I love tail wags: they are such an interesting expression of internal affect and indicator of a dog’s emotional state. And I know the professional trainers who read this blog know how often they can be mis-interpreted by the general public. “But he was wagging his tail…!!!!” is a phrase heard painfully often, by people who have been bitten, or whose dog just snapped, nipped or bit.
Ah, but a tail wag is like a smile: often an indicator of happiness, but not always. For example, we all know what a “phoney” smile looks like. The lips part and the corners of the mouth rise but the eyes never change. I’m remembering one person who smiled at me in a way that caused me to think I was in danger. There was nothing friendly about this guy’s face, because his eyes were cold and hard, and the muscles around his eyes, the orbicularis oculi muscles, were not contracted. Makes me shiver just to think about ti. In contrast, in a ‘real’ smile, (called a Duchenne smile) the muscles contract and the eyes look squinty and partially closed.
There’s an equivalent of a “phoney” smile in a dog’s tail wag. The more the wag spreads to the body, the happier I assume the dog to be. I call it a “Full Body Wag,” in which the tail, the hindquarters and sometimes even the chest of the dog swings back and forth. In this case, the body is relaxed, the tail is sweeping back and forth, and if the eyes are squinting too.. well, then I’m as happy as the dog is.
However, if a dog stands still, stiff bodied and immobile except for a tail wagging slowly back and forth, red flags start waving in front of my face and tell me to stop what I’m doing. Tail wags that only involve the tail are often the canine equivalent of smiles that only engage the mouth: They are NOT honest indicators of a happy dog, and are often a sign of potential danger.
But here’s one for you: What about “Circle Wag?” I made that term up, so don’t go looking for it anywhere. But in the best tradition of ethology, “Circle Wag” is descriptive, because the tail literally goes around in a circle. Here’s my belief about it’s ‘meaning’ (and that’s all it is, a belief). Circle wags appear to be done by dogs who are extremely happy. I see it on dogs who just adore adore adore a particular person, and I’ve seen on Luke and Will when we finished up a great session of herding and we both were equally proud of ourselves. I can not remember ever seeing it on a dog who appeared to be anxious or potentially aggressive, either defensive or offensively. Many dogs never circle wag, and I have no idea how many dogs actually do it. Ten percent? Twenty?
What about you? Does your dog circle wag? And if so, in what context? I’ll spend some time this week researching the issue (is it described in wolves, in other ethograms, for ex?). I do know that Fox and Bekoff (1975) wrote “The only tail wagging behavior that seems to reliably predict friendliness is a relaxed tail waving in a circular motion.” I would love to hear your own thoughts and observations about what I call “circle wag”.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: The pup’s name is Hope. I love it. It’s short, it’s fun to say, it’s a traditional Border Collie name (for both males and females, but more boys than girls) and it allows me to say “He’s named Hope because for a gazillion reasons I hope to hell everything goes smoothly from here.”
Here’s the good news: Will circled wagged when he came down the stairs for the first two days after Hope came home. (Thus the topic above.) They appeared to adore each other, they even slept together. I was happier than I can convey, I simply don’t have the words to express how good it all felt. Picture all of us glowing with happiness.
Here’s the bad news; On day three, Hope got his second vaccination, and in 30 minutes he was growling and lunging at Will over a stupid stick on the grass, leaping onto him and growling like a grizzly at other times. He then proceeded to play with me, but frenetically, not in a happy-puppy-kind-of-way. No circles wags were seen. Will became afraid of him, and tongue-flicked when he looked at him. Behavioral changes, especially related to aggression, have been reported after rabies vaccinations, but less often after the regular Distemper-Parvo series. However, the change in the pup was dramatic to say the least: from super sweet grovely-squinty boy to a very different dog, and the only event that one could link it to was the vaccination. I expect I do not have to spell out to you how it all felt to me. I’ve leave it that stress often inhibits one’s appetite, and I did need to lose a few pounds.
Long, long story, short short version: Will avoided the pup all weekend, the pup is now on Chinese meds designed to ameliorate reactions to vaccines, and I’ve been researching vaccine reactions (more on that later). In a day’s time, Hope calmed and became normal with me, but the relationship between Will and the pup was completely changed. Will asked to go upstairs when the pup was downstairs. Hope was no longer submissive and sweet to Will, not aggressive but somewhat aloof. On Tuesday night Hope went to a friend’s so I could concentrate on Jim and his surgery, and came back last Saturday after being a totally lovely puppy with her two dogs (more on that later too).
Sunday morning Will and I came down the stairs and Will completely ignored Hope in his crate. He was clearly nervous around him all day, but there were a few times they each attempted to initiate play. This morning we came downstairs and Will went up to the crate and sniffed Hope’s nose, and later initiated play for a second outside. Their play styles are very different now, but there are indications that Will is starting to relax around him. It goes up and down, mostly they ignore each other. Hope is a lovely, lovely pup, I adore him…. he’s responsive and fun and a total joy to work with. He’s played with other dogs and puppies very appropriately. He’s a bit softer (shyer) than the first pup, but gets over his fears very fast. I have high hopes that as the weeks go on that Will and Hope will become buddies again . . . Crossing all paws.
I have two golden retrievers, and the older one, age 8, “circle wags” often. He is a very happy dog who loves everyone–people, other dogs, even cats–and has seemingly no insecurities.
I had never seen a dog do this before having him do it. (It’s very cute.)
My boy (a Shiba Inu named Kaji) occasionally does the circle wag, usually when he’s outside playing off leash or when I return after he’s spent a few days/weeks at my dad’s while I travel.
It’s interesting that your pup had a reaction to the second round of vaccines, Kaji had a bad reaction to his second round as well. 2 hrs after his I found him standing stiff and stock still in the living room trembling, when I went to touch him he made the loudest Shiba scream he’s ever done and didn’t calm down until I gave him a tiny bit of an antihistamine, which the vet told me to do. The vet that administered the shots couldn’t tell me the cause and didn’t seem to care, so I found a new homeopathic vet. The new vet and I decided that since we didn’t know the cause it was safer if he doesn’t receive any more vaccines. It makes it a little more difficult to have him cared for when I travel (I can’t board him anywhere), but it’s worth it for his safety.
What meds is the pup on? Did your vet have any idea what the cause of his reaction was?
deborah ryan says
Circling tail wags, my boy Hank did that, just for me. Not my husband, not the other dogs, just me. I fostered him a year ago after he had been surrendered to the shelter after 9 years with the same family., we ended up adopting him and he was with us till the end of January when he passed away from cancer, he was most assuredly my boy through and through,
As for Hope’s reaction to the vaccine, sounds like what my Wheaten who is now eight went through when he had his one year booster, has not had one since, that was also a parvo/ distemper vac. My vet at the time was sure it was not the vaccine, my current vet says probably was…
Crossing all fingers and paws here that Will and Hope can be buds again. He is a real Cutie!
Sorry to hear about troubles with the doggies. And now of course we are losing Jody to Hawaii, boo-hoo.
My boxer William circle wags when he is thinking about being particularly naughty, but of course in a high-energy playful way. So I guess when he is feeling very aroused.
Oh, circle wags!
My dog does this- we call it “helicopter tail.” As in, she wags so hard, we’re pretty sure she’s going to fly through the air. She generally does it when she first sees a person she likes- me, my husband, our dog trainer, certain friends… She also does it when happy/excited about something- playing ball, going for a hike, etc. She does helicopter tail a lot, and it is one of the things I watch for. Basically, if her tail is wagging fast, and it’s not in a circle, I know I need to pay close attention.
I hope everything works out with Will and Hope. Vaccines, while awesome, also scare me a little bit.
I am sorry to hear about Hope’s reaction to the vaccination. I hope he and Will we get back to being BFFs soon.
Maybe the “circle wag” thing might relate to breed. I have noticed it far more in my herding dog mixes (two collie/golden mixes and one sheltie/golden mix). It is only when they are very, very happy, typically when greeting someone they really love. My goldens have a tendency to trill in a similar situation.
Pamela Picard says
I won’t comment on the vaccine reaction. You know from my website where I stand. Insofar as the changing play styles, I get all tense just reading how closely you monitor them. Could they be picking up your concern? You know dogs far better than I, but could it be if you just remove your energy from the mix, they’ll find a happy medium between them? It may not look like you want, but it will be fine with them. Just a thought.
Sophie (black lab) does indeed “circle wag”…we call it “helicopter tail”! She has the thick, strong Labrador otter tail, and it circles at a speed that could surely cause lift-off. She does it when she is extremely happy. Circle wag=joyful Sophie.
Harry (boxer) wags his entire being! Both ends are going in opposite directions. He also bends himself into a circle when he is super-happy. I have never seen his nub “circle wag”, but I will be sure to look for it.
Best of luck with Will and Hope. Hope is a beautiful name, word and sentiment. He is adorable!
Rebecca Golatzki DVM says
Puppies can be a little sore generally or specific to the vaccine site, as well as a little feverish and achy for a day after the vaccines; I wonder if this was what was going on and he was a little cranky.
I used to see helicopter tail in my old dog a lot, he usually was in a high state of excitement but sometimes used it as a brake on the agility course; I also see it in dogs when they are in a very solicitous but excited state. He was an “all over butt wagger” in general.
Bill Obermeyer says
Hmmm. I guess we aren’t the only ones to use the term “Circle Wag” . Whenever our setter-mix, Barney, began* a circle wag we knew that he was VERY happy. Unalloyed joy. Circle wags always seem less “anxious” or anticpatory than other happy expressions: fast full-body-wags; “bouncing”; running in circles. A circle wag seems more content, certain that happiness is not coming but that it is here. Now .
* He still shows happiness and excitement but, at nearly 16, he has lost enough muscle mass in the hindquarters to make circle wags and big bounces things of the past.
Anne N. says
Regarding the ‘Circle Wag’ we’ve taken to calling it ‘Propeller Tail’ at our house. Kyle is a medium sized black dog (i.e. a 45lb black dog with no real clue as to what breeds are in his ancestry) and is in general an extremely happy go lucky kind of guy. When he’s having a really good day, and my husband or I come home, he’ll wiggle around with his tail spinning like a propeller. Sometimes it’ll spin fast, other times slower but still quite clearly in a circle. So it’s safe to say he does it fairly frequently, but off hand I don’t remember if I’ve seen him do it towards other dogs or not. Oh, and this is the first dog I’ve known that does the circle wag.
Kathy In Georgia says
Like Crystal, we’ve called it helicopter tail. My first greyhound was a champ at it. She also was a prodigious smiler. Nose wrinkled, head tilted sideways, and all those front teeth visible.
She rarely smiled for me, but friends–especially male friends–got the full tail-and-teeth greeting. Helicopter tail never meant anything bad. (When she was ticked off, she’d whip that tail back and forth hard enough to leave bruises on your thigh.)
