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The meaning of your dog’s tail wagging

Thanks to a growing field of research – the study of canine cognition and behaviour – scientists have begun to delve deeper into the complex behaviour of our pets.  For instance, one of the most commonly believed misconceptions among pet owners is that a dog wagging its tail is friendly.  While this is indeed usually the case, what is the meaning of your dog’s tail wagging that owners should be aware of?

Slight Wag
If your dog’s tail is wagging only slightly, with short sweeps both left and right, your pet is using this form of body language as a tentative greeting.  The slight wag is similar to the use of a quick wave or head nod by humans.

Broad Wag
The most commonly recognized wag is the broad wag, where the dog’s tail sweeps forcefully from side to side.  This wag indicates your dog is happy and content and usually involves the dog’s whole body.

Slow Wag
The meaning of your dog’s tail wagging when slow and deliberately?  Look at the vertical position of the tail – If the tail is held high, this may be a sign of dominance.  On the other hand, if the tail is held low, the dog may be insecure and showing submission.

Vibrational Wag
Especially noticeable, the meaning of your dog’s tail wagging on dogs with docked tails is the wag in which your dog’s tail moves in very quick, short movements, as if the tail were vibrating.  The vibrational wag is typically a precursor to another action, such as fighting, running, or playing.  The best indication of the dog’s intention is to look at tail height:  if the tail is held high while exhibiting short, tight movements, your dog may feel threatened.

Right Wag
A recent discovery by scientists in Italy is that the direction a dog wags its tail can provide insights into the animal’s emotional state.  When a dog wags its tail primarily to the right side of its body, the dog is experiencing positive emotions and is happy

Left Wag
Similarly, if a dog is wagging its tail predominantly to the left side of its body, it is experiencing negative emotions.  This may occur when encountering an unfamiliar human or animal for the first time.  This tendency has to do with the different lobes of the brain and the fact that the left brain controls happiness and the right brain controls feelings of fear and unease, while the muscles on the opposing side of the body reflect those feelings.

Circular Wag
Has your dog ever been so happy to see you that his or her tail looks like an airplane propeller?  The meaning of your dog’s tail wagging of the circular wag indicates extreme happiness for your pet, such as seeing a favorite person or going for a car ride to a new location.

Tucked Wag
If your dog ever tucks its tail between its legs while wagging, this is a telltale sign your dog is afraid and is providing signs of submission towards a potential threat, such as a new dog.

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