12 Signals Your Tail-Wagger Is Trying To Warn You With


When you see your dog wag their tail, you take it as a pleasant sign, knowing that they are happy. Your dog can’t seem to wag their tail fast enough from excitement when they see you after a long day away from home.

However, studies have shown that the wag of a tail is not always a friendly, happy gesture. Naturally, tail wagging isn’t the only thing you should be paying attention to when it comes to dogs. There are several other, highly important signs that you should know about.


A wag to the left or wag to the right can indicate possible signs of fear, insecurity, a challenge or a warning sign that may say “beware or I’ll bite!” Knowing the different signals and tail-wagging combinations can give you a clue to what your dog is feeling.

Although humans might get the impression that the direction of the wag is unimportant, there is a huge difference between a wag more to the left and a wag to the right and extended higher.  If you really want to know what your dog has to tell you, you just have to read the obvious signs.

Remember that not all wags are equal and some are a lot more welcoming than others. Marcello Siniscalchi of the University of Bari Aldo Moro in Italy and colleagues decided to look at asymmetry in dog wags and reached some significant conclusions.


2. A wag more to the left

If your pooch wags their tail more to the left, it can be a negative response or an indication of stress that can also be associated with a faster heartbeat. For instance, your dog can wag their tail more to the left when they see a dominant or unfriendly dog.

In a paper published October 31, 2013 in Current Biology, the authors observed more than 40 pooches.  The dogs in the study watched a movie in which other dogs wagged their tails. When the viewing dogs were shown a left wag, they exhibited higher levels of stress, higher heart rates and increased alertness.

Basically, if your dog wags their tail to the left, something is wrong and they are feeling stressed and nervous.  This is definitely an unwelcoming, negative wag and you shouldn’t ignore it.


3. A wag to the right and extended higher

A wag to the right and extended higher is more of a happy, relaxed gesture. That’s the usual message you get when your dog meets you at the door after you have been gone for a while. The study mentioned before also examined the reactions of pooches observing other dogs who wagged their tails to the right.

Researchers concluded that a wag to the right indicates happiness. Neuroscientist Giorgio Vallortigara of the University of Trento in Italy said that the responses were a result of the differing roles played by the left and right hemispheres of a dog’s brain.

Lesley Rogers, an emeritus professor of neuroscience at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, who was not involved with the study, was the first to show that right or left brain biases were not unique to humans.

“We know there’s this fundamental pattern, that the left hemisphere is used when an animal is in a relaxed state, focused on things, and the right one [is used] when it’s an emergency situation, when something novel has happened, and during an attack.”


4. A wag that swings in small extensions

Although most dogs will go wild with excitement and frantically wag their tails when you come home, some dogs will show a more subtle greeting with a slight wag that swings in small extensions. Such a wag is a slight acknowledgement of “hello” to you or other guests, with the dog just, well, getting on with better things.

Also, a slight wag with small breadth swings may indicate that your pooch wants you to pay attention and play with them.  Basically, they are telling you that they are there.

Whatever the case, this is a welcoming gesture which means that your dog is either greeting you or wants to spend time with you. In a way, this wag has the same communication function as a kind human smile, polite greeting and sign of joy and well-being.


5. A slow but low wag

A slow but low wag of the tail is a sign of submission or insecurity. So, be extra considerate if you see this sign. There are various reasons which cause insecurity in dogs, including a genetic disposition towards fearfulness, lack of socialization and/or proper leadership and traumatic past experiences.

If you want to help your dog to overcome insecurity, there are some steps you need to follow.  First of all, establish yourself as the pack leader.  Once you exhibit firm but kind leadership, don’t try to reassure your dog that everything is fine.  If you coddle them, they will think their fearful behavior is acceptable.

The third step is to make your dog overcome their fears and the final thing you need to do is make them repeat wanted behavior. Naturally, all dogs can feel a bit insecure from time to time and if you notice a slow, low wag, your dog is telling you that something just isn’t right.


6. A slow but high wag

A slow but high wag of the tail is a sign of dominance, and this is something you want to quench quickly because if not corrected, your little pooch can develop behavior problems and try and dominate your home.

Some of the most common signs of dominance in dogs include growling, biting, guarding, begging, willfulness, persistence etc. Although some things may seem cute, don’t allow your dog to sleep in your bed, go through doors first and show any signs of aggression towards other people or dogs.

