of communicating with us, their tails do a whole range of other useful things too, like maintaining balance and full body movement.

The position and motion of a dog’s tail can tell us a lot about how they are feeling and is one of the main cues that our pet care staff use at Northshore Pet Resort.

Every breed of dog has a different tail type, varying in length, natural position, and thickness. Tail wagging is an instinctive behaviour that develops as puppies and is such an important communication method used.

Generally, watching for cues such as body position in addition to tail position will give you a very accurate indication of how a dog is feeling. If their tail is low or tucked in underneath them, and their body is hunched forward toward the ground, this often means that they are feeling unsure, nervous, or submissive. This is a good time to provide reassurance, using quite noises and slow movements to show them that there is no threat.

If their tail is wagging quickly from side to side, while they bound towards you with their tongue ready for big licks, then they are likely feeling relaxed, happy or playful. These are the easy ones, so it’s important to remember that sometimes they will give more subtle indications of body language and tail position to show you how they are feeling.

Have you ever noticed your dog’s tail twitch, while they stand as still as a statue? They have likely just heard a noise and are contemplating reacting to it (like someone about to ring the doorbell). Some breeds of dogs (such as the Australian Cattle Dog) will display piloerection, which is the dog’s version of goosebumps! It is the bristling of hairs that occurs as a reflex to arousal, fear or excitement, and will often spike up all the way down their spine and to the end of their tails.

Sometimes, a dog might be wagging their tail slowly from side to side, standing still with their head drooped low. Usually, they are giving you puppy eyes at the same time! This often means they are feeling unsure and a little shy, so it’s important to remember tail wagging is not always an indication that a dog is feeling joyful and happy.

Always look for full body cues, as well as the surrounding environment, to best determine how a dog is really feeling. A wagging tail does not always mean they are feeling happy, and by converse a stationary tail does not mean they are frightened or sad.

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