7 Reasons Why Dogs Wag Their Tails (& What It Really Means)

why dogs wag their tails

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When you see a dog wagging its tail, what is the first thing that comes to mind? For many people, it’s happiness. But did you know that there are actually several reasons why dogs wag their tails?

In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the most common, and cover other body language signs that can indicate a dog’s mood or intentions.

So read on to learn more about why dogs wag their tails – and what it all means!

purpose of a dogs tail

The Purpose of a Dog’s Tail

A dog’s tail serves several important purposes, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that the main reason was to fill your life with joy!

In reality, it is primarily used for balance, communication, and warmth.


Dogs use their tails for balance when they are running and turning, and it acts as a counterbalance to their body. It is also used as a rudder when swimming, helping them to steer and keep their head above water.

dog using its tail to swim


A dog’s tail is also an important tool for communication. When combined with other body language cues, the tail can convey a wide range of emotions, from happiness and excitement to fear and aggression.


Full of blood vessels, a dog’s tail provides essential warmth in cold weather by covering the genitalia and anus. It’s not uncommon for many breeds to curl up into a ball and touch their nose to their tail in this cute sleeping position!

So the purpose of a dog’s tail is both functional and behavioral. Understanding these functions can help you to better communicate with your dog and keep them happy and healthy.

dog using tail to keep warm

Before we move on to the 7 Reasons Why Dogs Wag Their Tails, it’s important to consider their tail position, speed, and other body language cues before making any assessment.

Tail Positions

When communicating with other dogs, the tail is used in a variety of ways. For example, a dog may hold its tail high to show confidence, or it may tuck its tail between its legs to show fear or submission.

The position of the tail can also indicate the dog’s level of excitement. A wagging tail held low often indicates a relaxed dog, while a wagging tail held high is often a sign of excitement or happiness.

A dog’s tail is a good indicator of its mood and emotional state. Here are some common tail positions and what they usually mean:

Low and Tucked

A tail that is low and tucked close to the body is a sign that the dog is feeling scared, anxious, or submissive.

Mid-Height & Wagging

A tail that is held at mid-height and wagging back and forth is a sign of excitement or happiness. Dogs will often do this when they see their owner or someone they’re fond of.

Mid-Height & Stiff

A tail held at mid-height is a sign that the dog is feeling alert or on guard. They may be sensing something suspicious or unknown and are preparing to defend themselves if necessary.

dogs tail stiff and alert

High and Erect

This is a tail position most commonly seen in happy and confident dogs. It indicates that they are feeling friendly or playful.

Speed of Wagging

Dogs wag their tails for a variety of reasons, and the speed of the wag can give you some clues about why they are doing it. A slow wag usually indicates that your dog is feeling relaxed and happy, while a fast wag can be a sign of excitement or agitation.

If your dog’s tail is wagging from side to side, it’s generally a sign that they’re friendly and approachable. However, if the tail is held stiffly and is wagging very slowly, it’s often a sign that your dog is feeling threatened or anxious.

Learning to read your dog’s tail wags can help you to better understand their mood and needs.

dog being playful with tail

Other Body Language Signs

In addition to tail positions and speed, there are other body language cues that you can look out for to better understand your dog’s mood. For example, a dog may show its teeth in a ‘submissive grin’ when it feels nervous or threatened.

Alternatively, baring teeth in a snarl or growl is usually a sign of aggression or a show of dominance. Dilated pupils, raised hackles (the hair on the back of the neck), and stiff body language are also signs that a dog may be feeling aggressive or threatened.

On the other hand, relaxed ears, a soft body, and a ‘play bow’ (when the dog lowers its front end and raises its rear end in the air) are all signs that a dog is happy and playful.

By being aware of the different tail positions and speeds, as well as other body language cues, you can better understand the different types of tail-wagging you can expect from your dog.

7 reasons why dogs wag their tails

7 Reasons Why Dogs Wag Their Tails

While we may not always be able to interpret what our dogs are trying to tell us, it’s important to pay attention to tail position and movement. Here are some of the most common ways that dogs communicate through their tails:

1. Happiness

One of the most common reasons why dogs wag their tails is that they are happy! If you see a dog wagging its tail rapidly from side to side, chances are it is feeling joyful and excited. This is often seen when greeting someone they know or having a blast during playtime.

A great example of happiness-related tail wagging is when the dog’s owner returns home. If you notice their tail wagging faster than usual, it’s a good sign that they are very happy to see you!

dog wagging tail when happy

2. Relief or Excitement

Another reason dogs wag their tails is because they are feeling relief or excitement. If a dog has been anticipating something (like their food bowl to be filled or their favorite toy to be thrown) and they finally get what they want, you may see their tail wagging rapidly in excitement.

This is also common when dogs are let out of their crates or pens after being inside for a while – they are so excited to be out that their tail can’t help but wag!

3. Anxiety or Nervousness

On the other hand, a dog may also wag its tail very quickly in the low position when it is feeling anxious or nervous. When a dog has its tail tucked between its legs, it’s a sign of fear or insecurity.

