Why Do Dogs Wag Tails? Understanding Their Meanings

Luis Dogalyo
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Many people ask themselves every day "why do dogs wag their tails". It is a popular notion to say that if a dog wags his tail it is because he is happy, but this is not always the case. If you have a furry little friend, you will have noticed that he also wags his tail when he is barking or growling.

Why do Golden Retrievers wag their tails

Why is the dog wagging its tail then, if it is not happy? In this instance, it is another means of expressing his anger, it is a warning to whatever is threatening him.

The behaviour of animals is what sets them apart most from humans (although we are animals too!) and is a very intriguing and amusing subject for many.

It is generally considered that the reason for dogs wagging their tails is the expression of their emotions, which can be very varied: joy, excitement, anger, irritation...

Dogs, not sharing language with us, need to use their bodies to communicate. In fact, dogs don't just wag their tails, they also utilise their whole bodies, their eyes, their ears and even their snouts to attempt to "talk" to us and other animals.

Why do dogs wag their tails

Let's take a look at the principal reasons for this:

When they feed from their mum

We can observe this gesture in puppies from a very young age. Why do puppies wag their tails? When their mum feeds them, the puppies wag their tails all the time as soon as they start to drink the milk. It is interpreted that it is because they feel at ease, happy and content to be with their mother and because the milk is very tasty! They feel attached to their mum and happy to be well-fed.

However, this begins from 6-7 weeks of age. Why don't newborn puppies wag their tails? At birth, puppies are more concentrated on keeping one another warm and cuddled up; after a few weeks they start to modify their behaviour: they start to socialise, to meet their siblings, even to "fight" to feed! The wagging of tails of dogs comes with the need to communicate, it is a solely social element.

When they are angry

Do dogs wag their tails when they're angry? Yes! Even when they are not feeling cheerful, dogs can still wag their tails. Signs that a dog is cross while wagging its tail include dilated pupils, taut muscles, quivering ears, and barking.

In moments of anger, a dog will wag its tail to convey its strong displeasure, anger or agitation. If you spot a dog in these circumstances, it is best not to disturb it!

To keep the balance

We have already observed that expressing emotions is the primary cause of why dogs wag their tails. But that's not all: the tail also helps them to maintain their equilibrium when, for instance, they amble in tight circles or when swimming, when the oscillation of the tail operates as a helm.

Also when walking on somewhat uneven paths where the dog feels insecure, or when jumping, the dog uses the movement of its tail in order not to lose its balance.

As a means of communication

As mentioned above, one of the main reasons why dogs wag their tails is because they don't share a "language" with other species. By wagging their tails they communicate with people and other animals, expressing their emotions. Studies show that dogs don't wag their tails when they are alone, as there is no need to do so.

To emit smells from anal glands

Dogs also wag their tails to disperse the smells given off by their anal glands. What for? Essentially, for reproduction. Just like us, every dog has a distinctive smell and it is their stamp of identity, as well as their way of marking ownership or area. They can do this through urine or their backside.

These smells also form a kind of "canine map" which they use to identify which dog has been where, or who is close by, as well as to aid them in finding their way around.

During mating

Why else do dogs wag their tails? Simply to attract attention, to seek a mate and to be able to mate. It has been noticed that in this instance the tail wagging is quite distinct from when they are content or cross.

Related: Why Do Dogs Lick Other Dogs Pee?

What do different tail wags mean for dogs?

  • Tail down and/or tucked between the legs: suggests fear, insecurity or submissiveness, though it may also be that the dog is simply calm. Many dogs, when they are relaxed in their home environment, have their tails down, and this doesn't mean they are scared of anything, but that there is no stimulus to make them lift or wag their tails.
  • Slight movement and raised ears: alertness to a stimulus, but uncertain as to whether it is friendly or not. The dog wags its tail hesitantly, waiting and watching, prepared to react to a possible aggression. If in this state the dog notices a sudden movement it is likely to respond aggressively.
  • Slight movement and raised ears: alertness to a stimulus, but uncertain whether it is friendly or not. The dog wags its tail hesitantly, waiting and watching, ready to react to possible aggression. If in this state the dog notices a sudden movement it is likely to respond aggressively. Quick but short movement, with teeth bared and ears back: the dog is ready to attack, convinced that the stimulus received is a threat.
  • A rigid, motionless tail with bristly fur: this is not necessarily an indication of an attack, but it does not bode well either. The dog is not prepared to act aggressively, but he will not leave the area and is suspicious of the person in front of him, so do not provoke him. The most sensible thing to do in this situation is to retreat gradually.


Having seen this list of reasons why dogs wag their tails, science has certainly found a close connection between the mood of dogs and the movement of their tails.

It is understandable that our dogs may be somewhat apprehensive of us, as we are much larger and our demeanor is authoritative. This is normal behavior, even if our intentions are benevolent.

Even today, knowing why dogs wag their tails can be quite perplexing, as they can be motivated by a wide variety of reasons.

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