Do dogs only wag their tail when happy?
Dogs often wag their tails to express a state of energetic enthusiasm. In a 2018 study, researchers found: “Dogs wag their tails loosely from side to side to communicate friendliness or their excitability.”
This association between tail wagging and positive canine social behavior has been proven in further research.
In a 2013 study, dogs demonstrated excitement by wagging their tail in response to their achievements. The researchers write these results suggest “tail wagging may be a useful indicator of positive affective states in dogs.”
Meanwhile, a 1989 study published in the journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior found dogs wagged their tails more after a period of limited social contact. This may explain why dogs wag their tails so much after their owner’s prolonged absence.
Regardless, dogs move their tails for any number of reasons — to convey anxiety, alertness, or other emotions. Some studies even suggest that tail wagging can correspond to a dog’s personality, though further research is still needed to be sure.
Do dogs choose to wag their tails?
Do dogs consciously wag their tails in response to an event, or is it more of a subconscious emotional response to their circumstances?
“I doubt very much it is conscious,” Vallortigara says.
Instead, Vallortigara says dog tail wagging should be seen as a subconscious expression of biases in the structure of the dog’s brain.
An angry dog
Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails?
It’s one of the great joys of dog parenting. You come home at the end of a long day and are greeted by your excited furball’s slobbery kisses and furiously wagging tail. This interaction seems simple enough. Your dog is happy to see you, so he or she is wagging their tail. But did you know that it’s not always that simple?
Tail wagging can often indicate that your dog is happy, yes, but it turns out that your dog’s tail can also indicate a variety of other emotions and intentions. Sometimes, a wagging tail doesn’t mean that a dog is feeling friendly — it could signal just the opposite.
So, why do dogs wag their tails? And what can you do to interpret their wagging in order to tell what your own pup or an unfamiliar dog is feeling?
Let’s dive deeper into what your dog’s tail is used for and how to interpret the tail’s language so you can get a better grasp on your dog’s state of mind.