Dear Labby: Dog Tail Wagging

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Dear Labby_oldDear Labby,

Last week we rescued a 5-year old mutt from the shelter. She’s a great dog and we’re having lots of fun with her. My question is about her tail. It never seems to be wagging and always seems to be hanging low and sometimes it is even tucked between her legs. Does this mean she is unhappy with us? Afraid of us? Can you help?

Tail Wagger


Dear Wagger,

A tail wag is a very important means of communication in a dog. They have many different types of wags and a recent study showed that even the direction the tail wags says something. But first, your new addition…congratulations on your new family member and kudos for saving a dog from the shelter. Given that you’ve only had her a few days, her hanging or tucked tail might just be a sign of confusion and a little anxiety. Remember, first she was in a home, then the shelter (where it’s pretty stressful) and now in a new home. That’s a lot of change for a dog. Give her some time and space and I bet her tail will be wagging like crazy.

What about those different tail wags? My Labradors have big thick tails and they are usually wagging all the time just because Labs tend to be big goofy, happy dogs. Their happy wag is just a big slow side to side wag and their tail is about even with their back. That’s the Happy tail wag.

If the tail dips lower and wags a little faster – that’s a bit of a mix between happy and anxious. Tail tucked is fearful or anxious.When we first got our Maggie, her tail was always tucked. I’m happy to say, she wags almost as much as Jack now!

See how high and fast Jack’s tail is going – He’s Happy!!


A stiff tail either straight up or straight back can be a sign of aggression. When Jack is chasing the crows off the front yard, his tail is straight up. I could always tell when our dog Tino had a critter because his tail would be stick straight and wagging like a pendulum.

You are right to read your dog’s tail wag – it is a barometer of how they feel and can help you work with them.

Best of Luck – keep us posted!

Some Additional Reading:

  1. What a Dog’s Tail Wags Really Mean: Some New Scientific Data

  2. Decoding Dog Tail Wagging

  3. Left or Right Tail Wags Elicit Different Emotional Responses From Dog


We’re linking up to the This ‘N That Thursday Blog Hop with a little of this and a little of that, sponsored by 2 Brown Dawgs and Ruckus the Eskie!



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  1. Great tail wag explanation. We had a shelter dog come into the clinic and the owners were concerned that he didn’t wag his tail, it turned out he must of broke it and he now can’t wag it. But it does sound like this little fellow is just scared and with patience, love and working slowing around him he will come around. My dogs tails are going a mile a minute when they are doing something fun like hunting.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Wordless Wednesday~GRCHMy Profile

    • Oh, that’s sad about the shelter dog. Maggie’s tail is bent at the very tip – not sure if it was broken or from being in a crate that was too small – doesn’t seem to bother her or impact her wagging.
      mkob recently posted…Dear Labby: Dog Tail WaggingMy Profile

  2. We hope the newly rescued dog relaxes and shows her wag soon!
    Hailey and Zaphod recently posted…Wordless Wednesday – A Zaphod outtakeMy Profile

  3. That is true! I wag my tail all the time, but for some reason when I walking my sapiens, my tail likes to drop. My sapien think it’s odd and tries to remind me by bringing my tail back up.

    Also, thanks for hopping along to This ‘N That Thursday! Good discussion!
    Ruckus the Eskie recently posted…PSA: BarkBox Promotion – $10 off any new subscription!My Profile

  4. Thanks so much for joining TNT. Good advice on the tail wagging. I posted some video of Thunder on birds today, his tail is going like a pendulum…lol.
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…This ‘N That ThursdayMy Profile

  5. Cute video’s lol @helicopter tail haha! Love it!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…A look at “Well minded pets”My Profile

  6. Hopefully once she’s settled in a bit more that tail will start wagging
    Misaki recently posted…making daddy look sillyMy Profile

    • Our Maggie didn’t start wagging for several months after we got her.
      mkob recently posted…Dear Labby: Dog Tail WaggingMy Profile

  7. I really feel for this person. When we adopted Lucas, he never ever wagged his tail. Ever. We were heartbroken because we were striving to do everything to make him happy and comfortable. What were we doing wrong?! I think it was about three months after he first came home when we were playing with some toys, he went into a play bow, and WAGGED! It was like a 3-swipe wag, but John and I both cried!! From that moment forward, he wagged a smidge more each day until – about a year later – he was a regular wagging fool! Be patient and please don’t take it personally! Your pup will get there!
    Maggie recently posted…Introducing Whole Paws by #WholeFoodsPetsMy Profile

    • Absolutely – that’s how it has been with Maggie. Slow, steady and loving will get that tail wagging!
      mkob recently posted…Dear Labby: Dog Tail WaggingMy Profile

  8. I think many people underestimate how long it takes a dog to settle into a new house. Every foster who comes to us goes through a transition. Some just take a little longer than ever.

    I hope your family sees a happy tail soon.
    Pamela recently posted…Fostering Dogs Makes You GrowMy Profile

    • You are right – it can take weeks or months depending on the dog. We’ve had a few fosters that just came in like they’d lived her all their lives and then Maggie, who DOES live her, still has her moments of anxiety and uncertainty – and she’s been here 18 months.
      mkob recently posted…Dear Labby: Dog Tail WaggingMy Profile

  9. What a great explanation about tail wagging, dogs’ tails sure are a good indication of their mood. Our younger beagle Cricket has a tail that just wags all the time….it’s good to see how happy she is all the time! Another funny thing though is our older beagle always seems to get behind golden Sheba when her tail is going….he gets it in the face all the time! Our lab mix Maggie used to do that to him too, so he’s used to it. He just kind of stands there, squints his eyes, and takes it! 🙂
    Jan K recently posted…Joint Health Plus Convenience – #NaturalStrideMy Profile

  10. Cooper doesn’t have a tail, it was cropped when he was small as is done with his breed often here in America. It’s easy to see when he’s doing the helicopter since his butt wiggles all over, but I miss the more subtle ones. Maybe that’s why he has to talk to me so much! (his ears and intent gaze are VERY communicative)
    Two Cats and a Cattledog recently posted…Buffy’s Haiku Thursday: Candles and KittensMy Profile

    • Right – you’ll have to look at more subtle signs. Too bad he lost his tail.
      mkob recently posted…Dear Labby: Dog Tail WaggingMy Profile

  11. I’m sure her tail will be up and wagging like crazy soon…once she realizes you are her forever home!
    emma recently posted…Mixed Bag | GBGV | This N That ThursdayMy Profile

  12. Well this isn’t my type of post, but its sure great for pups!
    We are #17 in the hop, come on by to read about a tragic crash into an Animal Shelter!
    Purrs coming your way,
    Mikko & Me
    Christine L recently posted…This ‘n’ That Thursday!My Profile

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