I do miss that girl…
one of my 3 pit bulls circle-wags. He is the gentlest people loving of my dogs and he does this wag for me when I skritch him, but also to the folks in my mom’s nursing home when we visit.
Dahlia, my Border collie/Golden retriever mix, does the circle wag, usually when she’s super happy to see us (like when we first come home). I think my favourite circle wag is when I let her run to her Daddy when he’s just gotten home. She goes careening down the driveway and her gigantic tail is going in circles. It makes her run look pretty awkward and rather humorous. I do so love a happy tail wag!
Dahlia, too, is a smiler. I’m sure her bared teeth scare some people, but we love it. She’s just an all around happy girl.
Copper(our 2 year old bloodhound/basset mix) circle wags when he is very happy. He does it when my husband and I come home from work and when it is time to eat, but his tail goes in circles the fastest when he gets to go for a walk! He also does it when we talk to him. He is a happy boy, at least I like to think.
I have had many dogs growing up an he is the first that has done it, his canine siblings wiggle their entire body. Copper does both!
Wild Dingo says
My husky does a full body wag to me all the time. My favorite thing in the world is to just say her name while she’s laying down and her tail will thump, just because I said her name. I’ve never had a dog like this before. Her temperment is just perfect.
My GSD-mix on the other hand has a fearful/anxious temperment and when he’s stressed, wags with a stiff body. It’s harder to read in him because he can so often truly be happy but his body is so muscular that he’s naturally riged. but when his bark is high pitched, accompanied with his tail wag and not so wiggly body, then I know he’s happy/excited.
He’s also on chineese herbs for his low yin pulse – a shen calmer. I’ve noticed a HUGE difference in him on the herbs. when i took him off 4 months earlier than planned (he was to be on them for 6 months then off for good), there was a dramatic increase in his anxiety. So he’s back on them again and noticed a slighly lower level of anxiety. The chineese herbs can be quite a help!
Hope things will change with Will and Hope. I tend to stress out over my dog’s anxious behavior or if he’s had bad day and I spend time worrying about this or that and future problems. In the end, i have to shrug my shoulders and chock it up to “animal behavior” and realize there’s only so much we can do as handlers. But it’s amazing how our dogs can cause so much of our own stress!
Angela Demeuse says
Circle wags!! My girl does the circle wag only with me when I come home after a long days work and we reunite! That’s the only time I see it and it reminds me of a propeller!!! While she circle wags there is a big toothy grin on her face, eyes all squinty!! I can’t help myself but to smile and love her to pieces at that point! She also does it after I’ve been on a vacation away from her. Basically anytime there has been time and distance between us!!!
My corgis don’t have tails. 🙁 I wish they did, but such is life. You can tell when they are really happy because they do the whole body wag (my girl much more so than my boy). But perhaps because of the traditional low-docked tail, Corgis have the most expressive faces of any dog I’ve ever seen.
As for Will and Hope, perhaps Will’s suspicion will fade after some time passes. He must be terribly confused by his new friend’s sudden change in behavior. And of course your concern is probably transmitting to the dogs, as someone else mentioned. Hopefully as everyone relaxes more they will be buddies again.
We called it helicopter heinie. And my pup Christie used to do it when we came home.
Tails are amazing communication tools. I took lots of pictures of my dog reactive dog Shadow at a carefully monitored dog socialization event. In every picture, her tail was up straight. On video, we caught some short,tight wags–certainly not loose and friendly.
The good news is that the pictures we look toward the end of her life showed a relaxed tail. She made a lot of progress over time. But in monitoring everything, it was hard for us to see it without having the pictures.
You know the studies that say if people force themselves to smile they eventually become happier? Maybe you should try some circle wagging to get Will started again. (tee hee).
Liz Wanschura says
I agree with Pamela–I think the dogs will work things out for themselves. When I lost my beloved Shepherd suddenly, I had expectations of my new puppy that were not realistic ( in retrospect). Will will be fine, and so will Hope–just give them time to get to know each other.
My male basset does circle wags anytime he’s relaxed, but my female never does. My mom says the male basset we had when I was a kid did them, too, but not the female! I don’t know if there’s something about bassets or males or male bassets that make it more likely.
It’s definitely not just when he’s really excited. Sometimes when I’m in my bedroom (we have a foot-tall board up to keep them out but let them still look in – these things are pretty easy with low-rider dogs!), he’ll wander up to the board and give me sort of a “What’s up?” look, circle-wagging, and then stretch and lay down. It seems to be mostly when he’s relaxed like that. When he’s really excited he does the butt-wiggle, which I think helps his tail stay in a back-and-forth motion.
I have a non-wagger. The best he can do is a tight, quick base of the tail wag when he greets his favorite kid or greets a dog that he is hoping to be humpable. He’s a coming 4 Lhasa Apso with a tightly over the back tail. It’s only down if he is very concerned. At the dog park today he “greeted” several dogs … with an absolutely still tail. The old Apso has the languid back and forth wag of a mostly unfurled tail. When she is at a relaxed trot, the tail is also relaxed, not quite straight. No full body wags for either of them. I miss that.
Liza Lundell says
Amelia basenji never wags her tail at all. Joey wags a little, and Professor, who has a more loosely-curled tail, wags quite a bit.
I hope the surgery went well, and the recovery is quick and uneventful.
And I hope Hope and Will work things out.
Karen Ramstead says
I think there is a genetic component to ‘circle wags’. My all time favorite Siberian, Grover, did circle tail wags. So did his Dad and a great number of his children also exhibit the trait.
Melanie S says
Love the circle wag! My Jock (deceased) would occasionally do it when he was feeling particularly buoyant. Haven’t seen one in my whippet Slipstream yet (18 months old, had him since six-and-a-half months old), he doesn’t seem to be a big tail wagger in general… even when he’s obviously happy and relaxed and enjoying himself he just doesn’t wag much. So when I actually do see him doing a happy wag, I really know he’s feeling it!
Re. vaccines: I am a reluctant vaccinator and minimise the vaccines my animals get as much as possible, there’s just so many potential negatives to them. Really sorry to hear of Hope’s vaccine troubles.
I understand too, how delicately balanced the harmony of an animal household can be if one or more members of it (such as Will) are very sensitive and reactive, and how needed the human referee can be in those situations. I have a female cat whom I rescued, along with her two three-day-old kittens, from desperate circumstances in December. The kittens have been rehomed but Delilah is staying on with me partly because she is such a tricky character that it would be difficult to find her another situation in which she’d be given both the nurture and the boundaries to enable her to become a well-adjusted household member – she has required considerable time and effort to rehabilitate (phsycially and emotionally/mentally). I am currently walking that fine balance of intervening whenever it’s necessary to prevent traumatic escalation of emotions and conflict between her and Slip and my other very tolerant and well-adjusted cat Brer, whilst also carefully allowing them just the right amount of space (physically and emotionally) in which to feel their way with one another. But the refereeing is absolutely necessary to prevent the whole situation going “to hell in a handbasket” or whatever that saying is!
I have also been using, for all members of the household, including myself, the Bach Flower Remedies – and it’s been wonderful to see how adjusting the selection of remedies for each individual has helped them feel more at ease and make ‘progress’ to a more relaxed state of being.
Anne J says
We don’t get the circle wags either in a house full of stubby tailed Aussies. But Sprite does a funny all over wag when I first get home- it’s a cross between and all over body shiver and a butt wiggle that she only does when she’s really happy.
Rose T. says
Yes, Daisy does the circle wag, we call it “spinner tail” around here….she usually does it when we get home and she’s really happy to see use. It’s funny if we keep saying, “spinner tail, spinner tail” in a high pitched voice, she’ll usually do it again.
Welcome back from vacation – we’ve missed you! Sorry it wasn’t the relaxing vacation I’m sure you were hoping for.
Our girl takes the circle wag a little further – she does circles mixed in with figure 8s and sometimes that tail is just a mess – all over the place. And it is most often when she is casting around looking for a ball or stick. As she is a big worrier, nothing pleases us more than to see that mess of a tail – at least at that moment she is anxiety free.
I am so glad that you are discussing tail wagging. We have owned 4 dogs(three Newfoundlands and one cattle dog mix) and the only dog that wags his tail in a circle is the cattle dog. He is my baby, my “go along” dog and best buddy to his house mate Max the Newfoundland. I have a blog which I talked about circlular tail wagging since I had never seen it before. Made the assumption that it ment that Beeker(the cattle dog) was extremely over joyed. He greets me in the morning with his tail going a million miles a minure in a circle. Here is a question for you and others… Does the tail goi in the same direction or does it go in both directions according to brain dominance (ie:left brain left wagging circle, right brain/right wagging circle)?
Poor Will… fingers crossed that everything turns out ok in the end with him and Hope.
Neither of my dogs do the propeller wag, but my lab Copper does a really spectacular full body wag complete with seeming to wag himself right off the ground by jumping at the same time. He can catch some serious air – 3 to 4 feet off the ground. This is usually reserved for when I come home from work each day, but he’ll also do it for a few of our friends if he hasn’t seen them in a while. We call it the Labrador Greeting Frenzy, because he calms down and stops jumping after about 15 or 20 seconds and the wag subsides to his back half only. He has also cleared the coffee table on more than one occasion with his lab “otter tail” that is thick and strong.
I have one dog that circle wags when she is particularly pleased with herself after getting lots of praise for doing something well. She will also circle wag when meeting someone new for the first time, particularly men…and if I allow it, she then accompanies the circle wag with leaning on their legs with her head, then folding her front legs and laying on the ground on just one shoulder (her back legs still standing and has her butt in the air), she has her mouth open and makes breathy “ohhh” noises while they pet her…it’s very cute. Every person she meets is her new best friend in her book (especially men)! Loves new people, not too keen on new dogs though…
My sister has a 3-legged AmStaff (front right was removed when she was a pup). She’s always, and only, circle wagged her tail while standing, but we generally attributed it to her being 3-legged…since the leg was removed when she was so young, I guess we’ll never know if she would have circle-wagged with 4 legs!
Ann W in PA says
Oh Trisha. I so feel what you’re feeling (I think maybe?), the guardian of a dog who is… just less than well-adjusted. From all the way here in PA, I just know you are right, and that Hope is the right dog. Have faith that Will chose his new brother for very important reasons. There is no reason to question such conviction.
I just brought home Piper, our new 10-month-old BC, to my perfect, wonderful rottie-something Brutus, and to my Rowdy (my Will?) crazy, not-well-adjusted cattle dog. On our way, we visited a friend who had watched Piper for a few days, with two great and one still-on-his-journey jack russells. Oh my Rowdy Bones, he was so tolerant of this little scared terrier, something he could not have done in years past. But you know, life isn’t a straight upward climb for a less-than-well-adjusted dog. While little victories feel giant, little setbacks are big setbacks too. But what do I know.
