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This Months February's News Letter
In Pet Wellness:
"Why Does a Dog Wag its Tail"
It is often said, by laymen and experts alike, that if a dog wags its tail
must be friendly. This is not so. The error is similar to the one made by
who insist that if a cat wags its tail it must be angry.
The only emotional condition that all tail-waggers
(both canine and feline) share is a state of conflict. This is true of almost
all back and forth movement in animal communication.
When an animal is in conflict it feels pulled in
two different directions the same time.
It wants to advance and retreat simultaneously, or to turn left and turn right.
Since each urge cancels the other out, the animals stays where it is,
but in a state of tension.
The body, or part of it, begins to move off in one direction,
obeying one urge, then stops and moves in the opposite direction. This leads
whole range of stylized signals in the body language of the different species.
There are neck-twistings, head-bobbings,
leg-endings, foot-jigging, shoulder-turnings, body leanings,
tail-flickerings and in cats and dogs the well know tail-waggings.
What exactly is happening in the mind of the tail-wagging dog?
Essentially the animal wants to stay and wants to go away. The urge to go
simple- it is caused by fear. The urge to stay is complex.
In fact, there is not one urge but several.
The dog may wish to stay because it is hungry, friendly, aggressive, or
for any other reason. This it is impossible to label tail-wagging
as having a single meaning. It is a visual signal that must always be read
along with the other action that are taking place at the same time.
Some examples will help to you to understand this.
Puppies do not wag their tails when they are very young.
The earliest recorded tail-wag was observed in a seventeen day-old pup,
but this was unusual. By thirty days about 50 percent of pups are
tail-wagging and the activity reaches full maturity at the age of forty-nine
These are average figures, there being some breed variation.
The context in which aging first appears is when the puppies are
feeding from the mother. As they line up along here belly and
she starts to suckle them, their tails begin to wag furiously.
It is easy to interpret this a s a "Friendly delight" on the part
of the young animals,
but if this were so, then why did wagging not show itself earlier,
when the puppies were say, too weeks old?
The milk was just as important to them then and their tails were
well enough developed, so what was missing?
The answer is inter-puppy conflict.
At the age of two weeks the pups cuddle up together for warmth and comfort,
but here is as yet no serious rivalry.
By the age of 6 or 7 weeks, however, when their tail-wagging is reaching
its full expression, the pups have arrived at the social stage of
bullying and rough and tumble. To feed from the mother
they must come very close together-close to the same bodies
that were just now nipping and chasing them.
This causes fear, but the fear is overpowered
by the urge to feed from the closely spaced teats.
So when they are being suckled, the pups are
in a state of conflict between hunger and fear -
wanting to stay at the teat and not wanting to be too close to the other pups.
It is this conflict that gives rise to the earliest expression
of tail-wagging in dogs.
The next context is which it appears is when the pups are
food-begging from the adult animals.
The same conflict is in operation here.
As the young come close to the mouth of the adult, to seek food there,
they are again forced into closeness with one another.
Later, as adults, when they greet one another after a separation,
they add tail-wagging to their other re contact signals.
Here, friendliness and apprehension combine to produce the emotional conflict.
Wagging also accompanies sexual advances, where sexual attraction and
fear are simultaneously present.
And, most important, it is seen when some aggressive approaches are made.
In these instance the tail-wagging animal, although hostile,
is also fearful - once again a conflict of simultaneous moods.
The quality of the wagging varies. In more submissive animals, the wags are
loose and wide. In aggressive animals they are still and short.
The more subordinate a tail-wagger is, the lower it holds the wagging tail.
The confident animal wags a tail that is fully erect.
If all this can be observed by watching dogs encountering one another
in a variety of social contexts, why has tail-wagging
so often been misunderstood and labeled simply as a signal of friendliness?
The answer is that w are much more familiar with man to dog greetings than
are with dog to dog greetings. If we have several dogs,
they are usually together all the time, butwe and they are repeatedly
parting and reuniting every day. So what we se, time and again,
is the friendly, submissive dog greeting its human companion (s)
on whom it looks as the dominant member of the "pack".
Its overpowering moods on these occasions is one of friendliness and excitement
at seeing its pack leader again, but this attraction is tinged with slight
which is enough to trigger the conflict response of tail-wagging.
Finally, in addition to their visual signals, tail-wags are also believed
to transmit odor signals. Again, this is hard for us to understand
unless we make ourselves contemplate the world from the dog's viewpoint.
Dogs have personal scents that are transmitted from anal glands.
Tense, vigorous tail-wagging movements have
the effect of rhythmically squeezing these glands.
If the tail is an upright position, as it is with confident dogs,
the rapid flagging of the tail will dramatically increase the ejection of
Although our human noses are not efficient
Enough to appreciate these personal scents,
they have great significance for the animals themselves.
It is this added bonus that has undoubtedly led to the major role
that the simple to and fro conflict movement of tail-wagging
now enjoys in canine social life.
Each of our pets has its own personality and "tail wagging" is
much apart of its expression of being "Happy" and to show
its unconditional love for its family.
As always your Veterinarian is the best source of
treatment for questions or problems that may exist.
If you have any suggestions or comments or would like
to add to our "Monthly Newsletter",
mailto: CaroleMiller@In-Memory-Of-Pets.com>> Carole
mailto: JohnMingo@In-Memory-Of-Pets.com>> John
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Bless all who come to "In Memory Of Pets" in sharing loving feelings
for their beloved ones.
John, Carole and Staff
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