Dogs need firm pack leaders who will guide them and tell them what to do.  Make sure that you are in charge and that your dog knows it.  Define clear boundaries of behavior and show your dog that you expect them to follow those rules. Always have in mind that dogs thrive when they have a dominant human and once you establish the proper pack order, your dog will be a much happier pet.


7. A broad, swift wag

A broad, swift wag of the tail conveys that the dog is happy and pleased. Most often, this elated wag seems to sway with the hips moving from side to side. Then he’s REALLY happy.

Your dog is trying to tell you that they are extremely pleased and that they don’t want to challenge you or threaten you in any way. When you treat your dog with love and care, spend time and play with them, they will most likely broadly wag their tail in order to show you just how joyful they are.

Also, when they are active, spend time outdoors and engage in fun activities with their human family, chances are you’ll see that cute tail swiftly wagging. Whatever the case, you’re doing a good job and your pooch is definitely a satisfied pet.


8. A slow wag with a tail at “half-mast”

A slow wag with a tail at “half-mast” is a sign of uncertainty, so again, try to be soothing and not to overwhelm your dog further if they are having confidence issues. This wag is less social than all the other wags we have mentioned in this article.  In general, slow wags with the tail in neither a particularly dominant (high) nor a submissive (low) position indicate low confidence and self-esteem in dogs.

Like any other language, tail wags have their own grammar and vocabulary that needs to be learned.  As you’ve noticed by now, the tail’s position (height) is of utmost importance. However, you need to remember that, like any other means of communication, there are exception to rules when it comes to tail wagging.

For instance, a middle height tail position usually suggest the dog is relaxed.  But as you’ve read just a few lines above, a slow wag with a tail at half-mast indicates something completely different.

9. Ear position

Indicating the level of attention, ear position is also very important when it comes to dog communication. Lowered ears indicate a relaxed state with very low level of attention, while ears that are raised indicate that the dog is excited, energetic and fully attentive.

When your dog is relaxed, their ears will stand in a neutral position (not pricked forward, drooping down or pasted to their head). If their ears are pricked forward, they are focused at something and usually having a good time.  Besides, if you make a strange sound, your dog might raise their ears and tilt their head a bit.

Also, raised ears can indicate concern and alertness (when they hear something unusual and aren’t sure what’s happening). If your dog’s ears are changing positon, they are concerned about something and trying to figure things out. When your pooch’s ears are dropped, they want to tell you that they are happy and confident.


10. Baring teeth

Perhaps the most important thing that you should know about dogs is what it means when they bare their teeth. It means that the dog is ready to bite and this is when you should step aside. If you see that lip curling back, a natural reflex that protects the lips in the attack, just act calmly and back off.

Barring teeth are often accompanied by snarls and growls.  Other body language that might help you to determine whether a dog is becoming aggressive includes raised ears, a rigid body and a high held tail which is moving back and forth.

Although this sign indicates aggression in most cases, you also need to know that dogs can bare their teeth without any ill intention whatsoever. This submissive smile is accompanied by body language such as lip licking, relaxed body position and lowered ears.

11. Eyes and eyebrows

Although dogs do not have eyebrows, they have a distinctive ridge above their eyes and some species even have almost human eyebrows. The emotions that they portray are pretty much similar to their human equivalents: raised eyebrows signal interest, lowered suggest mild anger or uncertainty about something in their environment, one raised eyebrow indicates confusion.

Also, your dog will lower their eyebrows if they are pouting and an angry dog will almost close their eyes and their eyebrows will be pulled down. You should also pay special attention to the dog’s eyes.  For instance, canines with dilated pupils are often fearful and insecure.

Also, if your dog often averts their gaze from you, they are exhibiting fear and lack of confidence.When your dog’s eyes are relaxed and have an almost soft and warm look, your pooch is happy and calm.  And hard, icy eyes indicate aggression and dominance.


12. Head movement

If the dog’s head leans to the left and then to the right, it indicates interest or an effort to pinpoint a sound source that the dog finds interesting or threatening. A head raised high indicates interest but could also be a sign of aggression, while lowered head means submission.

A study conducted at the University of Bari in Italy found that dogs were more likely to turn their head to the left when faced with a threatening situation and to the right when they were feeling comfortable. Again, this suggests that the right side of a dog’s brain is more responsive to threats than the left.

Finally, dogs often tilt their heads and that’s usually nothing to be worried about.  They do that so they could hear us better and to listen to sounds they are interested in.  Also, when you say something nice to them, dogs may tilt their head because they feel really happy.

Recommended for you

Prev1 of 2Next