I think circle wags are pure joy. Brutus has them often, Rowdy has them never. Will is right, though he might be having a momentary second thought. And Piper… well Rowdy and Brutus both chose the most lovely, sweet little dancing bird of a BC for me. Though the ingrained demand-barking is daunting in our first week of class, they’re right – I’m up to it, to earning the gifts she brings to the family. I am sure Will knows that whatever challenges Hope will bring, you his guardian are up to them.
Ranger will do the full body wag but I’ve never noticed a circle wag. He has a beautiful long plumed tail with a white tip which is very easy to read. I’ve sometimes wondered if he’s so popular with other dogs in part because his tail makes such clear declarations of intent. Even from the other side of the park it’s very clear what he’s saying. I’ve noticed though that when he plays with Huskies he’ll curl his tail in the Husky style; he doesn’t do it with any other breed just Huskies. Do you suppose he’s curled his tail to speak the Husky “dialect”?
Paws crossed for Will and Hope. I wonder how much smell has to do with it? I’d guess that a vaccine would make changes in odor–at least I’ve seen Ranger carefully examine the cats when they’ve just had vaccine boosters; it’s like he knows something has changed but after a few days he doesn’t seem as concerned. So maybe Will will relax more and more as the vaccine scent fades and everyone will be able to relax.
My aussies don’t have tails and their “wag” is often to referred to as a “wiggle butt”. The full body wag is definitely the clue that everyone is happy. My two year old will even roll over for a belly rub is everything is especially great.
I hate vaccines – get them but don’t like to and am always watching for any changes in the first couple of hours. We had a terrible reaction once with my human son, and I worry with the dogs as well. I try to get as few as possible at the same time and space them out as much as possible, even if it means more trips to the vet. Maybe in the future keep the dogs apart until you know enough time has passed to probably be safe after the next vaccine.
I’ve noticed that when I’m overly anxious about something the dogs pick up on it immediately. I’m often banished when there’s too much excitement (good or bad) until everyone is back undercontrol, as my husband is much calmer by nature. If you think about it, as humans it often takes us a while to “trust” again after someone treats us differently, I expect Will needs some time to regain his trust of Hope.
I don’t have the time at the moment to write down a long response (later on today, I will write). For now, I just wanted to write about the “circle wag”. I also believe that the dog does it when he is “extremely happy” 😀 I know that my Snowy (maltese) does it when he is extremely happy ^_^ awwh he is a social-bug. LOVES LOVES LOVES to meet other dogs. When he greets them, that is what he does.
thank you for your interesting and informative post 😉
What a roller coaster you are on – I do hope it eases soon. You must have a lot of anxiety about Jim, which can only add to the stress levels. I am no expert, but if Will is already making friendly overtures and initiating play again, those sound very positive trends to me, considering his past anxieties. The first couple of days obviously built a solid foundation for their future together. Who knows, coping successfully with ups and downs of puppy behaviour may actually make him more confident in the long run. I think I would tend to the view of the poster above who suggests soreness, achiness and general post-vaccination crankiness as the explanation for Hope’s behaviour, rather than a permanent personality change – let us be hopeful! With two young bitches, the youngest just reaching sexual maturity, I do know the worry – I’m sure I read far too much into my dogs occasional spats, and agonise over why they don’t play together quite as much as they used to (probable answer – Poppy is growing out of puppyhood, and simply doesn’t need to play as much!).
Tail wagging – my papillon carries her tail high – good conformation, but she is not a very waggy dog, perhaps as a result. She wags when she sees someone – human or canine – she knows and likes, but rarely otherwise – big, fast sweeps, with playful body language and often a grin as well. She tends to communicate more with her ears – which are certainly big enough!
Poppy the toy poodle has a lovely, undocked tail (I am so glad docking is no longer permitted in the UK except for therapeutic reasons – dogs look so much better balanced with a full tail, and it used to be almost impossible to persuade a breeder NOT to dock poodle pups). Poppy makes huge use of her tail – it is the first thing I look at if I want to judge her reaction to anything. She doesn’t helicopter, but does every possible other movement!
Completely off topic for this thread, but harking back to the earlier post and discussion about the pros and cons using games, balls etc to keep your dogs attention on a walk – we have been having a few wonderfully warm and sunny days here in the UK (after a winter that felt as if it went on forever, and a May that felt more like winter!), and I took advantage of the weather to try an experiment with my two – being, rather than doing. We went down by the river, found a spot in dappled shade, and I just let them explore. No encouragement, no teaching, no throwing sticks and stones into the water – just doing as they pleased. Poppy – typical poodle – explored the water, first with one toe, then with all feet, and eventually wading almost up to her tummy, discovering that things float on water, that you can blow bubbles in it, that interesting things happen when you paw at stones and turn them over, that there are tiny things swimming in it that you can try to catch. Sophy the papillon is not so keen on getting her feet wet, and flopped in the shade. Next day we did the same thing, but in the field where the rabbit warren is – and this time it was Sophy who was experimenting and learning. Watching a papillon learn that it is not worth chasing rabbits until they are away from their burrows, and that if you sit still long enough they will come out again, was fascinating. I don’t think she would ever succeed in catching a healthy rabbit, but the hunting instincts are all there – this is the dog who has only minimal interest in chasing toys. I spend a lot of time and energy trying to teach my dogs stuff – I was reminded how much they learn when just left to explore a rich environment.
Responding to Frances’ post with a greater tangent, I’d state the last comment applies to humans as well. Structure has value as does supposed random activity; too bad it can’t be quantified… but then it wouldn’t be random, would it? I’m just reminded how humans need a break from left-brain activities sometimes to let the right brain work and wonder if it applies to canines as well. Is there evidence of right-left braininess in dogs? If I’ve totally missed the topic, apologies.
My dog does “Circle Wag” everyday when I and/or my husband come home. It always start with Full Body Wag (literally from the head to the hindquarters) and then the tail goes Circle Wag. I called it “Propeller Tail”.
Also he does mix of Full Body Wag + Circle Wag which is Full Body Wag and his tail wags right, right and left (in quick and each time the tail hits each side of this body) then two circles and then right, right, left + circle, circle. I named this one “Happy Tail Dance” because it is so rhythmical:-)
When you say “circle wags”, are these symmetrical circles at a fairly constant speed?
My dog really likes to lick people – when people ask where she prefers to be petted, the honest answer is “on her tongue, by your face”. Once in a while we’ll let her have a licking session, to see how long she will go (she’s been clocked at 5 minutes before my bf gave in and quit), and her tail does the craziest things. It’ll whap around sideways, diagonally, sometimes circle, sometimes more to one side to the other, speed up, slow down, all over the place, really, but there’s very little consistency to the movement. I don’t know quite how to interpret that, I think she starts out happy and excited and might be working her way over to aroused/anxious. I can probably get a video if you’d like an example of all sorts of different tail movements. 🙂
I am saddened to hear that sensitive Will is afraid of Hope now. I was thrilled that he and Hope had bonded and he had a buddy. Will keep my fingers crossed that the situation improves.
I quit vaccinating my dogs 7 years ago. My Chihuahua almost died from her puppy shots. For anyone interested, check out Dr. Karen Becker’s website site and check out her views on vaccinations.
Mary Beth says
My two labs circle wag. My Weimaraner does not, but I LOVE his tail wag. When he’s really happy, he’ll wag his tail so fast and hard it’ll make a staccato beat against the back window of the truck or the walls of the house which makes me laugh. My hound doesn’t circle wag either. Rather, he wags his tail really hard side to side and will start flipping his head side to side too. Odd behavior, but then he’s a rather silly dog!
Its tough to be an ethologist when there’s so many emotions involved in wanting your new pack to work out all for the best! I hope this new little guy turns out to be all that you wanted and more…and he will….it might just not be how you expected…they have their own way of reinventing their worlds!
I hope someday we learn ever so much more about vaccines. Scary stuff. I decided not to check on vaccines for any of the dogs I board at my place. Rather I instruct the owners to talk about it with their vet and make the decisions for themselves. Who am I to tell them what’s right for their dogs. I vaccinate mine as I feel appropriate to protect them from any challenges and I remind my boarders that their dogs may well be challenged by the new environment and new friends that they meet so make sure they think about that.
I need to vaccinate my rescued horse for rabies very soon. He’ll get a dose of Thuja and whatever else I can do to support him, but I’m still really nervous.
Whirli-tail (named for the whirligigs that people put on their lawns that whirl around a million miles a minute when it is windy). My Mick (rest in peace), a big, strong-willed, in your face border collie would save his whirli-tail for only the best things in his life – me or my husband. He would see us, big goofy grin would spread across his handsome face and on the other end of his body would be his whirli-tail. The memory still brings a smile.
Another Kate says
My GSD-mix Jack does the circle wag when he’s greeting people. I always interpreted it as a happy, but a bit tentative, expression since he always approaches people rather slowly with that silly wag. The more I read everyone’s experiences, I wonder if he’s just really happy to meet people, trying to put out all his “friendly” signals, and he’s approaching slowly to read the person he’s aiming to greet.
As I have Pembroke Welsh Corgis so there is not much of a tail to watch but I do see body wags as a happy sign. I have to watch their face to judge what is going on and I find I tend not to see tails when I look at any dog… it is all what you are used to I guess.
I now have two pups Rudy 17 months old and Penny 9 months old and it is so heart warming to see them play and love each other. However there are wrestling matches that sound like they are out for blood but it is all play… then there are a few fights that involve ugly faces and showing of teeth but it is over almost as quickly as it starts and we go on. I truly hope your two become best friends.
Betsy McCoy says
Over the years, we have had 4 labs or lab mixes. Three of the four have been circle waggers. In our house, it indicates pure unadulterated joy – I think they’d be dancing if they could manage it.
Love the name Hope for your pup. We just adopted a rescue border collie mix pup. At four months of age, she was extremely fearful of everthing and everybody. I’ve heard it said you don’t always get the dog you want, you get the dog you need. As a professional dog trainer, I’ve found she is my “humbler” dog. She says to me, “You’ve still got a LOT to learn!” Oh well. Her name? MerciMe Patience! Fits to a tee.
Aww, circle wag is exactly what I call it. My littlest dachshund does it when I or my husband come home. It’s the cutest thing ever.
Duke’s circle wags are few and far between – but all the more precious for it. He clearly does it when he is very, very happy. The only time I remember Duke doing the full circle wag (which isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of other times that he is happy and giving sincere, vigorous regular wags) is when I bring out a brand new toy. Then the tail seems to go in circles, without the butt moving. He does a play bow with his butt just sicking up there for a while and the tail going in circles. After revving him up like that, then I give him the toy.
