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5 Things your dog's tail is trying to tell you

Whitney Coy is a freelance writer and editor based in Columbus, OH, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She writes frequently for SheKnows, as well as several other websites. She writes on topics including parenting, pets...

Wagging tails don't always mean what you think

A wagging tail means a happy dog, right? Not so fast.

According to practicing veterinarian and established veterinary medical journalist Dr. Jeff Werber, a wagging dog tail can actually have many different meanings.

More: Scientists are closing in on a technology to talk to animals

"While it is true that dogs wag their tails when they are happy, they also can wag their tail when they are afraid or aggressive," he says.

Situations like this often lead to misinterpretations that can have unhappy endings—both for the human and the dog.

More: We took the dog nobody wanted, and I'm glad we did

Werber says the key to understanding the meaning behind a tail wag is to look at the whole dog, not just the tail. He gave us these tips to help interpret our dogs' moods based on their wag:

  • Tail wagging with rear end held high and also wagging indicates a playful, fun attitude

  • Tail wagging low and cautiously could mean the dog is fearful or suspicious

  • Tail wagging but no movement in rear end could indicate an aggressive attitude

  • Tail standing straight up with no wag suggests alertness

  • Tail tucked between the dog's legs suggests submission, fear or concern

Werber also says a dog's ears will often give an important clue about the dog's current mood.

"If they are lying back and the hair on their shoulders is up, be careful — that is an aggressive stance," he warns.

More: What you need to know if your dog attacks someone

Werber notes that no one knows your dog better than you, so pay attention and learn its cues.

"The more experience you have with your dog, the more you observe his or her reactions, the better you will become at interpreting their feelings based on these cues," he says.

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