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What does a waggy tail mean?

on 20 July 2015

An acquaintance rang the other day because her dog, Milo, had unexpectedly bitten someone.  She told me that he was wagging his tail, which she believed meant he was happy, so why had he bitten?  Once she told me more about what had happened, it became clear that she had misread her dog’s body language.



Don’t worry!  He’s wagging his tail so he’s happy!

As often happens, this call reminded me of when my dog Harvey was younger.  From a very young age he had a dislike of some dogs and would often bark and wag his tail furiously.  I remember being told on numerous occasions that he was giving conflicting signals and wouldn’t bite when wagging his tail, however I soon learnt that he would!  Popular belief is that a waggy tail means that a dog is happy, but that is not always the case!


What does a waggy tail mean?

Whilst a waggy tail can mean that your dog is happy, it can also indicate that your dog is stressed or angry.  The tail starts wagging when a dog gets in a heightened state, similar to the adrenalin rush we sometimes get when happy, excited, scared, startled or really angry.  If the tail is gently swishing, your dog is happy.  If however the tail is upright and wagging furiously this shows that your dog is agitated and he is trying to warn on-comers not to approach – if this signal is ignored he will act defensively and possibly bite.

A dog uses the tail as a means of communication

As well as the happy swishing tail position and the defensive upright tail, dogs also use their tails to communicate their unease and fear, as displayed when a dog has his tail tucked under his body.  This position is often accompanied by the dog holding his ears back in a frightened position.

There are so many ways our dogs display how they are feeling and wagging their tail is just one of them.  If you want to know more about Canine Communication and how you can build a better understanding of your dog, either call me on 07889 343383 or send me a message via the contact page.


Due to the coronavirus outbreak I am unable to offer home consultations at the moment.  I can however offer you a 2 hour Skype consultation at a reduced cost of £125.  This price includes a 2 hour Skype consultation plus lifetime back-up by phone or email.  If you want to learn more about how I can help you and your dog(s), please get in touch