Whether you have a dog or have simply seen it happen to others, the image of a happy pup greeting its owner with a wagging tail is familiar. But the meaning of that tail wag is not as simple as you might imagine. Tail movement in dogs can mean a lot of things, as SciShow highlights in a new video.
Host Olivia Gordon notes the details can vary between breeds, but the general outline of why dogs move their tails is pretty straightforward. If the dog tucks its tail between its legs, it's likely feeling scared or submissive. If the dog holds the tail aloft, it's alert and interested. A slow wag may indicate uncertainty, and a fast wag may indicate happiness. All of these signs are pretty familiar.
However, the wagging may be more complicated than it seems, according to some researchers. In particular, the direction of the wag may carry importance. One study showed dogs wagging their tails more on the right when they saw their owners. It was just slightly to the right when they saw strangers or a cat. And, when the dogs saw a dominant, unfamiliar dog, their tails wagged more to the left. The study suggested dogs wag more on the right when they see something they'd like to approach, and more to the left when they see something they'd like to avoid.