The funny thing (frustrating thing?) is that he plays with the toy for about 30 seconds and then 9 out of 10 times never plays with it again, despite my various efforts. And I never get the same circle wag reaction to a toy that he has already had 30 seconds with.
Sparky (Eng Shep mix) gets helicopter tail when she’s hunting in the brush and is hot on the trail of something. She’s a full-body wagger with her people. With our 3 males, the tail position is the best indicator of the true message beneath the wag…tail held high and stiff is flagging and that kind of attitude is not allowed at this house. I usually intervene with the flagger, re-focus his attention on some obedience work, then we try playing in a more relaxed manner again. Tail wagging at slightly less than perpendicular to the body is “I’m testing to the waters to see if you want to play”. If it’s met with a similar wag, one of the dogs will play bow and then the game is on.
Sherry in MT says
I have a crested that “circle wags” (known to us as helicopter tail. Funny thing is he is a very insecure and anxious dog but when you finally can pick him up he’ll hide his head but his tail will go helicopter like crazy. I’ve never seen him do it when just standing around but then I don’t see him wag much other than that. So I guess maybe the extremely happy does apply and maybe some that they are totally relaxing? Great topic as always.
Vaccination reactions like Hope had are not unusual and I’m a firm believer in Chinese meds or Homeopathic to help with that (am a big fan of Thuja). I don’t let anyone tell me that vaccinations are “harmless”. Albeit they are necessary (just not at the doses and frequency usually touted) it is good to go prepared. The foster I just had vaccinated before sending off to his home had vaccinations at the shelter that gave him seriously goopy eyes and wheezing. After his rabies we gave Thuja before even leaving the vet – no reaction which was a blessing. Glad Hope is doing better and he’s lucky to have a Mom that will go outside the box to do what is best for him!
I don’t think I’ve ever noticed either of the three dogs in our household circle wag. What I have noticed from Mason, our fear-aggressive one, is it a very short and fast tail wag when he seems nervous. The rest of his body will be still, his head may be lowered, and he might look at me out of the corner of his eyes. He did that this morning when he thought I was going to put him back on the tread mill (I wasn’t, just wanted to do some obedience work). Otherwise, when he is really happy he doesn’t so much wag his entire body, but instead get’s this goofy look on his face, walks sort of sideways, and vocalizes like Wookie. Our other pit bull is a full body wagger for sure. All you have to do is say here name sometimes and her butt will start chugging along with her tail.
I can imagine how upsetting it might have been to see your pup show such a swing in behavior after the vaccination. Our two pit bulls have gotten into a maybe 3 tiffs over the last two years. None of them serious, but after ward, we always walk them together. That seems to help normalize they’re mood and things generally return to normal afterward. I think it might be a mistake to allow a dog wallow in their insecurities when theirs a tiff between family members. I remember on one occasion, Mason and Hannah were playing with each other in the living room when my parents Weimaraner snapped at Hannah when she accidentally bumped into him. Hannah snapped back. There was some growling and yelling, and then the dust settled, but Mason was visibly distressed and avoided Hannah. We never walked them together afterward, and Mason was leery of Hannah for a day or two. I can’t say for sure, but I strongly believe that had we walked them together for an hour, things would have normalized much quicker.
One of my three “circle-wags” when she’s very excited and haopy (to the best of my knowledge). For instance, when I first get home from a business trip is when it is most extreme, to the point that it’s circling, figure-8ing, wagging vertically, etc. More controlled circles are seen when she meets someone she already likes a great deal and gets the okay to say hi, or even when she figures out a particularly tough step in a shaping game.
Elizabeth Deitz says
All this tail talk! Makes me wish my bullies had a bit more to wag. But unless they are so excited they are doing a full-body wag, there is little to go on. Very subtle. I do have one that smiles. I wonder if dogs who give more easily seen feedback when they are happy, cause more of an increase in measureable oxytocin levels of their owners than do those dogs who are less demonstrative?
Amy W. says
I don’t see the circle wag often in my two GSDs – occassionally Axle, the male, does. I notice the happiest tail wags when either my husband or I come home from work. Axle especially wags his tail in big sweeping motions, so hard it thuds loudly against the nearby basement door. Also part of the greeting ritual is him holding a toy in his mouth. And if forgets a toy, he will go find one, then come back to finish saying hi.
So sorry to hear about Hope’s vaccination reaction. My great dane, Otis, had a bad reaction to his Lyme disease vac. last year. He was acting normally one minute, and the next he was standing in the living room with his back hunched in pain, unable to walk. At first I thought it was an injury, but as I checked him out over the course of twenty minutes or so, racking my brain trying to figure out how I was going to lift him into the car by myself, the pain seemed to move from his back to one rear hip and then the other before eventually abating enough that he could move almost normally. My vet suggested Benadryl before any further vaccinations and he’s had no problems since, but those twenty minutes were terrifying.
I’m really glad you brought up tail wagging-I’ve heard it said that wagging doesn’t actually indicate happiness at all, just excitement (of course, happiness and excitement often go together-but so do nervousness and excitement). I’ve never entirely believed that, especially in the case of the body-wiggle and, of course, the newly-named ‘circle wag’, which only seem to be connected to happy excitement.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about wagging since adopting my dane, though, because he is the first dog I’ve ever met who does NOT wag his tail when happy. He will wag a bit when excited-during play, or if someone greets him in an excited way, but his happiest moments are often very relaxed moments, and involve no wagging whatsoever. His face and body relax, his eyes practically radiate joy and contentment, but he doesn’t wag. This is handy, because he doesn’t clear off the coffee table every time he moves through a room, but I’ve often wondered why this is. Because we adopted Otis as a young adult with good dog-dog social skills but no apparent experience living with people, I have a slight suspicion that happy tail wagging might be a learned behavior shaped in young puppyhood-or maybe a remnant of puppyhood that we reinforce, causing our dogs to keep doing it into adulthood. As so many of the posters have said, I LOVE seeing a dog wagging himself all over as he comes to greet me-maybe I’ve subconsciously encouraged all my previous dogs to act this way, mistakenly confusing exuberance with joy (I have no doubt that they felt happy-I just wonder the wagging was just for my benefit-a way to help out the gesturally-challenged human who might miss more subtle cues). Anyways, fascinating post!
My oldest & biggest, a Lab/Shepherd, has always had a circle wag. He does it when he sees those he loves (like my parents!) or when he’s particularly excited or happy about something.
My Border Collie has the classic full body BC wiggle down to a science. The full body wiggle has always made me laugh, so I was happy to see that she was a wiggler.
My Alaskan Klee Kai holds his tail proudly over his back and the closest he gets to a wag is a rapid twitch back and forth when he is excited to meet a new dog.
We call it Ferris-wheel wag at our house, and I see it most often from our border collie mix in times of great joy, especially when she’s greeting…well, just about anyone. I also see it fairly often at the shelter from a variety of dogs. Growing up, our spaniel mix was a pro Ferris-wheel wagger.
My Oscar does the circle wag when my husband comes home after having been away for a night or two for work. He does kind of a wiggle walk approach (or run, depending) which also also super-cute. He’s an uptight guy, and his wiggle walk and circle wag are among his truly at-ease behaviors. We relish them!
I’m so sorry to hear about Hope’s reaction. That is scary and frustrating. Vaccinations are sort of icky. Poor Will. I hope things get back to normal soon.
As far as circle wags are concerned, I have seen them in my dogs in the past, but Raven is a Schipperke with no tail and Rosie is old enough that she is a bit unstable when she walks, so soft wide tail swishes are her favorite expression of happiness. I can’t say I recall them in Spring the BC or his two offspring who are now 6 month puppies.
Have you seen this research paper?
Asymmetric tail-wagging responses by dogs to different emotive stimuli
Current Biology, Volume 17, Issue 6, 20 March 2007, Pages R199-R201
A. Quaranta, M. Siniscalchi, G. Vallortigara
It looks at the hypothesis that dogs wag more to one side of the body or the other depending on their underlying emotional state. I have certainly seen the “C-shaped” dog wag as they not only wag their tail more to one side but curl their body in that direction. Funny, I have seen this kind of tail wag as long as I can remember, but never looked to see if the dogs were consistently wagging to one side or the other. Maybe that was because of my dyslexia? But according to this paper, a wag to the right is more associated with affiliative (happy) behavior.
So, if you extend the hypothesis in this paper, the circle wag might be the attempt of the dog to swing his tail to the right side but momentum makes it swing in a circle, i.e., a circle wag being a high amplitude expression of the right tail wag of happiness. ??? It is a theory anyway.
As far as vaccine reactions, there are many sides of the coin–much like those multi-sided dice that D and D players use. I delayed getting my two puppies their vaccinations because of some of the concerns that I have heard and one of them got Parvo. That was a nasty consequence. There is a vaccine with some new technology by one of the makers (I won’t name it here because I don’t know enough about it to recommend it or not) and I wanted to use it with my pups, but none of the vets in my area carry it.
I like how you are naming your dogs after positive mental attributes–having a lot of hope and a lot of will has gotten me through some challenging circumstances. But I wanted to point out one thing, if I may (and will hope that this is not unwelcome). The Bard said “and this above all, to thine own self be true.” Hope is just a puppy and needs to grow up being true to the dog he can be. He is just a puppy and you can’t expect him to be the perfect foil to Will’s anxieties–that is a lot of responsibility to carry on his small shoulders when he hasn’t even had the chance to grow up into whom he can be yet. He has a lot of growing up to do and you haven’t even hit the shenanigans of teenagerism yet. He just can’t be perfect for Will all the time–he has his own needs. Focus on helping him to grow up to be the most confident and calm he can be and that will be the best help for Will. There, hopefully I haven’t overstepped by giving unwanted advice–which is a flaw in my character.
Scout, my pointer mix (now deceased) was a nervous nelly about a lot of things, but let him loose at the waters edge, and he would hunt for hours, with his tail making a steady circle the whole time, with occasional bursts of faster when excited.
I’ll be very interested to read what you come up with as far as vaccines. I follow Jean Dodd’s protocol, and haven’t had any problems (nor did I when I vaccinated more) but know several people whose dogs have had reactions, one very severely. And although the idea of vaccines as a cause of autism has supposedly been debunked, I worked with a kid who went into the pediatrician as a normal 18 month old, screamed and cried for 10 hours afterwards, didn’t speak for months, and was never the same afterwards.
Good luck with Will and Hope, I “hope” all turns out well with their relationship.
Donna in VA says
No comments on the circular tail wags although I will be on the lookout for this in the future.
