Wag Left, Wag Right – But what does it mean?

Wag Left, Wag Right – But what does it mean?

We all love seeing our dogs wag their tails enthusiastically at all times as usually this indicates to us that our pets are happy and content. However, contrary to popular belief - dog tail wagging doesn’t always equate to pleasure.

According to research collated by Argos Pet Insurance, scientists have discovered that dogs use tail wagging as a method of communication. There are in fact different wags for different messages all of which need to be examined in order to understand.

Obviously, many wags are associated with the happiness of your canine friend. However, certain types of wag can indicate fear, insecurity or a message to back off! These can all be identified by the position of the tail, its speed and pattern of movement, helping us to further understand the social signals of dog tail wagging.

Common Happy Wags

Type: Tail held horizontally, small slow wag from side to side.

Meaning: Positive but tentative greeting.

Type: Tail held low or horizontally, broad fast wag from side to side (sometimes makes the whole body appear to wag!)

Meaning: Friendly, welcoming and pleased to see you. The most common ‘happy wag’.

Common Unhappy Wags

Type: Tail held slightly higher than horizontal, fast wag.

Meaning: Insecure, unsure about your or another dog’s presence.

Type: Tail held high, tiny high-speed movements from side to side.

Meaning: Threat or warning not to come closer

Left Wag, Right Wag

The one discovery that has surprised dog owners and scientists alike is the direction bias in which a dog wags its tail and how that can also indicate its emotions. Neuroscientists at the University of Trento conducted research that showed dog’s tails tend to move slightly more to the right if they are feeling happy. If the dog feels negative emotions like fear or aggression then the tail moves further to the left.

Of course, even the most attentive dog owner will at times struggle to detect and interpret the direction of their dog’s wag although if you do notice a slight left-sided wag this is usually a good indication as to how they are feeling.

Tail Up, Tail Down

Dogs’ tails are at times completely stationary and this too gives us an indication as to how they’re feeling. For example, if their tail is horizontally low then the dog is in what’s known as a neutral or submissive mode and will therefore usually be good-natured.

However, if the dog’s tail is the complete opposite and is standing high in the air, this indicates a signal of dominance and assertiveness. Approach dogs in this mode with complete caution, especially if you are also in control of a dog as this behaviour can be challenging and could result in a fight.

Image courtesy of Argos Pet Insurance.

George Welsby

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