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Why of the Wag

How to interpret dog tail wagHow to interpret some common dog tail wags.

Perhaps the most common misinterpretation of dog behavior is the myth that a dog wagging its tail is happy and friendly. While some wags are associated with happiness, others can mean fear, insecurity or even a warning that if you approach, you're apt to be bitten. Here's how to interpret some common tail wags:

A slight wag, usually seen during greetings, is a tentative "hello there" or a hopeful "I'm here."

A broad wag is friendly: "I am not challenging or threatening you." It can also mean, "I'm pleased" - the closest to the popular notion of the happy wag, especially if the tail seems to drag the hips with it.

A slow wag with tail at "half-mast" is less social than most other tail signals. Generally speaking slow wags with the tail in neither a particularly dominant (high) nor a submissive (low) position are signs of insecurity.

Tiny, high-speed wags that give the impression of the tail vibrating are signs the dog is about to do something -- usually run or fight. If the tail is held high while vibrating, it's most likely an active threat.

Stanley Coren, PETS Magazine
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