What does the dog want to say when wagging its tail?

Some tips to understand what the dog wants to communicate with the tail

A dog that shakes its tail frantically is not always happy, as the cat that moves its tip is not always angry or bored. The emotional conditions that both the dog and the cat want to communicate represent a state of conflict, as it happens for all the movements alternating rhythmically (forward-backward, right-left) in the communication between animal and animal and between animal and man. It feels pushed in two opposite directions. Alternative movements are the physical expression of this psychic contrast. Until one of the two needs or thrusts cancels the other, the animal is stressed.

What does the dog want to say when wagging its tail? The animal wants to stay but is also encouraged to leave.

The second thrust is obviously dictated only by fear, while the first can have several reasons: hunger, desire for companionship, desire to attack. It is therefore difficult to combine the movement of the tail with a specific attitude. It is simply a visual signal to be read depending on the circumstances that caused it.


Puppies, for example, do not move their tails in the first days of life and only 50% of puppies begin to wag their tails after the thirtieth day. This activity reaches its full maturity after about fifty days of life. The first wagging occurs when the puppies receive milk from their mother, when they all align themselves together for the feeding ritual and attach themselves to the nipples.

One can rightly think that they are happy to suck on milk, but then why does the wagging not appear already after the second week of life? At that age, isn’t feeding pleasant any longer?

The phenomenon depends on the emergence of a state of conflict in the psyche of puppies. After two or three weeks of life, they still sleep curled up on each other, to keep each other warm, and there is therefore no sense of rivalry. But already after six to seven weeks, the puppies turn into many small crows, and feeding is lived as a situation of great tension.

The fact of having to push, squeeze and harass each other in order to take milk, also due to the progressive approach of the maternal nipples due to the increased size of the puppies, is a source of a sharp emotional contrast between fear, intolerance towards others and the need to feed.

Thus, one of the first wagging occurs, while later, the movement of the tail identifies specific situations of social life:

  • when puppies receive food from adult specimens (also from humans);
  • if the male approaches a female;
  • when the dog decides to attack an enemy;
  • when two dogs meet or leave each other after a meeting.

The wagging of the tail also varies depending on the animal. In more submissive individuals, the tail makes wide and slow movements. While in the specimens with the most aggressive character, it is wagged with short and rapid impulses.

Why was the wagging always classified as a sign of friendship and sociability?

In fact, it happens much more often than observing a dog’s behaviour in a domestic context. We therefore became accustomed to seeing a submissive animal greeting its master. Recognizing him as the leader of the social group where it lives..

The behaviour of the dog, in these situations, is dictated both by the joy and excitement of seeing the leader again and by a slight sense of apprehension about what may happen next. Already this example can explain the conflictual response of wagging.

It is difficult to accept this conclusion, since we like to believe that our dog only feels affection for us. We never consider the idea that it can be frightened. But let’s try to imagine the impression that our overlying presence arouses in the dog, let’s consider the state of fear the animal feels in front of us. If this undoubted physical superiority is added all the ways we use to dominate the animal, all the situations in which it depends on us for its very survival, it is easy to understand the reason for the conflictual state, even when the dog greets us.

There is one last consideration regarding tail wagging

The wagging is also considered a means to transmit smell signals. The dog uses an identification code based on the smell emissions of glands placed in the anal region. The wagging of the tail has the effect of stimulating these glands; we are not able to perceive these olfactory messages, but for animals they play a very important role in terms of communication.

 Dog Curiosity