Nothing says “Welcome Home!” like the wag of a dog’s tail. Tail wagging is synonymous with friendliness and love, contentment and delight. But is this long-standing association myth or fact?

Leave it to sour scientists to spoil everyone’s happy hindquarters. Research suggests there’s more than a smile when your pup parades their rump. Here are five fast facts to help you better understand why dogs wag their tails and what those wiggles are trying to tell you.

Why do dogs wag their tails when they are happy?

In most situations, a wagging tail usually signals happiness. How this particular body language evolved isn’t clearly understood, although tail wagging is rooted in balance and swimming. Regardless of how dogs decided to wave their tails at humans, it’s a clear indicator of their mood and intention.

Look for a relaxed, fluid wag as a sign of good cheer. A stiff, rigid tail often communicates worry or hostility. Keep in mind a wagging tail is an invitation, not always a declaration of friendliness.

Can dogs be happy without wagging their tails?

A good sign that a wiggle is welcoming is if the tail is held high. A high tail position hints at confidence and enthusiasm, while a low wag can mean nervousness or concern.

If only the tip of the tail is raised or wagging, be more cautious. If I spy an erect tail tip and the rest of the tail is not fully raised, I approach carefully and calmly. That dog may want to interact, but on more controlled terms.

Tucked tails reveal fear, apprehension or even aggression in certain situations.

Photo by @felipepelaquim on Unsplash

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Fast or slow tail wag

Faster wagging is more commonly associated with happiness while slow wags suggest apprehension and aggression. I most often see slow-and-low tail wagging when a dog meets a person or animal for the first time. To me, it means, “Hi. I don’t know you and I want to take things slow. Cool?”

There’s no magic rate or speed for happy or angry; you need to decipher other non-verbal cues to correctly interpret tail wagging speed.

Left-side vs. right-side tail wags

In 2013, a team of Italian scientists found that right-sided wags translate to happiness and excitement. In their study, left-sided tail movements meant the dog was nervous or unhappy. I’m undecided on left- versus right-side tail wagging, largely due to the subtleness of tail movements and difficulty detecting them in real life. I’d love to see your dog’s wagging behavior on video. Maybe we’ll discover American dogs are the same as Italian pooches – or different? Until then, cheers to more right wags.

Whole body booty shaking

Without a doubt, dogs whose entire bodies wag with their tail are overjoyed to see you. These canines are so completely thrilled that every muscle fiber screams, “Yippee!” in one big booty shake. When I see this body language bounding toward me, I can’t help but start dancing with glee.

It’s impossible to distill the complexities of tail wagging and dog communication into five bullet points. I hope these five fast facts will help you better understand your pooch and encourage you to study the wonderful language of our best friends.

Jan 12, 2017

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