Do you think Will’s interpretation of the puppy events is that puppy had suddenly gone “sick” and must be avoided for his own self-protection? Lacking the context knowing a cause for the behavior (vaccination) it’s reasonable for Will to think that the puppy was sick and must be avoided. And later the “maybe you’re OK now” behavior as he tries to decide if the puppy is healthy after all.
I notice in agility training that there is often a regression and then a bigger effort to gain back skills that one thought the dog already knew — much like proofing. I wonder if when Will regains his trust in Hope, that will be similar process. Can Will recognize that the pup can be a stinker sometimes but still be a best buddy…. after all, all of us have good days and better ones.
I hope I am not writing too much, but I had another thought. You described Hope growling and lunging at Will and interpreted it to be aggressive, but I have been raising two border collie puppies since they were 8 weeks (they are now 6 months old) and they growl A LOT when playing. Plus a lot of lunging, jumping on each other, playing keep away with a toy etc. For them, this is just fun and games. In my home I also have two elderly dogs and a 5 year old BC. The two older dogs wish to have no part in puppy play and have told the puppies in no uncertain terms that they have no intention to join in nor do they want it occurring close to them. To me, the play growls and the leave me alone growls don’t sound that different but the puppy’s behavior is different as they continue playing with the growling puppy and avoid at first growl the growling Rosie when their play gets too close to her (she has arthritis so I figure she has the right to tell them to take their wrestling farther away from her). Nor will the 5 year old wrestle with them and just asks me to open the door so he can leave the room. Maybe other dogs like to wrestle with puppies, but mine are curmudgeons.
Then I read this paper which may have reinforced what I had been watching for the last 4 months:
Ahh the circle wag, better known as, the helicopter in our home. 3 of our dogs, lab collie mixes do it. When Stella does it we call it the Stellacopter. Stanley her brother also does a big wag & his whole body wiggles big time.
I haven’t seen the circle wag, that I can recall. I will be on the lookout for it! One of my Lab/Goldens has a very relaxed wag when she’s happy, but she also has a very expressive face, so there would be no way to NOT know she’s a happy camper. My cocker spaniel wags her whole rear end when she’s happy. She’s a nervous-Nelly, though, and she often has that super-quick tail-only (or stump-only, in her case) wag that people often mistake for “happy.”
Sorry to hear about Will and Hope. (Hope is a terrific name, by the way!) It seems good that Will’s at least thinking about giving Hope a second chance. Paws and fingers crossed! I’m sure it will all work out.
Hope Jim’s feeling better, too!
Our neighbor’s dog, Sandy, an older yellow lab that was a largely neglected outdoor-only dog, used to do the circular tail wag. It always happened when she saw us. I can still see her running down our driveway to meet us, with that tail swirling as if a propeller was pushing her from behind. We always had yummy treats and friendly words for her and that seemed to make her really happy.
She’s been gone for a few months and we really miss her.
To all, love the comments about tail wags. I’ve heard ‘helicopter tail ‘ too, love it just as much as ‘circle wag.’ I swear some dogs almost launch themselves into space…
About the growls from Hope to Will right after the vaccination. I agree absolutely that the acoustic characteristics of play growls are equivalent to those made in play… that’s why play bows, facial expressions and body language are so important. (And Janice, thanks for the reference!) Ah, but if only Hope’s growls to Will after the vaccination had been playful, but far from it. Hope was chewing on something under a bush, Will stuck his head under the leaves to investigate and Hope charged out with an offensive pucker, eyes round, tail up, body forward and stiff, growling at Will.He then went back to his object, Will leaned forward again and the scene was repeated, but this time with even more intensity. Will is used to play growls, even though he is a bit of a nerd, and so am I. Believe me or not, everything about htis pup’s behavior was consistent with offensive aggression. Will immediately withdrew and began tongue flicking when he looked at him.
I’m happy to say that that was then and this is now. Will and Hope are doing much much better, Hope’s vaccination grumps have slowly receded, Will has gained confidence and they are beginning to play. More to come in the next post.
My guy has never circle wagged but he is a PRO at false wagging. He will wag his tail and try to lure certain breeds of dog that he hates up close to him so he can jump them. I have had the “Why can’t my dog come say hi to yours? Yours is wagging his tail!” conversation more times than I can count. Most people assume I’m an idiot or an over-protective owner, but they have never seen my guy go Cujo.
My brother’s dog wags her tail so hard when she sees me that she curls her whole body into a circle, then she spins around while wagging. I call it pretzel dog.
I agree with the person who suggested that maybe Hope was feverish and achy. My guy gets that way and I keep him in and away from everyone for about two days after his shots. Then he is back to his normal self.
Jen Wilhelm says
My Doberman (docked tail) does Circle Wags for me when I get home from work. She is always standing on my bed, with toy (or socks) in her mouth, and her little Stubbie does crazy Circles. It is the very best part of my day. =)
Wendy W says
I love it! I too named my dog Hope, who I described in the 6 words post as being a Clear Eyed Gentle/Wild Trusting Friend. Her name has morphed over time into Hopie, with the second syllable giving more opportunities for inflection. I hope your Hope gives you, Will and Jim as much joy as my Hope has given me.
Lisa R. says
Leo, my 14 month old – Great Pyrenees/Lab mix has a helicopter tail. It doesn’t run as much as it used to, now it’s mainly reserved for when our cat is around. Leo has very few Pyr traits; he LOVES, LOVES, LOVES people and dogs, but he can be quite timid and he very rarely barks!!!! He is a rescue and I sometimes think he doesn’t have a Pyr gene in his body until his stubborn side shows up and then I can see he is a Pyr to the core.
Wishing Jim a speedy recovery. Glad to hear things are getting better with Hope and Will; so sorry to hear about it.
Lisa B says
I have a 14 year old greyhound that I adopted at age 3. She has ALWAYS circled wagged when I talk to her in a happy voice or when I get ready to feed her. She has always been happy around us but is the most anxious dog with all environmental changes and always has been. It is not the result of her age.
The poster above who mentioned wagging as an indicator of excitement reminded me that I have also heard tail wagging, in all its forms, as an expression of a willingness to approach. The dog might be flagging the tip of the tail, and he might be approaching to kick some butt, but he is approaching! I wonder if the flagging is just wagging + the stiffness associated with impending aggression, and the full body wag is wagging + the looseness associated with friendliness. What do you guys think?
My Gimmel can be a helicopter wagger when she sees her favorite neighbor (whose exit from the door of his building she can anticipate by 30 seconds!) and also when she is doing her terrier thing–climbing over and under fallen trees in the woods, and exploring the creek and its banks. It’s totally charming, and she seems like she is in rapture. Interesting too, because her docked, upright tail is by nature stiff. She has softer and more vigorous wags, but the only time her tail looks “loose” is when she circle-wags.
My Finnish Lapphund doesn’t wag his tail much. He’s a laid back dude. When he’s REALLY excited he roooroos at me. When he’s delighted to see me he holds some random object in his mouth and just stands there, maybe tail wagging gently, waiting for me to give him cuddles. He used to walk around me in circles with something in his mouth for about 15 minutes when he was super pleased to see me. His tail is so fluffy and carried either high or low, no real in between, so it’s not the most expressive part of him.
My Swedish Vallhund has a more expressive tail, but it’s also generally high up over his back or low. He has a quick wag for arousal, and a slow, full-tail wag for particularly happy social engagement. I have only ever seen that wag when he’s inviting me politely (for once, normally he doesn’t ask but tells) to interact with him. I generally respond by either running him through his latest tricks or inviting him up for a cuddle. The tricks keeps that full-tail wag going, but it stops if I have a cuddle with him. He has something a bit like a circle wag for when I come home from work. It’s a bit lower than his tail normally is and fast wag, but it’s still more of a swish than a circle. Maybe somewhere in between. My mother’s particularly submissive Boxer cross circle wags like no-one’s business. She smacks that tail into everything. It hurts! It’s very easy to get a circle wag out of her. Just say her name. 😉 She is quite wary of strangers, though. Only known people get greetings, but they all get circle wags.
I’m sure Will will relax and hope Hope does, too. 🙂
Heidi Meinzer says
My Shepherd mix, Sophie, circle wags her long, long tail like crazy when she’s very happy — mostly when my boyfriend or I come home to greet her.
I do hope things are going better with Hope. I’ve been watching your posts closely as we consider getting Sophie a new buddy since we lost our Golden, Raoul. We are considering a puppy — I’m so glad that you share so much information, including this current challenge with Hope’s reaction to the vaccine. Your posts are so informative and educational — thank you!
My Aussies do not circle wag because of their nubby tails. Instead, they do a u-shaped shimmy to the side when they are super happy.
Paws and fingers crossed for Will and Hope (love the name!) Perhaps they will both learn new qualities from each other. Will may learn from Hope that even if he gets an offensive growl from him, their household relationship remains intact. Hope may learn that when he behaves this way, Will shuts down/leaves and any play is suspended for a time period.
My Aussies definitely went through an adjustment period when our younger one was (and still is) going through her puppy crazies. They have learned from each other and I think they are both better from it.
Dogs can adjust to a lot of adversity!
I’ve got circle-ish wags! Not round enough for helicopter tail but definitely loopy circles. It occurred for getting home greetings-not sure how the wagging is the rest of the time. Sitting and laying down wags don’t leave much room for circles!
My choc lab does the circle wag at various times. He looks particularly goofy doing it because he’s not a well put together dog with a lot of hind end issues…so its just awkward and goofy looking!
I wanted to commemorate my elderly beagle off topic although related to tails…this is his last day with us, he’s just reaching that time where his limited mobility is impacting his quality of life and although its a tough decision for our family it feels like its the right thing to do by him as hard as it is for all of us to let him go. He was an absolutely stunning puppy – gorgeous markings with a black tail and white tip…his fave beagle-y activity was of course bugling on a scent, and I have such vivid memories of seeing him race along, head thrust up in full bugle, and that tail up as a flag…he would normally end his flight with head in a bush and flag tail up, white tip flickering back and forth like a white flag of surrender. No circle wag for him – his tail was always straight as an arrow when wagging, like a metronome! Thanks for letting me go off topic in tribute of a well loved (although in his younger days a source of much frustration the little scamp!) pal and companion – may he enjoy a full run, bugling with head high and tail in full flag up in doggy heaven!
My own dog is the first I’d noticed do the ‘Circle Wag’. She does it for me when I’ve been gone a few days, when we’re definitely about to play her favorite game, when she knows I’m loading the car up to go to my Mom’s house with her, or when she see someone she adores but hasn’t seen in some time (think visiting friends from my old location, distant relatives, etc.)
I’m glad you mentioned it, because I really had a hard time explaining to people that she was literally moving her tail in a circle! And it was a tough behavior to catch to show other people it did, indeed, happen.
