Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tail?
Dogs cannot talk. This doesn’t mean they cannot convey their emotions and thoughts. They communicate using a number of body movements and behaviors that we have learned to decipher through the many years of man-dog interaction. One of these is a wagging tail. So, why do dogs wag their tails?
The Anatomy of the Canine Tail
The canine tail is a communication tool because of its unique anatomy. There are some people who think that the dog’s tail does not have any bones. They believe that it’s only made up of cartilages, muscles, and other tissues. However, this is not accurate.
This canine appendage is an extension of the dog’s vertebra or spine. The only difference is that the individual vertebrae is smaller than those that you can find on the pet’s back. Being an extension of the spinal column also means that the dog’s tail will have the nerve fibers coming from the spinal cord.
We already know that the spinal cord originates from the base of the brain. These nerves terminate at different muscles found in the tail. Any signal that comes from the brain will also travel to the muscles of the tail. These electrical signals contract or relax the muscles of the tail, allowing the dog to move it any way it wants.
A Wagging Tail as a Sign
So, does a wagging tail mean a dog is happy? If the electrical signal coming from the dog’s brain is one that conveys happiness, then it is possible to interpret a wagging tail as a sign of dog happiness.
However, there is also such thing as a slow and deliberate wag. Many canine behaviorists do not look at it as a sign of happiness or a jolly mood in the dog. They interpret this as a sign of uneasiness or a feeling of insecurity in the dog. The pet is trying to figure out whether you are a friend or a foe or whether something is safe or not.
It is important to realize that a dog will never wag its tail if it is alone by itself. It often wags this appendage in the presence of a person, another animal, or a moving object. For example, if a ball drops from a table and rolls on the floor, you might see a dog wag its tail.
There are new data that reveal the sensitivity of the dog’s eyes to movement. The canine eyes are keener when it comes to movement than it is to color. After all, dogs can only see different shades of blue, gray, and yellow.
It is not surprising why dogs are more sensitive to movement. Ancient dogs are known for being excellent hunters. They use their sense of sight to detect the possible presence of prey or threat in their surroundings.
As such, when a dog wags its tail, it is often to signal its presence to other dogs. Other dogs will notice the movement of the tail first before they can see the white teeth of the dog.
Tail Wagging Relative to Tail Position
Different dogs have different normal or “natural” tail positions. Most dogs have their tail hanging down near the hocks. Greyhounds have a tail that rests a little bit between the hind legs. Pugs, on the other hand, have an upward curling tail. It is important to know the “natural” positioning of your dog’s tail before you can make any accurate interpretation about its wagging behavior.
A dog wagging its tail high up and at a fast pace often means that the dog is happy. If the dog holds its tail in an erect position and with very fast, almost quivering kind of tail movement, it often indicates heightened arousal and unpredictability. A gentle wag in the natural position can display mild curiosity. As a general rule, small, throbbing wags are an indication of the dog’s “fight or flight” response kicking into gear.
If the tail is lower than its usual or “natural” position, it often indicates that the dog is either submissive or nervous. The dog also moves its tail back and forth in smaller movements. This does not indicate that the dog is happy or in the mood for play. It is feeling nervous and anxious. This is another answer to the question as to why do dogs wag their tails.
A dog that is wagging its tail more to the right side of its body often indicates more positive emotions. These can include happiness and excitement. If the tail wags more to the left side of the dog’s body, behaviorists often interpret it as a sign of negative emotions. It is possible that the dog is angry, agitated, or is about to pounce on something or someone.
You may remember in your science class that the right hemisphere or right side of the brain controls the left side of the body. The right side of the body receives its input from the left hemisphere or left side of the brain. The same is true with dogs.
Researchers studying the approach-avoidance behavior of animals discovered that an animal’s left brain hemisphere corresponds to positive-approach behaviors. On the other hand, the right brain hemisphere produces negative-avoidance behaviors.
When a dog sees another dog wagging its tail, it often tries to decipher the friendliness of the other dog by watching its tail. If the other dog wags its tail more to the right, then the dog knows that it can “approach” the other dog. It will feel more relaxed because of the perceived friendliness of the other dog. If it sees the other dog wagging its tail more to the left, then the dog will not approach it. It will try to avoid it. It feels stressed and anxious.
A wagging tail does not always indicate that a dog is happy. One has to consider the circumstances upon which the dog displayed the behavior. The tail’s position and the speed of its movement can also provide an answer far different from a dog’s happy state.
- Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails? – Animal Planet
- What a Wagging Dog Tail really Means: New Scientific Data – Psychology Today