Why Your Dog Wags Its Tail

Ever wish you could chat with your dog?

Well, the bad news is you still can’t (Soooooory). But the good news is that research, conducted by neuroscientists at the University of Trento, Italy, has uncovered how dogs actually communicate!

With this information we can decipher how our pets are feeling in the moment and we can respond accordingly.

How is this, you might ask?

It’s all in the tail!



Yes, big bushy ones, short nubby ones...the movement of a tail is how dogs communicate to one another and how they communicate to us humans as well. We knew there was more to them than looking so darn cute! This doggie language is based on not only the motion of their tails, but also on their position.

It is commonly believed that dogs wag their tail in excitement when they are happy or friendly or want some good ol’ lovin, but this is actually not the case. It turns out that quick wishy-washy movement may not always signal a good thing.

Research has proven that if Fido is wagging his tail to the right, he genuinely is happy to see you! So go ahead and shower him with all the kissies when you walk in the door from work!

We know that if Fido vigorously wags his tail to the left, he may be anxious or stressed.

Why is this, you might ask?

According to science, the brain’s left hemisphere controls the right side of the body, and vice versa. Research on the approach-avoidance behavior of other animals has shown that the left hemisphere is associated with the positive approach feelings, and the right hemisphere is associated with negative-avoidance feelings (Rogers 2009).

Dogs use their tails to chat with each other as well. A study found that dogs understand the tail wagging of other dogs a right tail wag relaxes other dogs while a left-wagging tail induces stress.

Aside from the good ol' windshield wiper movement of the tail, there’s also a science to the position of a dog’s tail when they are feeling a certain way!

Here’s the tail position breakdown so you can try and speak canine and better understand your furriends:

If your dog is feeling good his tail will be in its  “natural position”. We like to refer to this as the “chill position”. This chill position varies for breeds, for most dogs it refers to their tail hanging down near their hocks (or heels). A pug’s chill position would be when its tail is curled upwards.

When your dog is in his/her “chill position”, go ahead and cuddle with them or maybe this would even be a great time to break some unsettling news. They may take it a bit better in this relaxed state.

Speaking of unsettling news...

If your dog is nervous or submissive, its tail will be lower than normal. We’ve all seen this phenomenon when you’re just about to leave the house for work or go away on vacation. Dogs know what’s up so try and speak gently to your dog when they’re in this position. Let your dog know (in that gentle whisper) how much fun they will be having with the pet sitter and let him/her know you will bring all the treats home for them when you return!

When your dog is scared he/ she will tuck their tail under its body. It’s probably best not to approach a dog that is in this position as he/she may act aggressive as a form of self protection. If you come home to find your dog in this position, it’s best to speak and act in a calm and assuring manner. If your dog sees that you are calm in the situation they are more likely to relax as well.

If you notice your dog with a vertical tail, this may signal aggression so this would not be an ideal time to give them kissies! Save those for later.

If your dog is meeting a new person for the first time or sniffing out a new treat their tail will be straight out .This is a sign that he/she is curious. Try asking them, “what’s up?”. They won’t answer but they will appreciate the sentiment.

We’ve told you how to recognize when your dog is stressed, unhappy, scared, curious, anxious but you may be wondering how to tell if your dog is happy or aroused!

The answer:

If your dog is aroused, their tail may be higher than normal. You may have noticed that the sweet sounds of Taylor Swift or the smell of cookies baking in the oven will induce such a response (in humans too, not just dogs).

So there you have it. While we won't be able to hold a worldly convo with our dogs any time soon, we can pay more attention to the movement/position of their tails, therefore we can respond in a more appropriate manner and communicate more effectively with them! WOOF (YAY!)