Unlike cats, who will usually whip their tails in a sign of annoyance or aggression, dogs often wag their tails to show joy and happiness. This display is not unlike a human communicating with their hands.
Dogs use their tails to communicate and show emotion, even to balance themselves. While a wag may often indicate happiness, this is not always the case. The wag may also demonstrate something else the dog is trying to communicate.
A little history
Over thousands of years, dogs have been domesticated from many wild canine breeds. Interestingly, their ancestor, the wolf, did not bark or wag its tail. As such, dog communication has developed with the evolution of domestic breeds. In this way, when communicating with its owner, a dog will tend to exaggerate its behaviour as a way to be better understood.
However, like the wolf, dogs have a terrific sense of smell. It is said that wagging the tail helps to transfer those smells in and around the dog's environment. So, when your dog jumps excitedly and wags their tail on your arrival home from work, know that they're not only happy to see you but also saying that you, and your home, is theirs by transfer of smell!
It is for these reasons that a dog's tail should never be cut or docked. Sadly, this is sometimes done for cosmetic reasons to make the animal look "more appealing".
The RSPCA strongly opposes the practice of cosmetic tail docking. Such a procedure can lead to suffering for the animal, as well as behavioural problems. It also removes a form of gestural communication for the dog.
When dogs wag their tails
Wagging generally indicates that your dog is a happy fur baby; fast wagging probably means they are the happiest pooch alive! However, it can also simply mean that your dog is open to interaction with you - it does not necessarily express an emotion but simply a state of being.
When a dog's tail is pointed down and their ears flatten, it is usually a sign that they are scared or submitting to another. If the tail rises, it may be a sign of aggression.
Jerked movement can indicate a mistake has been made. This can indicate guilt, shame or even fear, especially if they ate all the cookies and know they're in trouble!
The best approach you can take is to learn the various wags and movements of your dog's tail. This will not only help them to feel understood, but also strengthen your relationship with your best friend.
What do you love most about your dog's tail wag?