Nature | Did You Know

What a Wagging Dog Tail Really Means


Like many pet owners and animal lovers, I grew up misunderstanding dog tail positions and what they truly meant. As a kid, I assumed that when a dog's tail was wagging he was friendly, playful and happy to see me.  

Thankfully with the help of my parents I learned to exercise caution when approaching strange animals. They taught me to keep my distance and give the animal space until we were sure that they wanted to play.


Learning and understanding dog tail position and what they meant gives us a greater understanding on how to communicate with our furry friends and a good glimpse into what they're feeling.

When their tails aren't wagging, they can be find in 3 different positions: Up High, Horizontal to the Ground and Down / Between Hind Legs.

Find out which each of these positions mean and how you should be treating a dog that is showing them.


Long-time dog owners, may feel confident in their ability to read their pup's body language, but how much do they really know about what their pet is thinking?

Use these 4 indicators from their tail to get a better understanding of your pooch's current emotions.

Up High


When your dog comes up to you with their tail in the High Up Position, you may think that they're feeling confident, powerful and comfortable. That's where we assumed incorrectly. This position in fact means your pooch is trying to indicate dominance. This is common among alpha dogs, who are commanding and take charge pups, that are willing to assert their dominance when necessary.

With his tail high, a dog release much more of his signature scent from his anal gland and it acts as a clear sign of "Don't Cross Me".


When a dog's tail "fluffs up" it may mean the pooch is agitated, so be wary. Also, when a highly raised tail flicks back and forth rapidly, it's known as "flagging" and may indicate an imminent attack from a dog who is prepared to stand its ground.

Horizontal to the Ground


Dogs who have their tail resting straight out in the Horizontal to the Ground position are not demonstrating dominance nor submission. This unrelaxed position indicates curiosity without having to be assertive or relinquish control. You may see them in this position when they are meeting someone new or interacting with a foreign object. You may see your pups ears peak at the same time as they continue to explore.

pasja1000 / pixabay

Down/ Between Hind Legs


Since having their tails high up means they're asserting dominance, the exact opposite reaction reflects that emotion. With their tail down and between its hind legs, the dog is communicating an understand of another's dominant position and his submissiveness to them. This can be observed when two dogs play together and one constantly has their tail held low and tucked between its leg. By having their tail tucked between their legs, it means it is hiding its signature scent and expected to go unnoticed by other dogs.

A dog who also keeps their tail lower can be indicating he is in pain, or exhausted from too much exercise.



A lot of people assume that if a pup is wagging its tail, all is well and the animal is happy and feeling good. That however, is not always the case.

According to new research, right wag tail positions indicates happiness and playfulness. Since the left brain controls the right side of the body as well as energy and engagement responses.  

Left wag position however indicates insecurity and restlessness, which makes sense because the left brain controls the sense of "fight or flight" as well as the left side of the body.


While your experience with pets may be different than what the research says, it's always important to approach new animals with caution and respect. Just like people, dogs need their personal space, and should have a sense of security before being touched.


Sources: Barkley and Paws / Vet Street / Mother Nature Network

What is your dog telling you?