Many animal lovers and owners think that dogs wag their tails to express their happiness and excitement, but Dr Scott Miller, from Barking Heads, has busted that myth. He says the movement of the tail is indeed a way for dogs to communicate – but that it is only part of their body language and not a definite sign.
Dr Miller told the Mirror: “Tail wagging is commonly misinterpreted as just a sign of happiness, that a dog is friendly and wants to say ‘hi’ but it is far more complicated than that.
“Focusing just on the tail is like just listening to a part of a sentence, pretty hard to interpret what someone is telling you, so the entire body language must be taken into account.”
According to the expert, other emotions could also be indicated with the wagging of the tail – apart from happiness.
He said: “The wag of a canine’s tail can be as a result of feeling aroused, overstimulated, or even frustrated.”
If someone wants to understand a dog’s expressions, they should be looking at how the tail is moving, in what direction, height, speed, and position.
And Dr Miller went on to explain: “When confident or aroused, the tail is held high to expose their scent glands which are on either side of the anus, to advertise their presence with good airflow around the area.
“If the tail is wagging side to side but pooch seems tense with hard staring eyes, then this could indicate an overly aroused or frustrated dog that is best left alone.”
Regarding the speed and intensity at which the tail is moving, the expert said: “A slower wagged tail can indicate a canine that is calmly assessing a situation.”
In that case, Dr Miller noted the dog “should be given time and space” to assess that situation.
But then, what is the sign that a dog is friendly and wants to engage with someone?
The expert pointed out: “A helicopter style 360 wag is a sure fire sign of friendliness, with a relaxed stance and bum wiggling likely to suggest this is a dog that definitely wants to positively engage with you or your dog.”
The helicopter tail wag is usually reserved for those who are viewed as especially important, according to another veterinary expert, Dr James Greenwood.