Learn why your pet wags its tail

A common misconception people have about dogs is the tale that dogs wag their tails only when they are happy. Though dogs often do wag their tails when they are happy, they also use a tail wag as an expression of excitement or irritation as well.

A dog’s tail can be lightly compared to a human smile; it is a primary form of communication. Dogs will wag their tails to show happiness at seeing their owner walk in the front door, to show gratitude for being fed, and to show excitement when they realize they are going to be taken on a walk. Think about when a person is alone: they rarely smile when they are alone. It is the same way with dogs. They only wag their tail if another human being or dog (or animal for that matter) is present.

It is a known fact that when dogs are happy they wag their tails. Dogs also wag their tails when they are in state of excitement. Not just a happy excitement, but also an irritated or maybe even angry kind of excitement. If you notice the next time your dog runs to the front door to bark at the mailman or a neighbor at your door, go ahead and pay attention to their tail. It will be wagging as they bark and you may even see the hair on the scruff of their neck and at the base of their tail raised slightly. This is a wag of irritation or increased awareness. It not a simple friendly wag of the tail.

Knowing the facts about wagging tails can work to your benefit. As you begin to pay attention to your dog’s body language, you will able to understand and get to know your pet even more. Once you begin to have a basic understanding of your dog’s communicative actions, you will also begin to understand the communication processes of other dogs that you may not be familiar with. Dogs communicate through the wag of their tail, their barking (or lack of), their whining, licking, and jumping. All of these actions are common forms of doggie “talking” or communication. Their actions can serve as encouragement to play, warning signs of hostility, or can simply let you know they are hungry or need to be taken outside for their personal relief.

So, next time you are on a walk or in the park with your kids, you may know better than to let your children pet a strange dog simply because you see their tail wagging and assume it’s ok. Watch the dog’s body language and be discerning before you allow Jack and Jane to pet an unknown dog. Because you are familiar with dogs’ communication, you will most likely be able to tell whether the dog is in fact friendly or not. Then your kids will stay safe because you have taken the time to understand the body language of dogs. Remember, a wagging tail is not always a happy tail!