I wonder if we don’t notice circle-wagging often not because it’s only performed by a small number of dogs, but rather because every signal the dog is giving is so clearly joyful that we stopped watching the tail and got on with the fun of greeting and playing? I think that may be why it took me so long to notice it, anyway.
Once I noticed it, of course, I began to see it in other dogs as well!
Sorry to hear that Hope had a nasty reaction to the vaccination. 🙁 And hoping it turns around quickly!
My little female Jack Russell cross does the circle wag – when either me or my husband come back from being away – usually accompanied by her running up to us almost skipping over the ground. She seems very joyful. My male dog (same breed) doesn’t but this may be because he was half docked when I got him whereas his sister was left with a long and lovely tail.
I don’t think I ever saw a circle wag from Jelly. But when we came home, she had a whole body wag that was something to see and hear. Her tail would thwack first one side and then the other, sometimes her butt was so far to one side, she would slap herself on her head. When she was quite young, she would pee when Jim came home. He would coax her up and down the driveway resulting in multiple S-pees on the concrete. He was so proud of her S-pees as though they were both artists.
Shana R says
My 4.5 month old Tibetan Mastiff puppy circle wags, though like a few others we call it helicopter tail. He does it with any visitor who talks to him when they first arrive. Considering what you said about it being an expression of great happiness, I take heart that he’ll grow into a friendly adult. Tibetan Mastiffs are known for being aloof and suspicious of strangers, although this puppy takes after his father and is pretty outgoing and friendly with people and dogs. He doesn’t always circle wag, but does frequently. He’s also a major kisser.
My Danes don’t circle wag. My boy is noise phobic so he tends to wag lower and not overly excitedly because he is afraid of the sound of his tail banging into things. Our other Dane is deaf, and she’s constantly banging her tail into everything, often leaving a path of destruction in her wake. She doesn’t circle wag but she is a full body wagger. Interestingly, my male Dane does this thing with his ears, we call them elephant ears because they are held back but the underside is flat and forward facing – hard to describe, but that is how we tell he’s really happy. Our deceased female did it as well. He typically quietly wags his tail, does elephant ears, and approaches for head snuggles – he loves having his head held and burying it in our laps.
My dog doesn’t circle wag, but I do enjoy observing all the different wags…I especially enjoy the wag when she is hunting a lizard under vegetation or trying to follow rabbit scent. Her whole posture is electric with the excitement of it. And the whole body wag when she greets my husband and I when we come home. Some of the many reasons I enjoy having a dog so much.
I enjoy reading about the related behaviors and all the commentors personal stories of their dogs.
My little Dixie (shepherd-cattledog cross) does circle-wags! We call it the propellor wag, and I first noticed it after we had had her for about a month. She was a rescue, so took a little while to be really comfortable with us. She only does the propellor wag when she is happy to see someone (usually my husband or I after we come home from work). Sometimes she does it at the same time that she is play-bowing and it it so hilarious to see her bum sticking up in the air with her tail going in a circle!
I enjoy your blog, and am wishing you success in the relationship between Will and Hope. Maybe his name will be a good omen.
I have a White German Shepherd male pup who turned one year old today, and he circle wags from time to time. And we have a 3 month old male puppy Shepherd/Blue Heeler mix, where I’ve seen the circle wag as well, and the full body wag too. :o)
My older pup loves the little one, and they play, but then Denny the little one goes crazy, and Happy, the older one, just wants to leave, and get away from him. He’s all chewed up around his mouth.
I did not know about the vaccinations having such an effect on the pups.
It’s really hard to take, the up and downs between them. They sleep together, and they play, and then I have to separate them, when play gets out of hand. Happy does not defend himself, but looks at me for help.
@Melissa. I have a Swedish vallhund too! I NEVER get polite requests to do things – only the bossing around-sharp bark or a baby whine “poor me, I’m a neglected baby, won’t you let me out/play with me/feed me”?
But I do see the circle wag when I get home normally, I was going to comment on that, together with a submissive pose, no barking (strangers on the other hand get an over the back wag and lots of noise)!
Keeping the fingers crossed that Hope and Will have made up as we speak!
I have a happy-go-lucky tripod pit mix, and she circle wags 90% of the time (though especially when meeting new people, new dogs and any cat, all of whom she loves). When she’s REALLY happy, she’ll combine the circle wag with the full-body wag, and because she’s still adjusting to being three-legged, that combo will occasionally knock her off her feet. I’m sorry about Hope and Willie’s trouble, but I have every confidence that they’ll be back to normal soon.
After the two Aussies, who can’t really circle-wag, Mellie Border Collie sometimes circle-swishes — her tail is so nearly prehensile it doesn’t wag, but swishes. Yes, it’s for her very favoritest things in the world, such as seeing her favorite human buddies, and is usually combined with a dropped body and some submissive posturing (submissive she ain’t). Nano, an anxious Borderjack coming out of a bad situation, handles his social anxiety by being very busy and jumpy, sucking up a lot. He wags his tail way more than anyone else in our mouth…. and he circle wags it for Mellie, or if he meets an intact girl who seems to like him. (I almost don’t let him meet males any more. He is more and more of a terrier every day.) Clearly girl dogs are the happiest thing in the world to him. To the point I’m sure he needs a testosterone blood level taken….
Ha! “In our house,” not “in our mouth.” There goes one neuron I’ll never be able to use again.
Melanie S says
Really pleased to hear your “that was then…” news Trisha. I’m circle wagging my tail I’m so delighted to hear the news! Grin…
It’s fun to have tail wags at the forefront of mind: I just went outside with my whippet Slipstream and when he wagged his tail at the prospect of some play I said “I see that tail wag Slip and I raise you a butt wiggle…” as I waggled my butt from side to side. I’m afraid that without a plume of a tail to helicopter I wasn’t prepared to attempt anything circular!
I have a 5 month Leonberger who circle wags during extreme displays of excited energy. It almost always happens when I return to him no matter whether I was gone for 5min or 5 hours. My girlfriend and I call it the “toy walk” or “toy stamp” because if he has access to a toy he will hold it in his mouth, wag his tail furiously in circles, walk with parade-like-“pas de cheval” horse stamps, and will push his chest into your chest completely making a ventral-ventral contact with his toy being pushed in your face. If he’s reeeeeally excited he adds the most unbelievable whimpering noises you’ve ever heard. Then if the “toy” that was in his mouth happened to be a couple pound bone, he really has perfected dropping it EXACTLY on the center of your foot.
I have two labs (chocolate and yellow), both female, 6yrs and 1 yr, they both full body wagg when happy, especially when I get in from work and when they meet people and dogs they like. They both also circle wagg, the youngest more so than the eldest. The youngest also circle waggs when she is searching for a missing ball and is getting close. We also call this a helicopter tail becuase of the draft given off by the tails when circling.
I had a dog that would do the most exaggerated circle wag. She was half golden retriever/half boxer and looked like a Labrador crossed with a black jaguar. She had a tail that was long and quite expressive.
She would wag it in great big large circles whenever she would greet someone.
You could read from her face that she was very happy, often letting loose little yodels of joy.
Hi – I just did a little blog on tail wags too and I’m pumped about your interpretation of the circle wag. I’ve seen my inlaw’s lab do it all the time and just started noticing it in my border collie. Here is a link to a video that I’ve made as a ‘tail wag study.’ Hope you enjoy!
Click here to look at the video.
Marcia Lucas says
We have Labrador Retrievers and two of them do what we call “the Propeller Tail.” It goes round and round, almost always in the same direction. They do it when they see friends (canine and human) they absolutely adore. They clearly are ecstatic.
Sorry to hear of Hope’s (love the name!) vaccine reaction. I’d be on the phone to my favorite homeopathic veterinarian if I were you!!
I was sooo happy to read about the “Circle Wag!” My Golden Retriever, Noraa, does it a lot. She is my heart dog and we have connected a lot like how I imagine you connected with your Luke. Reading your stories about you and him reminds me of my Noraa and I, we can read each other’s minds and she does things that I want her to do without my even asking.
Having said that, I can tell you that she is very shy around other dogs and very quietly sweet but not confident around strange humans. She listens to me and cuddles with me and sleeps near me, none of which she will do with my husband. BUT, she will wrestle and rough play with my husband which she will not do with me. I have told you that so I can tell you this: every morning she gently walks up to my face, and ever so lightly licks me awake. When I open my eyes and take my hands out from under the covers to pet her cheeks she does a major, major circle wag. She also does it when I am on the couch watching television and she comes up to me for attention and I talk to her and kiss her nose. Always with a big golden smile on her face. The only time I have seen her do it with any other human is when my husband gets on all fours on the floor and wrestles with her. She jumps on him and brings him her favorite stuffed phesant (which she plops on the back of his head).
My husband and I have been wondering about her circle wag for years! She is a very special dog, I will never find another like her so to know that she possibly does this when she is sublimely happy brings tears to my eyes.
The last 6 months or so, I have been teaching my dog to do agility weave poles. He is up to 6 poles, and a relative asked me to video it and sent it to her. So, I’m putting together some video clips last night and really watching what my dog does. Much to my surprise, I think Duke did a circle wag (“a” circle wag, meaning a single circle) just before entering the first pole.
The reason I’m not sure is that he was running in a kind of bouncy up and down way. Another interpretation I could put on it was that: his wag may have looked like a circle because he was wagging it side to side, but his body was doing up and down motion that turned it into a circle via gravity, not his muscles/intention.
I’m really not sure, but I love the idea that he loves what we are doing so much that it was a circle wag. (Don’t get me wrong, you can clearly see that he enjoys running the poles. The question in my head is: How much?)
Here’s something else: I have been watching Duke intently the last few days. While he rarely does a full circle wag, I’m staring to notice times when his wags have some vertical movement in them – not just side to side. So, it is possible that he is doing more variety wags than I’ve ever seen and just happened to catch one on video.
The post above about asymetrical wags has me really watching Duke’s tail in a way I never did before. Duke’s tail is a huge indicator of his mood, but I never analyzed it to that detail. I’ve always looked at: height, speed, and looseness. Now I’m trying to look at more detailed location, but I’m less sure how to interpret what I’m seeing along that dimension compared to the other three factors which have been very helpful.
Also, thank you! to the posters above who have talked about their Great Danes. Duke is a Great Dane too and I can relate to pieces of your posts. Especially elephant ears.
Anyhoo, the point is that this post and discussion has been fun, exciting, and informative. I love it any time I can better understand what Duke is feeling.
Otis does the elephant ears, too! My lab/GSP mix used to drop and sort of tuck her ears back when she was happily greeting someone (she was a pretty vigorous wagger, too), but they never did the elephant thing- I think because his Otis’ ears are so much longer, wider, and set further out from his head than a lab’s, he can’t really tuck them without a lot of tension, so the relaxed/happy/ingratiating drop and tuck becomes an elephant flip.
