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.
“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.
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.
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.