Thursday, December 14, 2017

Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails

July 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Mysterious Behavior

Murphy had finally sat still and quiet, exhausted from a rigorous day of tail wagging! Seemed everywhere we went on our long walk he happily greeted people, dogs, or inanimate objects that blew across his path. Stretching the leash as he nosed his way in front of us, his tail straight up, his intent was to greet the next passerby. Upon approaching he would slow to slack the leash, his mouth would be open as if smiling, and his tail which is shaped like a question mark seemed to be beating as fast as hummingbird wings! So why do dogs wag their tails and what does that little happy meter actually tell us. Hoping to ease Murphs concerns that if he wags it too much it might fall off, I assigned this query to our top reporter O’Riley to find some answers.


To ease O'Riley, AuthorMurphy’s concerns tail wagging in dogs is similar in function to human smiles, not an actual smile, more like a sign of recognition, a polite greeting. It’s how we dogs speak to each other, people, and things, and Murphy’s tail is quite a chatter box! Did you know that dogs engage in tail wagging more than other species of animals? The most likely reason is because we’re social animals and we’ve developed this skill to provide social cues to other members of the pack.


Originally our tail was designed to assist with balance, a built-in counterweight while running, turning quickly or while walking on narrow surfaces. When Murphy and Jameson were puppies keeping up with me in the yard was no easy feat, the best they could do on a high speed romp was to keep from falling all over themselves. Now we all run circles around each other! You can see this when we walk on a narrow path like a curb edge, our tail acts like a balance bar, swinging from one side or the other. When it’s not required for balance Mother Nature made it available as a communication tool. Varying positions and tail motions provide dogs with many clues about each other. More than details or colors the canine eyes are quite sensitive to movement therefore a waving or wagging tail are very visible to another dog. Take a look at your dogs tail when your on a walk and see when and how fast they alert to an approaching dog! 


 As puppies we don’t start off wagging our tails, the first three weeks are mostly spent eating and sleeping. Once we start interacting with our littermates and mother we begin to learn and use the language of tail wagging. If you really pay attention to us you’ll notice we only wag our tails in social situations, whether we’re meeting people, other dogs or animals; and not when we’re alone and not at inanimate objects, like furniture Murphy. For example if we are given food or a treat we wag our tail gleefully, but if we walk into a room and the food bowl is already there we don’t wag our tail as we approach to eat.


Keep an eye on our tails and they will tell you a lot about our mental state, intentions, and social position. So lets look at position and movement clues as to what our tail is telling you. 

  • An erect tail, wagging wide can say, I’m confident, happy, and interested.
  • A tail held high, stiff, possibly quivering or no movement is a good sign the dog is agitated, probably not the best time to try to pet a strange dog.
  • A tail tucked between the legs can indicate nervousness or fear, and the dog could bite.
  • A relaxed horizontal tail, wagging slowly can be saying I want to know more about you. 

j0185571Remember, we don’t have the gift of human speak and although we can look cute and cuddly, know the clues that our tails are giving, especially when approaching a strange dog. And as for Murphy’s concern about his tail falling off if he wags it too much, highly unlikely Murphs, so keep it wagging! The worst that could happen is you might dislocate it! (That will give him something else to worry about; heh! heh! heh! ….)


What is your dog’s tail saying to you?


You might also like the book:Dog Behavior:Why Dogs Do What They Do


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19 Responses to “Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails”
  1. Lisa says:

    Wow, didn’t know a tail wag could mean so much. Great information.

  2. busyZ says:

    I really like this website. I use the same blog platform in 6 blogs of my network.

  3. admin says:

    Your visit and your comment is appreciated! Thank you.
    O’Riley, Murphy and Jameson

  4. tattoo says:

    I like your site theme. What template did you use ?

  5. admin says:

    The Editorial Control Board selected the Lifestyle Theme by Studio Press, powered by WordPress. Thanks for you kind comments!
    O’Riley, The Murphs and Jameson

  6. lida d. says:

    Howdy there, are you having difficulties with the hosting? I needed to refresh the page about huge number of times in order to get the page to run!

  7. Jameson says:

    Hello Lida,
    We were experiencing technical difficulities…….Murphy was waggin his tail so much that it was producing an electronically static charge which was causing disruptions in the web transmissions. Thanks for bringing that to our attention.
    Jameson (aka Monkey)

  8. Lope says:

    Toller Blog, aber leider sehe ich nur die hälfte.Ist Euch das bekannt?
    Liegt das an meinem Safari?

    Schöne Grüße aus Düsseldorf

  9. Jameson says:

    (Translation of Comment: Hello, Great blog, but unfortunately I see only half. If you know that? Is this due to my Safari? Greetings from Dusseldorf)
    Hallo Lope,
    I think something was lost in translation, but if you are on Safari hopefully it’s a photo safari!
    Greetings back at ya from the US of A!

  10. Dave393 says:

    Oh my goodness! an incredible article dude. Thanks However I’m experiencing challenge with ur rss . Don’t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting similar rss drawback? Anyone who is aware of kindly respond. Thnkx

  11. O'Riley says:

    Hi Dave393,
    Thanks for advising the technical staff about your challenge with the rss. Seems Murhpy’s constant tail wagging has created a build up of static charge in the air. We have since banned him from the server room.
    Yours Truly,

  12. Delta Weatherspoon says:

    Thank you for this interesting article. I will be sure to get the word out about this on my site 🙂 Outstanding! Can’t wait to read next article.

  13. O'Riley says:

    Hey there Delta,
    Appreciate the kind words! Check out Murphy’s latest musings about Dogs Hiding Treats.
    Yours Truly…….O’Riley

  14. Zambrano says:

    I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I don’t know who you are but certainly you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

  15. O'Riley Madagan says:

    Nice comments……I am rather revered amoungst my circle of peers!
    Thanks for the kudos.
    O’Riley Madagan

  16. Merlene C. says:

    “There is a woman at the begining of all great things.” ~ Alphonse de Lamartine

  17. O'Riley says:

    I totally agree, without my mom I wouldn’t be a great as I am………
    Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be………..Heh, heh, heh……..
    Thanks for stopping by!

  18. Mande says:

    I am impressed, I have to say…..

  19. Riley says:

    Hello Mande……
    I’m impressed withmyself too!
    Take care and come by again………..

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