Do you think that a dog’s wagging tail always means he’s happy? Not necessarily! All a wagging tail means is that the dog is feeling emotional. It could be excitement, but it could be frustration or even aggression. 

To start with, look at the speed and direction of the wag as well as the position of the tail. In essence, the faster the wag, the more emotional the dog is.  If your dog is wagging with a long, slow, side-to-side sweep when he’s greeting you, possibly using his whole body too, that’s a sign of a happy and relaxed dog.

A tail wag may range from very slow to extremely fast and sometimes a tail can wag so fast that it appears to vibrate. When a dog wags his tail very fast while holding it vertically, he may be an active threat. Remember that it is possible to get bitten by a dog that is wagging its tail!

The direction of the wag could mean something as well as a recent study showed that dogs tend to wag more to the right when they feel positive about something. Tails wagged more to the left when dogs faced something negative. Then, there’s the helicopter tail wag where the dog’s tail spins in a circle which is absolutely a very happy wag.

The position of the dog’s tail relative to the ground holds important clues too. Basically, the higher the tail, the more assertive the dog. Dogs with their tails pointing down to the ground or even tucked between their legs are feeling fear and stress. Dogs with their tails held up like a flag are feeling confident, perhaps even aggressive. Relaxed dogs hold their tails in a neutral position, but neutral depends on the breed as some breeds have tails that naturally curl over their backs or have a very low neutral tail position.

As an overview, the following are tail positions to look out for –

Happiness – When a dog is happy, he holds his tail in a neutral or slightly raised position and adds a fast or slow, side-to-side wag.

Alertness or irritation – When dogs are alert, they stand with their ears up and tails raised. This posture indicates that they  are watching and ready to confront whatever caught their attention.

Freezing – When a dog suddenly stops wagging her tail and freezes, it may mean that she wants to divert a threat without being  aggressive. Some dogs do this when around strangers, to communicate that they don’t feel comfortable and don’t want to interact.

Aggression – When a tail moves from a neutral position to a vertical one or arches over the back, it indicates that the dog may  be aggressive. The higher the tail, the greater the threat.

Submission – When a tail moves from the neutral position to a lower one, the dog is submissive and is not a threat. If the tail is  tucked tightly between the rear legs, the dog is scared, and this could turn into aggression.

Curiosity – When a dog is curious about something, she holds her tails straight out in a horizontal position.

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