If you own a dog, you've seen its tail wag. This is possibly the most commonly perceived canine behavior that exists. They wag when they're happy, when they're sad, and for just about everything else ever. As silly and superfluous as it might seem, this is an innate behavior that serves an array of purposes, almost of of them healthy and normal. An extra limb can be baffling to humans, who lost their tails via evolution a long, long time ago. So what's the real purpose here? Is a tail a utility, or a burden? What's the actual point behind it. Read on to find out what it could actually mean.
The Root of the Behavior
The first thing a lot of people fail to remember is that a wagging tail isn't always indicative of a positive mindset. While dogs can't communicate with humans through language, they use everything else at their disposal to get their point or points across. It certainly can be indicative of positivity, but many specialists warn that you should focus on the behavior of the entire dog, not just the tail. Canines use their tails just as often to indicate frustration or anger as often as they do to indicate play or pleasure. Without focusing on the whole picture, individuals run the risk of getting bitten.
Tail wagging goes back thousands upon thousands of years. These vestigial 5th limbs have traditionally served an array of purposes. From what scientists can tell, these limbs first started out as a way to balance themselves. It kept ancient canines from tipping over while cutting sharp angles while running at high speeds. The balance function of a dog's tail also helps when they're walking along a fence or wall, keeping them moving in a straight line. Over the course of the evolutionary history of canines, it has become not just a tool for balance, but also a communication tool.
Wagging has been proven to be a learned behavior. When puppies are first born, their tails do not wag at all for the first couple of months. When they start interacting with their brothers and sisters, this is when we see the wagging behaviors come into play. Once they engage in play, wagging becomes second nature. It isn’t until 3 or 4 months of age that your dog may start actively trying to communicate with his tail. But if you do your homework, you should be able to discern exactly what he’s saying when he says it to you.
Encouraging the Behavior
Wagging tails in younger animals can be a great indicator of anxiety or fear. Before they've reached adulthood, puppies are still just finding their place in the world and have very limited ways of portraying their feelings. So if you see a young pup with a furiously wagging tail, try to make sure they're in an environment where they feel safe and secure. Picking them up and isolating them from other animals is usually the easiest way to get this done.
The direction of the tail wag can be a great indicator as to what emotion or emotions your dog is currently dealing with. If your dog is wagging his tail furiously to the right, then you have a very happy dog on your hands! If, however, your dog's tail is leaning to the left as it wags then they could very well be frightened. Low wagging is another indicator of your dog's fear. If you see your dog furiously sniffing while his tail is horizontal to the ground, then he's most likely just intrigued by something that he's either smelled or seen. Always keep a heavy focus on what your dog's tail is doing for some great insight into what's on his mind.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Some dogs can let their wagging get out of control. In fact, stories always seem to crop up of dogs wagging their tails so hard that they actually throw them out of joint. If your dog is a normal wagger, but suddenly stops this behavior and looks generally dejected, this is a pretty clear sign that something has gone amiss. You might be thinking "Well what about dogs with little to no tail? How do they interact with other dogs?" and the answer to this is... they are careful. Dogs without this vital communication tool often tend to be a little more trepidation around other dogs. They have to make sure that their actions are taken in the proper context.
So, is wagging normal? Absolutely! And while it might not be the clearest way for your dog to communicate, it's definitely the one he's always going to prefer. There’s just no negotiation to be had on this one. So learn those movements, and learn to "wag" with the flow. Your dog will love you for it!
By a Pug lover Shane Langenfeld
Published: 02/23/2018, edited: 01/30/2020