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Dog wagging its tail? How to know if it’s happy, anxious or about to bite

A dog wagging its tail doesn’t always indicate happy mood. Here’s how to find out what they are trying to say with their tail.

We usually assume a dog wagging its tail is in a happy and playful mood and wants attention. However, not all tail wagging is happy and many a time, it could be discomfort, anxiety or aggression. Without observing a dog’s body language carefully, going near a tail-wagging dog could also put you in danger as they can bite if anxious. Pet behaviourist Vanessa in her recent Instagram post talks about the tail-wagging behaviour in dogs at length and explains how to read your dog’s body language. (Also read: Is your dog resource guarding? Tips to calm your pooch who gets ‘possessive’ about treats and toys)

Vanessa says it’s a misconception that if a dog is wagging its tail, it’s happy and approaching them when they are in a stressful state of mind can at times prove unsafe for people in worst-case scenario.

“A common misconception I often hear from clients, out in public and in the media is that a dog is happy if its tail is wagging! A wagging tail doesn’t necessarily mean a dog is happy. Some dogs will even wag then bite! When assessing any dog communication, it’s important to look at the whole picture. Look at other body language for clues as well as the situation and environment,” writes the pet behaviourist.

When a dog is happy and wagging its tail

“If the dogs body language is loose and floppy and they’re in an environment they usually enjoy – if their tails wagging they probably are happy,” says Vanessa.

What if a dog stiffens and wags its tail

This means the dog needs space and one should not approach them during this time. Vanessa explains with the help of an example.

“A dog is eating it’s dinner and someone walks close by. The dog stiffens and wags its tail, the tail is ridged – it’s unlikely this dog is happy and more likely it’s asking for space whilst eating,” she says.

Observe the tail height as it can give us some information, as per Vanessa.

Straight up like a flag pole: It usually means the dog has a lot of feelings. Again, the whole situation needs to be looked at as it can mean positive feelings like excitement to play or more negative like frustration or alarm.

Tail in the dog’s neutral position (however it is without using any muscles to hold it in a different position): Probably means the dog is not experiencing any strong emotions.

Tail is low and tight to the body or tucked under: Again this is a dog experiencing a lot of big feelings. Fear is often expressed this way. It can also be used as an appeasement signal.

“Now, to make it even more complicated, different breeds have different neutral tails. For example, a husky’s tail can neutrally be high, a greyhound’s neutrally lower and then there’s the breeds with barely any tail!” says the pet behaviourist.

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