Wait... My Dog's Not Wagging Its Tail Because It's Happy??!


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Cutest-Puppies3.jpeg

I was going to title this blog as "why dogs wag their tails" but felt that that wasn't catchy enough. When doing research for this blog post the first thing I stumbled on was an article from Animal Planet. As I began to read this article, I became astonished by the fact that all this time I had been wrong about why dogs wag their tails... fortunately for me, many other people live under the same belief as I did.

I read, "IT is a misconception that a tail wag is a sign that the dog is happy" (Beth Strickler, DVM of Veterinary Behavior). For years, I have believed that dogs wag their tails out of elation or happiness but found out that they really wag their tails to communicate strong emotions. These emotions can range from extreme agitation to annoyance and anger as well as our misguided belief of happiness. "This is one of the reasons that children are often unable to differentiate a friendly dog from a non-friendly dog" (Bet Strickler, DVM of Veterinary Behavior).

Historically speaking, the tail was used for balance while rounding sharp turns while running, swimming, climbing, leaping, and balance while walking on narrow paths or structures. However, it evolved as a means of communication amongst dogs and others. Dogs don't even start wagging their tails until they're a month or so old! Can you believe it? Up until that point in their life, they feel no need for vital communication.

Believe it or not, Animal Planet reports that different tail positions actually mean different things. I have made a chart for a quick understanding of these positions and their meanings.

 

Tail Position

Meaning

High positioned tail wagging in a back and forth motion from right to left

Happy!

 

High positioned tail wagging in a back and forth motion from left to right

Frightened

Horizontal to ground tail position and wagging

Nosy/Curious

Tail tucked between hind legs

Frightened or Submissive

Low position and wagging of tail

Worried or Insecure

 

Tail wagging also has a lot to do with the "Alpha" complex. Apparently, dogs have different scents that are released through their anal glands and their unique scent determines a scent that allows other dogs to be able to sense them as an Alpha dog or a submissive dog. This is another reason why dogs either wag their tails or pin their tails between their legs in order to allow other dogs to determine whether or not they are communicating or in/near the presence of an Alpha dog or not. Also, a lot of dogs that feel threatened put their tail between their legs in order to hide their scent from others.

However, after reading other articles I read one from Perfect Puppy Care which agreed with Animal planet and other similar sources and says that the idea of tail wagging being a form of communication and its positions meaning specific things are plausible but that "the exact reasons why dogs wag their tails are unknown" and that "dogs rely heavily on body language to communicate."


waggingtails.jpeg

After reading many other article on the topic, including an article published by wiseGEEK, the wagging of a dogs tail only seems to be agreed upon as a way/desire to communicate with others. Perhaps later down the road there will be a scientific break regarding this mystery, but for now, the only knowledge we have on the subject that we can call fact is that it is used for balance (as it was when it first evolved) and as a means of communication and furthering the scent from the anal glands, but for what type of communication we remain unsure. What do you think man's best friend is trying to tell us?

I was going to title this blog as "why dogs wag their tails" but felt that that wasn't catchy enough. When doing research for this blog post the first thing I stumbled on was an article from Animal Planet. As I began to read this article, I became astonished by the fact that all this time I had been wrong about why dogs wag their tails... fortunately for me, many other people live under the same belief as I did.

I read, "IT is a misconception that a tail wag is a sign that the dog is happy" (Beth Strickler, DVM of Veterinary Behavior). For years, I have believed that dogs wag their tails out of elation or happiness but found out that they really wag their tails to communicate strong emotions. These emotions can range from extreme agitation to annoyance and anger as well as our misguided belief of happiness. "This is one of the reasons that children are often unable to differentiate a friendly dog from a non-friendly dog" (Bet Strickler, DVM of Veterinary Behavior).

Historically speaking, the tail was used for balance while rounding sharp turns while running, swimming, climbing, leaping, and balance while walking on narrow paths or structures. However, it evolved as a means of communication amongst dogs and others. Dogs don't even start wagging their tails until they're a month or so old! Can you believe it? Up until that point in their life, they feel no need for vital communication.

Believe it or not, Animal Planet reports that different tail positions actually mean different things. I have made a chart for a quick understanding of these positions and their meanings.

 

Tail Position

Meaning

High positioned tail wagging in a back and forth motion from right to left

Happy!

 

High positioned tail wagging in a back and forth motion from left to right

Frightened

Horizontal to ground tail position and wagging

Nosy/Curious

Tail tucked between hind legs

Frightened or Submissive

Low position and wagging of tail

Worried or Insecure

 

Tail wagging also has a lot to do with the "Alpha" complex. Apparently, dogs have different scents that are released through their anal glands and their unique scent determines a scent that allows other dogs to be able to sense them as an Alpha dog or a submissive dog. This is another reason why dogs either wag their tails or pin their tails between their legs in order to allow other dogs to determine whether or not they are communicating or in/near the presence of an Alpha dog or not. Also, a lot of dogs that feel threatened put their tail between their legs in order to hide their scent from others.

However, after reading other articles I read one from Perfect Puppy Care which agreed with Animal planet and other similar sources and says that the idea of tail wagging being a form of communication and its positions meaning specific things are plausible but that "the exact reasons why dogs wag their tails are unknown" and that "dogs rely heavily on body language to communicate."

After reading many other article on the topic, including an article published by wiseGEEK, the wagging of a dogs tail only seems to be agreed upon as a way/desire to communicate with others. Perhaps later down the road there will be a scientific break regarding this mystery, but for now, the only knowledge we have on the subject that we can call fact is that it is used for balance (as it was when it first evolved) and as a means of communication and furthering the scent from the anal glands, but for what type of communication we remain unsure. What do you think man's best friend is trying to tell us?


*First photo obtained from pluspets.net
*Second photo obtained from dirtydogsandmeow.com

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