A wagging tail means a friendly dog, right? Unfortunately, it’s not always the case.
Just like a smiling human is not always a happy human, a dog with a waggly tail can be communicating a wide range of emotions.
In general, a wagging tail means a dog is interested in having an interaction. It also means the dog is aroused, and the faster the tail moves the more excited they are.
But to understand their emotional state more, we need to take a closer look. There are 4 main factors in understanding a dog's tail.
HOW TO READ A TAIL
Height: The height the tail is held at often relates to their confidence. A low held tail is submissive, but a high tail indicates an assertive dog. Use caution when approaching a dog with a tail held over it’s back, it could be aggressive.
Stiffness: A loose, relaxed tail tends to mean a happy relaxed dog. A firm, stiff tail can be a sign of agitation.
Speed: The speed a tail moves at indicates the amount of energy a dog is experiencing. A fast moving tail is generally a good sign. Slow movement can be a sign of a confrontational dog, and should be approached with caution.
Side: Wagging on the right side indicates a positive emotional state. The left side is correlated to negative emotions and should be approached with caution.
That’s right, the side that the tail wags on indicates a dog's emotional state! Research shows that wagging on the right side indicates a positive emotion, and on the left side a negative emotion. The researchers think that this is a result of the way the left/right hemisphere’s of the brain control their bodies.
Another study in 2013 showed that dogs are sensitive each others tail wags, and use it to communicate.
The rest of a dog's body language will give further clues as to a their emotional state as well. Pay particular attention to eye contact and ear position. Intense eye contact and raised ears can be a sign of aggression. Eye avoidance and dropped ears is a form of submission.
It’s important to note that all dogs are different, and they use their tails differently too. So don’t assume you immediately understand a new dogs tail movements!
Take the time to establish rapport with every dog you meet and you will be rewarded with a deeper connection to our doggy friends.