Interestingly, my dad (who lived out in the country in the days before leash laws) always used to say that the ears were the most reliable indicator of whether a strange dog would accept you or not. According to dad, if a dog comes up with his ears up and forward, it indicates focused interest, but not much else-he could go either way. If, after you say something to him in a nice voice, he drops his ears down and tucks them back, it’s a pretty reliable indicator that the dog will let you approach. If the ears stay up-look out, he hasn’t decided about you.
Obviously, this trick works best with flop-eared dogs…
My dog only has a partial tail. She often wiggles her whole bum when she see’s a human (known or unknown) and am sure she would do a full circle wag if she was able (had a full tail).
A tense side to side wag is my cue to get out of a situation (off leash dogs running up) as it predicts snarling/growling etc.I’ve done a lot of work with her on dog-dog aggression and this is one of the prime indicators. Fur up=unsure (but not necessarily ready to attack),same with her ears pinned back, tail up/puffed out etc…..her face is also difficult to read (and difficult to see if we are suddenly approached by an offleash dog).
For my dog the shift from her being ‘uncomfortable’ and trying to decide what she should do about this strange dog (bark?lunge?play?) to a decision to attack is indicated most accurately by her tail.
I can’t tell you how many times someone has said “she looks friendly her tails wagging”.
Of course I try to avoid these situations and have been working hard to create positive associations with dogs.
I have boxers so I have nothing to add to this discussion. check out this dog
My Terv has a great circle wag! I notice lots of Tervs in our region seem to have that trait. It does not take much to get him going: me calling him a funny name, friends, cheese, treats, me smiling, squirrels, cheese, me coming home, friends visiting, chew sticks, friends just calling! LOL 🙂 He uses it daily and it always makes ME wish I could give him the same wag back!
As to the vaccinations… I had a dog many years ago that we thought may have had the same effect. Matter of fact, that is what brought me to my first Patricia McConnell seminar. We also did some holistic detox therapy. Still not sure if that is what it was or just bad brain connections. He started having similar reactive events at 4 months and, well, it was rough for the next 18 months. We finally found a good place for many years. He is now waiting at the bridge. Hopefully, a much happier pup!
Good luck with Hope. He is certainly named appropriately!!
vin chiu says
My Pitties circle wag themselves all over the place. They literally wag themselves around the house most of the day. Its a very funny little helicopter tail, whole body dance. Wag and bounce wag and bounce. And the goofy smiles only make containing laughter that much harder. The Malinois, uh, not so much. She is always REALLY READY to go and SUPER EXUBERANT about everything but rarely “wags” her tail. Its more of a sway. Weird.
First, Hope has to be one of the cutest puppies ever, and I hope he is better quickly.
My dog Scout did Circle Wags for me a couple weeks ago! She just turned two, and got a brand-new red Jolly Ball (her old blue one was well chewed – she even punctured the ball) and she was soooo excited! She Circle Wagged and wiggled and played with her ball, and the tail didn’t stop wagging for at least a full 10 minutes. It was just the best reaction one could ever see, just pure joy, and I still smile when I think of it. Thanks for telling us about it!
Christine K. says
My German Shepherds “circle wag” when they are searching for something, such as a ball thrown in tall grass. It’s a big looping wag with tail fully extended and high while the dog is at a working lope/canter. I don’t know whether this is the same wag or not, because it is a very definite “I’m on the hunt” behavior signal, and also at these times they are very focused and happy–but it’s definitely not a greeting behavior.
(I have also seen the circle wag in greeting, and it’s only a moments of great pleasure in seeing someone.)
Michelle K. says
I also have a GSD (11 1/2 yrs old) who is a Circle Wagger. She does HUGE circle wags when she greets someone she loves after not seeing them for a while, like at the end of the work day. Her whole back end rotates while she wags and runs to greet them. It is most definitely her tail language that says “I’m so happy I can’t contain myself!” She NEVER circle wags if under even the slightest stress or uncertainty.
Sadly, our Rotties have their tails docked, so I really couldn’t tell whether they might circle-wag or not. I do know that if really happy to see someone they WILL indeed wiggle their whole bodies, which is usually combined by somewhat submissive (if we’re still using this word) curve to the body. One is just waiting for the dog to pee themselves from excitement 🙂
According to Stanley Coren the closest thing to a smile in dogs is a tongue slightly sticking out from the mouth. Also read his article recently about dog laugh, quite great too.
Why do I always read too late to really participate?! 🙂
My Cattle Dog mix circle wags multiple times/day, possibly every day. It’s usually when I get home from work or otherwise approach her in a certain way. I look over and say, “ZOOOOOOOOOOEEEEE!” in a particular tone and the tail starts spinning. She also “tail spins” as I call it when her favorite visitors arrive.
My Beagle (mix I’ve decided) prefers a long, sweeping tail motion. I did catch her tail spinning once but only once.
D in NH says
“PROP WAGS!” My thought for circle wags is that they look like a propeller, so I have always called them “Prop Wags!” And yes, they are the sign of a very, very happy dog! 🙂
A couple years ago, one of my dogs had a reaction to the Lyme vaccine. It was scary…and took months to resolve the irritable bowel issues related to it. My vet said the reaction was a “coincidence.” Right. sigh…I think vaccine reactions go largely unreported due to views like that, which means the numbers are likely far, far greater than we know. I WISH I had known at the time that I could report it myself to both the FDA and the manufacturer, as that information helps improve the products for all dogs and their loving owners. My best wishes to Hope for a speedy recovery from his vaccine reaction.
Sorry for the delayed response…been away at a herding trial, but could not resist responding to this important topic.
Yes we love the circle wag 🙂 Puck does it most often when she gets attention from my partner. She is just smitten with him, as am I, ofcourse.
I can’t see another meaning in it than just happy happy happy. And we call it the PuckieCopter Tail.
nan marks says
Only one of my dogs was a fairly consistent circle wagger–it was generally slow but he was an older dog when I got him and he gave the circular wag to all humans who approached him and to all dogs. Bruce was 10 when I got him and lived most of his life on a chain until then. He was a golden, collie, newfie mix if the neighborhood is to be believed and a kinder gentler dog never existed. Some years ago he was one of the dogs Sue Sternberg used in a dog to dog encounter and she commented that she had never seen a circular wag that didn’t signal great affability and comfort with the situation. Most of my dogs have been soft and friendly but I’ve found the circular wag is rare. My collie gives it to a friend he has a crush on, my labrador never offers it although she has a nice variety of friendly and excited wags. Both she and the collie definitely have an I’m worried wag as well which is a much flatter narrower thing.
nan marks says
I’m so sorry about the vaccine reaction and the lost relationship comfort. sounds like it is rebuilding but what a sad interruption.
My younger Cardigan Welsh Corgi does the circle wag for my spouse. Ironically, when I brought him home as a young pup, my spouse was NOT into having a second dog at all! I had picked the pup for me as an new agility prospect. And now they are the best, best buds! I am happy for the outcome, if maybe a little jealous 🙂 I could use that tight bond in the agility ring!
I want to change my story. I caught the Beagle Annie circle wagging again. 🙂
Then Cow Dog mix Zoe circle wagged while greeting a neighbor’s dog. Heartwarming!
My girl had a neurological reaction to the rabies vaccination. A curious, out-going, fearless puppy overnight became terrified of anything and everthing. I would take her outside for a walk, she would freeze and bolt back for the front door. We went to a homeopath and over the course of a week she did improve.
So I am sorry this happened to Hope. But, Trisha, I am happy you witnessed the reaction. So many medical professionals accept only the physical allergic reaction effects of vaccination. Discounted are the neurological problems, including personality changes. Pet parents can be dismissed when they bring this sort of issue to the vet. However, someone with your credentials cannot be dismissed when explaining the behavioral reaction to the vaccination. I hope your story will help vets realize that these sorts of changes can result from vaccination.
My Mountain Curr and Plott Hound are champion circle waggers. The Staffie’s tail is so curled I don’t think he can physically acompilish the motion but he’s the best whole-body wagger I’ve met!
Karen Schumacher says
I’m on the “tail end” here, but this behavior is one that is near and dear to me. My geriatric lab/newfie/spaniel boy reserves this wag for me. I call it “happy tail” and can even elicit it when petting him by asking where his happy tail is.
As heartwarming to me as a warm, sincere hug from my closest and dearest “people”.
Had a great example of a circle wag yesterday. My cocker/basset is definitely a people dog and circle wags for those he absolutely adores. He *loves* my brother, who has hasn’t seen in 10 months. When my brother got out of the car yesterday, Bill (my dog) starting whining, doing a super exaggerated full body wiggle AND circle wagging so hard he actually lost his balance and fell. He popped right back up and continued the wiggling & circle wagging for several minutes.
One thing that I’ve noticed when he circle wags is he drops his head a bit when he first starts, almost kind of soliciting a greeting while also being extremely happy to see the person.
My Leo does the circle tail all the time, since he was a baby (we always called it helicopter tail, too). He is a lab mix, with some bulldog and Boston, according to his DNA. He typically does it for a select few dog friends, but he also does it for me and for my one girlfriend. He will occasionally do it for my ex husband when he comes to visit him. My Lucy does the full body wag. Her DNA says she is a Doxie mix with Boston and bulldog in the mix. When I get home from work and let her out of her crate, she bends herself completely in half from one side to the other with a full, open-mouthed smile and squinty eyes. Once she sees me put my stuff down and take my shoes off, she springs in the air as if on a trampoline.
I try to tell people in my neighborhood all the time that they cannot rely only on a wagging tail as an indicator of peaceful play. My Lucy approaches dogs all the time with a full body wag and play pose (front legs down, butt in the air), but they get one listen to her Julie Cavner voice and get all kinds of nervous. How can we teach them to inhibit vocalization without inhibiting our way of understanding when things escalate? I know the difference between her “play with me” growls and her “I have had enough” warning growls. I am not comfortable silencing her, but people get so taken aback by her voice. Safety is more important than perception, no?
Juno does the circle tail all the time when she is excited. We call it her propeller tail. She’s an itty-bitty-pitty weighing in at about 37lbs of all muscle and it’s so cute to see that little tank body wiggle around like she’s so happy that she can barely contain it.
