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Why do Dogs Wag Their Tail?

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Why do dogs wag their tail? Do dogs wag their tail because they are happy? My dog wagged his tail right before biting someone

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Why do dogs wag their tail?

Does a wagging tail mean my dog is happy?

Why do Dogs Wag Their Tail?
A dog’s wagging tail does not indicate that they are happy, friendly, or want you to say hi to them.
It does however indicate a willingness to interact. But, there are lots of different types of interactions. Jumping up and nipping someone is a type of interaction, biting someone is a type of interaction. Growling at someone is an interaction. Even if your dog is wagging their tail while they are jumping, biting, or growling, it does not mean they are happy or friendly.
I could write 5 pages about different types of wagging tails (and bore you all to death in the process) but instead I thought I would summarize quickly.
A wagging tail is NOT an indication of a happy dog.
If you want to know if your dog is actually happy or friendly it is much more effective to pay attention to their overall body language. If their body is loose and wiggly (with lots of curves and “C” or “S” shapes) while not being pressured into an interaction, chances are much higher that they are happy and/or friendly.

 

The Bottom Line:
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References:

Buttner, A. P., & Strasser, R. (2013). Contagious yawning, social cognition, and arousal: An investigation of the processes underlying shelter dogs’ responses to human yawns. Animal Cognition, 17(1), 95–104. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-013-0641-z

Casey, R., 2002. Fear and stress. In: Horwitz, D.F., Mills, D.S., Heath, S. (Eds.), BSAVA Manual of canine and feline behavioural medicine. British Small Animal Veternary Association, Dorset, UK, pp. 144–153.

Horowitz, A. (2009). Disambiguating the “guilty look”: Salient prompts to a familiar dog behaviour. Behavioural Processes, 81(3), 447–452. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2009.03.014

Kuhne, F., Hößler, J.C., Struwe, R., 2012. Effects of human–dog familiarity on dogs’ behavioural responses to petting. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 142, 176–181.

Kuhne, F., Hößler, J. C., & Struwe, R. (2014). Emotions in dogs being petted by a familiar or unfamiliar person: Validating behavioural indicators of emotional states using heart rate variability. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 161, 113–120. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2014.09.020

Overall, K.L., 1997. Normal canine behavior. In: Overall, K.L. (Ed.), Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals. Mosby, St. Louis, USA, pp. 9–44.

Silva, K., Bessa, J., & de Sousa, L. (2012). Auditory contagious yawning in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris): first evidence for social modulation. Animal Cognition, 15(4), 721–724. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-012-0473-2

Taylor, A. M., Reby, D., & McComb, K. (2009). Context-Related Variation in the Vocal Growling Behaviour of the Domestic Dog (Canis familiaris). Ethology, 115(10), 905–915. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1439-0310.2009.01681.x

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