Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails

Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails

Author WDF Staff


Most of us assume that dogs wag their tails when they are happy and playful. However, that is not always the case. If you are like us, and you wonder, “Why do dogs wag their tails?” stick with this article, and we will help you get the best possible answer to this question.

Confusing a threatening wagging tail and a happy one can be dangerous. Dogs might wag their tail for different reasons, and just because your dog wags their tail when they are happy doesn’t mean other dogs do that as well. You must always talk to the owner before approaching and petting a dog. This is the best way to avoid potentially dangerous situations and incidents.

Why do dogs wag their tails if they are not happy?

Dogs use their entire bodies to communicate; the only thing we should know is to look for clues they are giving us. It is hard to judge a dog’s state or feelings just by looking at their tails. There are different reasons dogs might wag their tail, and here are some of the most common ones;

Submission or fear

One possible reason a dog might be wagging their tail is that they are scared or submissive. However, this will be a distinct tail wagging. The dog’s tail will probably be tucked between their legs and will rapidly move from side to side. They will flatten their ears and try to appear as small and as non-threatening as possible.

dog in field

Most of us have seen this position a dog may assume. If you have ever seen a video of a dog owner coming home and the dog has destroyed something or made a mess, you can clearly see the dog becoming submissive. They are not “feeling guilty,” but somewhat scared. They are expecting their owner to yell at them and punish them.

Dogs can have sudden bursts of energy. That type of behavior is called zoomies. Check out this article for more info - Dog zoomies.


Dogs will indeed wag their tail when they are happy. However, a wagging tail might not be the only thing that will let you know your dog is happy about something. If you notice a wagging tail, half-closed eyes, and an overall relaxed demeanor, your dog is probably relaxed and happy about something in their life. You might have just returned home, or you have them a delicious treat; whatever the reason may be, it is clear your dog is pretty happy.


Excitement and happiness usually go hand-in-hand. If your dog is excited about something, like your return home from a day in the office, they will start wagging their tails like crazy. Excited dogs will hold their tail relatively high above their backs. The wagging will become intense, and they will clearly show other signs of excitement as well.

One of the tell-tell signs of excitement is the “play bow.” The dog will lower their front half of the body and hold their rear in the air. The tail will be wagging, and that is their way of telling their humans they have missed them. If you see your dog doing a play bow in the park with other dogs, they are trying to signal to them they are ready for playing. It is a dog’s way of telling other dogs, “I’m ready! Even if I bite you a bit harder, it is because I am excited about playing. I didn’t really mean to bite you.”

dog upright tail

You can notice your dog wagging their tail and play bowing when you are playing with them. If they want you to throw the ball or any other toy, they will do the play bow and wait excitingly for you to start playing with them. If you pay attention to your dog, you will surely notice all the different ways they communicate with you. It is clear to see that excitement is one of the reasons why dogs wag their tails.

If you want to know more about dog tails, check out this article - Why do dogs have tails?


Dogs that are interested in something might wag their tail. If they are looking for treats you have hidden, or something from their environment sparked their interest, your dog’s tail will undoubtedly let you know. Their tail will go like crazy from side to side until they get to their point of interest, or you redirect their attention to something else.

One of the most straightforward ways to see the excited tail in action is to check out untrained bird dogs when they spot potential prey. Their natural hunting instincts will spark their curiosity, but they will lack the experience and patience for hunting. When a breed like the German Shorthaired Pointer notices squirrels, birds, or frogs, their tail starts wagging from excitement.

corgi tail upright


Nervous dogs can start wagging their tail. This technique dogs use to let other dogs know they are present but nervous. This type of tail wagging is different from happy or excited tail wagging. The tail of a nervous dog is stiff and will wag in line or lower than their backs. The wagging will give a “nervous vibe,” and the dog will probably be silent. Dogs that wag their tails like that should not be approached quickly. Instead, their owners should encourage their dogs to relax and regain their confidence.

One of the ways dogs communicate their feelings is through howling. Check out this article for more information - Why do dogs howl?


Dogs that wag their tails can use it to warn other dogs or people not to approach them. Their body will probably be very stiff, and the tail wagging will be careful, slow, and measured. The tail is usually straight and in line with the dog’s back. Such dogs are not too happy about something going on in their immediate environment, and owners should prevent them from interacting with other dogs and people. It is not a good idea to approach such a dog, and if you notice a dog like that, it would be best to avoid them.

In conclusion

Now you know why dogs wag their tails and the different meanings tail wagging can have. Make sure you look for other signs of the dog’s mood. Look at their ears, position of the tail, stiffness of the body, and the overall position. If anything seems off, you should trust your instincts and act accordingly.

World Dog Finder team

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