A wagging tail means a happy dog, right? Not always…Since dogs haven’t found a way yet to talk to their owners, they use other means to convey what they’re thinking. Body language, especially tail wagging, is one.
There’s been a lot of publicity for a recent study by Italian researchers of dogs observing other dogs wagging their tails to the right or left and how they react. This dog behavior study observed dogs watching videos of other dogs wagging their tails either left or right.
Study findings indicated that dogs wagging their tails to the right caused observing dogs to relax and even try to approach the other dog. Dogs observed wagging their tails to the left, however, resulted in heightened heart rates and anxiousness in those dogs watching the videos.
While these studies of dog behavior may be valid, it can be hard for pet owners to put them to practical use. Dogs are much better at interpreting other dog behavior than humans. Plus, the tail wagging can be quite subtle and would require humans to see the wagging in slow motion to really observe differences.
Dog trainer and educator Penny Layne has six dogs of her own and had this to say about the tail wagging study: “I don’t dispute the research, but what I have is the experience of the last 22 years of studying dogs and training them and as a speaker and I’m reading more than just the tail. You really have to look for a while to see if the tail is going left or right. You can’t waste that much time if your life is threatened,” she says.
Another factor is breed. Dogs naturally hold their tails at different heights depending on their breed. In general, a broad wag to the side is typically a sign of a happy dog, especially if the hips are wiggling with the tail.
According to VetDepot’s blog, there are three tail wagging behaviors that signal trouble:
- A slow, low wag. This can be a sign of insecurity. If a dog is feeling fearful, it’s tail may continue to wag even if it’s tucked between the legs. If you think your dog is feeling uneasy for any reason, be cautious about introducing a new person or animal.
- A slow, high wag. This is often a display of dominance. Be cautious if your dog is exhibiting this behavior.
- A wagging tail accompanied by barking. This is often a warning sign of aggression or over-excitement.
The best way to tell if a dog’s tail wag is negative or positive, according to many pet experts, is to watch its overall body language. Happy dogs are relaxed, hold their tails at a natural height, and aren’t showing signs of anxiety or aggression.