You greet your dog with a smile, and you say his name with joy! You notice how he wags his tail back and forth and sometimes even seems overcome with energy. Clearly your dog is happy to see you. Does this mean dogs wag their tails to let us know they are happy?
The answer to this question is more complicated than you might think… Dogs wag their tails to communicate a variety of feelings, including joy, irritation, nervousness, fear and anger. Because a wagging tail does not always equal a happy, friendly dog, it is important to pay attention to other cues. For example, if the dog’s muscles look stiff or its face seems tense, the pooch may not be ready to play. Never approach a dog you don’t know unless you’re with a grown-up who says it’s OK.
As for your own dog, you’ll get used to “reading” his or her feelings and tail wags! For example, a dog who is threatening another dog or making it known that he or she is in charge may hold the tail high and stiff while moving it back and forth. This is different from the gentle back-and-forth wag of a happy, relaxed dog!