What does it mean when a dog wags his tail side to side? Here’s What to Do Next

Why do dogs wag their tails to communicate?

Words are the basis of human communication, so people are good listeners. Dogs, on the other hand, are watchers. Lacking a verbal vocabulary, dogs communicate broader messages with body language by taking a certain stance, moving their ears, furrowing their brow, shifting their eyes or wagging their tails.

Tail wagging works well for dogs. Since canine vision is attuned more to movement than to colors or details, dogs readily discern different tail wags. Evolution has also helped by producing tails that are more visible. Some tails have color variations such as dark or light tips, some are lighter on the underside, and some are really bushy. All of these traits accentuate the tail wag and enhance communication.

What does a wagging tail mean?

When your dog wags his tail, is he telling you that he’s happy? Not necessarily! Canines know many variations of the “tail wag” and they all mean different things. In fact, a wag of the tail is one of the best methods of communication in the canine kingdom.

Like human infants, dogs must learn their language. Pups aren’t born knowing what a wagging tail means any more than a newborn baby understands words. But when a pup is about a month old, he recognizes the need to communicate with his mother and siblings, so he picks up the lingo. The pup wags his tail to tell his littermates that he’s tired of playing or to tell his mother that he’s hungry.

What is his tail telling you?

  • A slow wag could mean the dog is feeling insecure.
  • A tail held higher than normal could mean that something has caught your dog’s attention.
  • A tail held lower and between the legs could indicate fear or anxiety.
  • A tail wagging enthusiastically from side to side is generally a friendly greeting.
  • “In certain cases, when a dog is wagging his tail in a super flat or straight position, it could be a warning,” Katie adds. “I call it a flag tail – a flat, level, back-and-forth kind of wag. It means the dog is uncomfortable. A lot of happy dogs will wave their tails like a helicopter, all around, all over the place. However, a stiff tail wag could be concerning. If two dogs are approaching one another, and their tails are super stiff, it could mean ‘I’m uncomfortable, I’m challenging you.’

    “It just depends on what they’re doing in the moment,” Katie continues. “Every dog is different and every dog has his signals. We also have to be able to interpret tail wagging with other body language signs, whether it’s ear posture, shoulder stiffness, or raised hair.”

    Interpret Dog Tail Wags: How to Understand Dog’s Body Language

    All animals communicate with energy and body language, and it’s easy to tell just from body language whether they’re fearful or aggressive. But, beyond body language, for many animals there are three important body parts with which they communicate.

    When an animal is being defensive or aggressive, it will make eye contact to tell whatever it’s facing to back off. When an animal is alert to danger, its ears will stand straight up. But the most important thing to watch is the tail.