When you want to communicate a feeling to others, how do you do it? You may talk using specific words, use a certain tone in your voice, make gestures with your hands, and even use body language to get your message across. Well, just as we can communicate to others how we feel, so can dogs. Our canine companions may not be able to talk (of course I mean aside from barking), but they can most certainly use their own unique kind of body language: tail wagging.
Tail wagging is equivalent to excitement in a dog …right? No, that is a common misconception. Dog tail wagging is related to energy, positive and negative. A dog wagging his tail is able to communicate emotions like excitement, happiness, anger, annoyance, agitation, and fear. For this reason it is not right to assume that because a dog is wagging his tail, that he is happy or excited to see you. The dog may very well be threatened, which could very well lead to growling or even a bite.
But how are we able to decipher dog tail wagging? Well, it is believed that the science behind this form of canine communication has to do with a dog's tail position.
Here is a general list of what a dog's tail might communicate:
- Tail wagging to the right = happiness
- Tail wagging to the left = frightened
- Tail wagging low = worried or insecure
- Tail parallel to the ground = aware, on alert
- Tail in between hind legs = frightened or submissive
- Tail up high = calm or confident
An interesting theme to pay attention to with tail positions is that of dominance and submissiveness. If you have two dogs and one is more dominant than the other, keep mental notes of their most common tail positions. You may find that the dominant, or alpha dog, will keep his tail high, while the more submissive dog will tend to keep his tail low. This is not because the alpha dog is happier, or more excited, nor is it because the submissive dog is more frightened or insecure. It is due to the dominant spreading his unique scent (pheromones), in his declared territory. Just as finger prints are unique to humans, pheromone scents are unique to dogs. Due to dogs having pack instincts, a submissive dog does not find the need to override his pack leader's scent.
A dog's wagging tail clearly has a lot of meaning. The next time you want to approach a dog that is not your own, be aware of how the dog is feeling. It will create a better understanding between you and the dog.