What Does a Wagging Tail Really Mean?

You see a cute pup posted up on the corner of a busy Manhattan block, waiting for the light to turn so he can prance across with his owner. He’s staring at you, tongue out, tail wagging. Must mean he’s happy to see you right? Ehh.. not so fast.

Contrary to what many believe, a wagging tail isn’t an immediate sign of friendliness and an invitation to pet and play. While yes, it certainly can mean that Fido is looking to frolic, there are a lot of other body language cues that come into play in order to make that determination as well.

For starters, ask yourself, “What is the tail doing?”

  • Swaying Stiffly: This usually indicates tension or hostility. A relaxed tail is typically a better indicator of friendliness.
  • Wagging High: The higher the better! Low wagging tails can indicate that the pup may be more nervous and less confident — and therefore more likely to snap or jump out of fear.
  • Swift or Steady: Fast is friendly, but slow wags should be approached with caution.

You’ll also want to pay attention to some additional body language cues, like: barking, baring teeth, ear position, whining, whimpering, overall posture and eye contact. And remember, just because you’ve got tail-wagging down to a science for one dog, does not mean the same rules will apply to another. Each dog is different and their personalities will reflect that. Be patient, be respectful, and most of all, be careful!

Upper East Side Animal Hospital is Manhattan’s #1 vet on the Upper East Side. We offer comprehensive care for your canine companion. From routine check-ups to dentistry and medical procedures, we do it all! To learn more contact us online or call 212-396-3020.

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