dog body language

Dog wagging tails is often associated with happiness and excitement; however, tail wagging is not always a sign of positive emotions in dogs. In fact, it can convey different meanings based on the direction, speed, and intensity of the movement. As dog owners, it is essential to understand the nuances of dog body language so that we can better interpret the messages they are trying to convey. In this article, we will discuss the misconceptions surrounding dog tail wagging.

Tail Direction Matters

When it comes to reading dog body language, tail direction plays a significant role. Dogs who wag their tails to the left often do so in response to something negative or threatening. On the other hand, dogs who wag their tails to the right generally do so in response to something positive or neutral. According to Dr. Stanley Coren, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia, tail wagging often occurs as a result of the release of certain hormones in response to different emotions.

tail wagging

The Role of Tail Speed and Intensity

In addition to tail direction, the speed and intensity of tail wagging can also provide insights into the dog’s mood. Dogs that wag their tails slowly and steadily are often feeling cautious or unsure. In contrast, dogs that wag their tails rapidly and with more intensity are often feeling more excited or agitated. Quick and high tail wags, which are commonly observed in Labrador Retrievers, can indicate that the dog is experiencing a heightened sense of energy or arousal, rather than happiness.

Other Body Language to Look For

Although tail wagging can convey different meanings, it is not the only body language to consider when interpreting a dog’s mood. Other movements and postures can also provide valuable information. For example, dogs who are feeling threatened may display a stiff body, raised fur, and a closed mouth. In contrast, happy and relaxed dogs may exhibit loose and wiggly bodies, open mouths, and relaxed ears.


In conclusion, the notion that dogs only wag their tails to express happiness is a common misconception. Tail wagging can indicate different emotions, depending on the direction, speed, and intensity of the wag. As responsible dog owners, we should take the time to learn and understand our dogs’ body language so that we can better communicate with them and ensure their happiness and well-being.


– Coren, S. (2012). Understanding tail wagging in dogs. Psychology Today.
– Horowitz, A. (2016). Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell.

Further Reading

– Bradshaw, J.W.S. (2011). Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet.
– Yin, S. (2016). Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs & Cats: Techniques for Developing Patients Who Love Their Visits.

By Peter

2 thoughts on “Dogs don’t wag their tails only when they’re happy”
  1. Did you know that some dogs wag their tails in a circular motion rather than side to side? This is called a helicopter tail and it often indicates that the dog is feeling highly aroused or agitated. So when you see your dog doing the helicopter, it might be time to calm them down a bit!

    1. Thank you for sharing this interesting fact about dogs and their tails. It’s always good to learn something new about our furry friends!

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