We can’t help going ‘aww’ when a dog wags its tail at us. A wagging tail is the most common attribute of a dog but also the most misread one. So why do dogs wag their tails? Most people believe that dogs wag their tail to express joy and happiness. But that is not all. Dogs with wagging tails have bitten people. The fact is that a dog uses its tail essentially to communicate various emotions that could include agitation, anger, a state of conflict or excitement. Hence you will find that dogs wag their tails only when with humans or other dogs and animals, they don’t feel the need to wag the tail when alone.

So does the tail have a mind of its own? The answer is no. Your dog can control its tail and wagging but very often they wag out of instinct, as a response to something. The original purpose of the dog’s tail was for balance so they have voluntary control over the muscles. Dogs that have little or no tails rely more on body language and movements for better communication.

Dogs learn to wag their tails as they grow. Puppies are not born with wagging tails but learn to do so in order to communicate with the mother. As they grow older they use their tails to indicate their social status and mental state in different situations.

Different tail wags have different meanings. So, if you are having difficulty in comprehending your dog’s wagging, you should look out for other supporting signs. The position of your dog’s ears will be one of the stronger indications of his emotional state.  For example, if the dog looks tensed, has stiffened muscles or ears pinned back, you need to understand that it is agitated and could attack, hence keep away from it. Many big dogs keep their tail high in the air while wagging which is more of an indication that they are dominant so other dogs wouldn’t want to mess with them. A curious dog may hold his tail straight out and is mostly friendly.

When a dog keeps the tail between his legs, it is a sign that it is frightened, so you need to be gentle with it. When dogs meet a new dog or human, the tail is slightly lower or higher than the regular happy position. This could be because they are testing the dominance of the opposite dog. Studies have also suggested that dogs that favor the right when wagging have a positive bending while dogs that bear left are having a negative response.

So the next time a dog wags its tail, you know what signs to read and establish a healthy understanding with the pooch!