Get rates for your pet:

See My Rates »
Retrieve a Saved Quote

Do Dogs Wag Their Tails on Purpose?

By Cuteness Team
published: April 5, 2019 - updated: April 7, 2021 • 2 min. read
wagging tails

You’ve seen your dog’s tail wag faster when you shower her with love and you’ve seen her tail go stiff when on alert, but do dogs have control over this?

Muscle Control and Tails

Dog’s tails seem to wag on their own, but the muscles that control it don’t. Just like the rest of her body, she can control her tail muscles by thinking in order to manipulate movement. She can wag, lower or raise her tail at will, and she can stop it mid-wag, too. Some breeds balance using their tails, so it’s necessary to be able to control the muscles that control the tail.

Social Behavior

Puppies don’t wag their tails immediately after birth so many experts believe tail wagging is a socially learned behavior. The tail functions as an emotional barometer letting dogs communicate with their littermates, pack and other peers. Humans associate a wagging tail with a happiness; however, the angle and nature of the movement could also mean frustration, anger or agitation.

Stop and Go

While dogs control the movement, they may not always start the wag. It appears they will start wagging out of instinct, not conscious thought, similar to when humans frown. Frowning might be ingrained as a response to a bad joke, but you can actively return your mouth to a smile.

Other Movements

If you’re not sure what your dog is communicating with her tail wag, look at the rest of the body to understand further. For example, if she is relaxed (ears loose, light panting), the wagging may indicate happiness. Conversely, when intimidated, dogs lower their tails. Each dog appears to have its own reactions and movements, so be sure to use all of the clues possible when trying to interpret your dog’s emotions.

Want to learn more about your pup? Check out Decoding the Movements of a Dog’s Tail, Do Dogs Use Their Tails For Balance?, and How Do Dogs Show Affection? at!

This article is provided by Cuteness—the go to destination for passionate pet parents. Cuteness has answers to all of your health, training, and behavior questions – as well as the cutest, funniest, and most inspiring pet stories from all over the world.

cuteness logo
By Cuteness Team

Cuteness is the place for pet people. Whether you’re looking for adoption guides, in-fur-mation on your pet’s weird habits or showcases of pure pet cuteness, we’ve paw-sitively got it all. At Cuteness, we’re committed to working only with experts we’d trust with our own pets. We’ve done the legwork for you so you can focus your energy on loving and caring for your furry friends. We’re passionate about all things pet and fostering a community of pet lovers. Caring for pets isn’t always a walk in the park – but we’ve got you covered! Cuteness and Healthy Paws Pet Insurance had a content sharing agreement until 2021.

Show more