Dogs use their tails for balance, as well as a means of communication. The purpose of a dog’s tail is diverse and multifaceted, being that every wag is not the same and can all indicate different emotions or feelings. The common misconception is that if a dog is wagging its tail, they are happy and friendly, this is a myth, and sometimes a dog wagging its tail means they’re on guard and to stay back. Deciphering the meaning of a dog’s wagging tail is relatively straightforward, and there are other behaviors you can look for to understand what they’re trying to communicate.
A dog whose tail is tucked between their legs is fearful or feeling insecure about a situation. This is not the time to approach the dog, as their behavior can be unpredictable if they are unfamiliar with you. A dog whose tail is wagging high in the air, back and forth, is usually happy and looking to socialize. Though, the alpha dog does this to let off their scent and let other dogs know they’re nearby, keeping it high and pointed. A dog whose tail is wagging horizontal to the ground may likely be searching for something, or they are on alert. New research has shown that a dog who has positioned their tail high and to the right (if you’re facing the dog), this is a “back-off” warning, meaning do not approach.
Unfortunately, for those dogs with short tails seeing and understanding these signals is harder. Never approach a dog that you don’t know, and always ask the owner if it’s okay to pet their pup. Dogs have feelings, and if for whatever reason they aren’t up to socializing, they’ll be sure to let their owner know, and an educated owner will properly communicate what is acceptable in each situation.