And if you see a dog wagging its tail slowly and cautiously, this may be a sign that it is feeling unsure or uneasy about something.

4. Submission

When a dog wags its tail in submission, it is acknowledging the dominance of the other dog and is showing them that they are not a threat. This is often followed by the dog rolling over onto its back.

Wagging tails with submission can also be a way of asking for forgiveness. Dogs will often wag their tails when they have done something wrong in order to show that they are sorry, whether they have been a little too rough with their playmate, or raided the trash can while you were out!

5. Curiosity

Dogs can wag their tails out of curiosity, and when they see or hear something interesting, they will approach it with their tail waving slowly from side to side. This is a way of showing interest and wanting to investigate further.

6. To Find a Mate!

tail wagging to find mate

When dogs wag their tails, they release the scent from their anal glands into the air and use them to communicate with other dogs. You can think of it like social profiling, checking for information such as their mood, sex, health, and reproductive status – it’s how dogs find a mate!

So, when a dog wags its tail, it’s not just trying to look cute — it’s actually sending out important information to other dogs!

7. Aggression or Dominance

On that note, dogs also use the scent from their anal glands to mark their territory and assert their dominance over other dogs.

Although not quite as common as some of the others on this list, wagging with aggression can happen, and is usually done with a raised and stiff tail. It is a way to signal to their opponents that they are prepared to fight.

does your dog pull on its leash 970×250

Can Dogs Injure Their Tail from too Much Wagging?

When dogs wag their tails excessively, it may place a strain on the muscles and ligaments in their tail, which can lead to injury. It’s fairly rare for a dog to get an injury just from the sheer action of wagging, but it’s not impossible for them to develop Limber Tail from the over-use of it.

The more likely cause of injury to tails (yet still fairly uncommon) is when dogs whip them against hard surfaces, causing damage to the tip, also known as ‘Happy Tail Syndrome.’ This is usually seen in high-energy or working breeds, and can result in a bloody wound.

If you see your dog’s tail wounded or bleeding, it’s best to take them to the vet right away.

Should I Dock My Dog’s Tail?

problems with docked tails

There are a number of reasons why people may choose to dock a dog’s tail, including aesthetics or preventing injury. However, tail docking is not without its risks.

One of the most serious potential complications is loss of balance. Unlike humans, who rely primarily on vision to maintain balance, dogs rely heavily on their tails when running or turning. The tail acts as a counterbalance, helping the dog to keep its footing and stay upright. Without a tail, dogs can struggle with basic movements and lose their coordination.

In addition, tail wagging is an important form of communication for dogs. By wagging their tails, dogs can convey a range of emotions, from happiness and excitement to fear and aggression. When a dog’s tail is docked, this crucial form of communication is lost. For these reasons, tail docking should be avoided whenever possible.

Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tail When Sleeping?

Scientists believe that tail wagging during sleep may be linked to REM (rapid eye movement). When dogs are in REM sleep, their brains are active and they can dream just like we do. It’s believed that tail wagging may be a way for dogs to express what they are dreaming about.


In contrast, deep sleep is a much more restful state where the brain is less active. During deep sleep, dogs may not dream at all, or their dreams may be less vivid. As a result, tail wagging during deep sleep is believed to be a reflexive response to changes in the environment, such as noise or movement.

So next time you see your dog’s tail wagging in its sleep, don’t be too concerned – hopefully they are chasing rabbits!

Why Isn’t My Puppy Wagging Its Tail?

Puppy tails are often very short and weak compared to an adult dog, making it difficult for them to generate enough force to create a wagging motion.

They need time to develop the muscles needed to control their tail movements. As they grow and develop, they will gain better control over their tail muscles, which will eventually allow them to start wagging away.

Each dog is different, so there’s no hard and fast rule about timeframes.

When we got our second beagle we were concerned about her lack of tail action at 12 weeks, but then miraculously she found the strength to start wagging seemingly overnight!

What if my Dog has stopped Wagging Its Tail?

When a dog suddenly stops wagging its tail, it can be cause for concern. There are a number of possible explanations for this, including illness, injury (such as Limber Tail), and even emotional distress.

In some cases, the reason for a dog’s sudden change in tail wagging may never be completely clear. If your dog has stopped wagging its tail, it’s important to observe other changes in behavior and consult with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying health problems

dog not wagging tail

The Importance of Tail Wagging

Diving into the reasons dogs wag their tails gives us a clearer picture of their emotions, enabling us to cater to their needs more holistically.

Whether it’s a sign of joy, anticipation, nervousness, or appeasement, tail wagging in dogs is an instinctual reaction to their surroundings.

Many times, we might overlook the significance of it, but it’s a crucial element of a dog’s body, contributing majorly to their overall health and demeanor.

Do you have any questions or comments about your dog’s tail-wagging habits? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Further Reads:
Ideal Gifts for Beagle Lovers!
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