Kathy Haig says
Baern (bc/golden retriever mix) does the circle wag (also our name for it!), but Rainy (GSD/husky?) is only able to marshal the lethal, coffee-table-sweeping lashing tail–all back-and-forth, no up-and-down. I wonder if it has something to do with their different breeds? Baern’s beautiful flag of a tail is so well suited to the circle wag that it’s impossible to remain unenthusiastic when witnessing it. Add his big, full, eye-crinkling smile, and it’s just a recipe for happiness.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, I just witnessed the “smile-without-the-eyes” wag yesterday. Baern was meeting a tall 3-year-old GSD that we were considering adopting, and Baern utterly abhored him on sight. His tail was held as high as possible–waving gently (like a wary rattlesnake, not a friendly dog), he was on his toes, and his face was just a rictus of hatred. Completing the message was the deep rumbling growl from his chest. It was unmistakable. That beautiful GSD will have to go to another lucky family.
Carl Llewellyn says
Okay, I found your site by searching for “circle wag”! My dog Harley does this all the time. And I instantly thought it was cute, but odd. He does it primarily when he is looking for a toy he misplaced outside. If I throw a ball and it lands in deep snow…he immediately starts running with his nose to the ground, and tail wagging in circles about a hundred miles an hour!!! And I also believe it is pure happiness. He is simply a happy, loving, helpful, 3 year-old Black Lab/Rottweiler mix. He is the perfect thing. Thanks for the good read!
CIRCULAR TAIL WAGGING…This means you are a great pet owner. You adore your dog and the dog clearly adores you. It’s showing you how much it loves you by making a full, intentional, loving expression of it’s devotion to you. DOGS RULE!!!
My dog has a full blown Dutch Windmill tail when he is so happy to see me when I return home from work! My other dog has no tail but wiggles her bum. I find it very interesting to compare the two – the tail and the tail-less- I call them Wiggle ‘n Wag!
My dog does the circular tail wag! She had such a good day today! She had a lot of frizbee playing and a nice bath. When I came back from the video store she was wagging her tail in a circle! She loves me!
Sounds like we have a consensus on the “circle wag.” Strider does it to greet us when we come home, or when we ask if he wants to go out back and play ball. He’s a chocolate Lab, the leaner American/field version rather than the stockier British/show dog type. His greeting circle-wag comes with either a turning himself round and round, first one way then the other, and bending his whole long body into a “C” shape — or finding a toy and carrying it around to show us just how darned happy he is… It certainly does appear to be an expression of complete happiness.
Our sweet Bernese Mountain dog, Harriet, circle wags when she is very happy, which seems to be when we are both home. She is the most beautiful baby you can imagine and gives us so much love.
I came home yesterday and my dog, Dixie, was waiting for me on the living room rug. when I came in she started the circle wag. I immediately started looking on the internet for any information about what it meant. She seemed really extra happy to see me. It made ME happy just to watch it.
My Border Collie (CeSea) wags her tail in circles ALL the time when I’m playing with her and getting ready to go/do somewhere/thing. I think it’s the funniest thing – after all how often do you see a dog wagging their tail in circles?? 🙂 She always wags her tail – usually her whole body shakes from side to side when her tail wags, and when she wags her tail in circles she usually has to try and stand still or her body gets thrown off balance haha. She’s always in a happy mood, very playful, eager to please, typical Border Collie! 🙂 I’m glad to see some theory as to why to wags her tail in circles…
John Leonard says
With my buddy Axle a Lab. you learn to position the furniture in a way that when contact is initiated the propellar won’t come into contact with any object within a 24in. radius. He does the circle, half circle, back and forth, up and down and the diagonal wag with no apparent feeling from his rump down. When he is on point though thats entirely differant. something is not right. Thats why they are called mans best friend ready at a moments notice.
My Sadie Mae, a Flat Coated Retriever, absolutely loves chasing “critters” around the pond. She’s especially fond of several Yucca plants and will often do the “propeller wag” when searching beneath the plants. She also does this type of wag when searching for frogs and toads at the pond-edge. Sadie often does the whole body wag and “smiles” by holding her mouth slightly open. She wasn’t always this way. Sadie is a rescue that came to us very insecure, fearful of almost everything including the dark, storms, and even frog calls and cricket sounds. We’ve had her for 2 years in which time she has made great progress. We recently adopted another dog (a hound name Cooper). When the Animal Rescue representative came to visit to see if we would be a good home for Cooper, she commented that Sadie was doing the propeller wag and that she hadn’t seen an animal do that in some time. It made her very happy to see that Sadie was a very happy dog.
My 2 year old Lab/RhodesianRIdgeback/boxer girl, Sasha circle wags only for my boyfrien, alex :o) we got her at 6 weeks and she absolutely adores him. Which irritates me cuz I’m the one who only works part time her whole life and trained her and takes care of most of her needs, darn it :o)
Most dogs have a slow wag, and it’s not an indicator that something’s wrong, the slow wag is associated with a dog processing new information. You almost always see it associated with some ear and nose acrobatics as they survey their surroundings. My GSD slow wags when she’s waiting for a chance to swipe something from the table, it’s always a dead giveaway, especially when we make eye contact any the wag stops, the ears go back and she melts away under the table. Like I didn’t know what she was thinking, haha. Also, nearly all dogs slow wag when they meet a new dog that they’re unsure of, they sniff behinds, lick each others faces then the happy wag starts. As far as circle wagging, my golden retriever/border collie mix circle wags so hard I feel like I should be saluting a Marine guard next to him before hopping on his back and taking off. Have you ever seen the scene at the beginning of Jurrassic Park, where the helicopter blows everything around, pissing everyone off? That’s my living room anytime someone visits, add to that the hyperactivity of a border collie and a golden retriever’s general doppieness, and you have some idea of what I’m dealing with. He’s luck he’s really funny, or I’d hate him for knocking just about everything I own over, and I’d really hate him for me being hit in the no-no region more often than a dummie in a women’s rape prevention self defense class.
My wolf hybrid Drakeo does the circle wag but he is aa stranger aggressive protection trained dog…maybe it is happy but ooow oooo yyay come closer I GET TO BITE YOU IF YOU ENTER AND GET PRAISED LOL …aand he only does it if people approach and in the house…he is solidly trained and just ignores everyone after his release command inside or if we just are out.
Devin Annette says
My boy Sammy (9 y/o beagle) circle wags for me all the time. He didn’t start out as mine though- he was my grandma’s, (whom I was extremely close to) and I sort of ‘inherited’ him when she passed. I don’t think I have ever loved anything as much as I love that beagle. It actually made me cry reading your theory on the ‘circle wag’. He is so very dear to my heart.
Whitney Fischer says
My mixed breed Mastiff-Hound-Rott is 7 months old and circle wags in the mornings when she see’s my girls come out of their rooms and then when my hubby comes home. It is the sweetest thing. BUT she is tail happy anyway. Like, when the dogs wake up in the morning (she and my Cock-a-Poo Dorie sleep with us) and my husband is getting ready to let them out, I hear “THUMP,THUMP,THUMP”….it’s so loud that it wakes me up! LOL… I don’t mind. It’s really cute, but man! 🙂
I am glad that you say that “Circle Wags” tend to belong to extremely happy dogs. That made me smile and get a little teary eyed. But I also think that the dogs are well balanced. Happy just being in the presence of a well rounded owner and loving you for it! That’s my take anyway! have a good one!
My american pit bull terrier’s circle wag… they do it when I come home from work or let them out of a crate. I have a couple who do it.
Gabby Hewitt says
My dog, Toby, (Aussie red cattle dog cross whatever got into the yard that night) circle wags ALL the time, except for when he’s outside of our home. Side-to-side happens a little, but he mostly wags in odd, wonky circles that randomly change direction from clockwise to anticlockwise. If he manages to get his tail to go in one direction for a while, he looks like he has a little propellor on his bum. 😀 Sometimes, if I wake up early in the mornings, he looks up at me from his bed and does a tiny little sleepy wag, and it’s the most adorable ‘good morning’ ever.
I’m glad to hear that this means he’s probably happy around-the-clock. 🙂 It makes me happy to know that he loves being around me just as much as I love being around him!
Andrew K H says
Odin, my hound/rottie/lab mix (I gave him the breed name Buckethead Hound) circle wags all the time. Like others, I call it “helicopter tail”. He does it when he is happy. He does it especially when he wants something. He will stand erect, stare intently at me, and circle wag. This is usually follwed by him, sitting down, throwing a paw on my lap, and nudging my hand. If he does it while really happy, like when seeing sombody he likes, it will follow with a yodel and a deep, bassy, woo woo.
There are only a few instances in which he does not circle wag. One is when he sees somebody at a distance (or sometimes an animal). In this case he will stand erect, tail up, with quick back and forth movements of the tip of his tail. As the person approaches, and if Odin recognizes the person, he lowers his tail and goes into full helicopter mode. If he is approaching something cautiously, he will sometimes do a slow wag with his tail lowered.
I really do think it is a genetic thing, and might be breed related. I can tell you over the years of working with dogs, it is a very rare trait.
Pippa, my golden/shepard mix does the squinty-eyed, smiling, full body wag when she is super happy.
It is interesting how completely different the body language of my dogs are when really happy, but it would be hard for anyone to mistake the mood of either.
One of our dogs was a rescue who I’m pretty sure had been feral for most of her life before us. When we first got her, she didn’t wag her tail – frankly, she seemed completely stumped about how to be a house pet. After a couple months, watching our other dog, she started wagging her tail by doing the circle wag. It was like she didn’t know how to make her tail wag back and forth, but she wasn’t deliriously happy like you describe in your circle wag. Just recently, now that she’s been with us almost a year, she is doing a slow back and forth wag, . She is definitely happy when she does it, it’s when she’s anticipating dinner or a walk, it’s just slow as if she’s finally mastering how to wag like a domesticated dog. I’ll be interested to see if she’ll master the vigorous tag wag in the next year.
I just found this because I was looking up information on the “circle wag” that you discussed. I have a black lab and he is a joy to behold. When he was younger that’s all he would do, every time he ran, was wag his tail like it was propelling him down the yard.
Now that he’s older, about 2 years, he has stopped doing the circle wag on a regular basis. However there is a certain situation in which his tail goes in circles, flips, and does all sorts of amazing things. That is whenever I throw something or he drops something and he’s sniffing out where it is in the backyard.
I was wondering if the crazy tail action was mean to disrupt the air, causing the smell of whatever he’s searching for to be easier to track or if it was simply because he so loves searching for things. Either way, I am glad that it seems to be something that means he’s happy.
I have a 4 year old Chihuahua and since day one he has always wagged his tail in circles when I come home, seeing other dogs he likes very much. At times,he (Lincoln) wags his tail in circle so fast its like he is trying to take flight which is entertaining to watch and other dogs see it and welcome my little guy into their circle with ease.
I have two beautiful Beagles. They both wind their tails all day, everyday. So fast and hard sometimes you think they will take off. I believe it to mean they are extremely happy. It actually is very cute and I am extremely Happy they are Happy..Almost enough to try and wind my tail back at them….lol
I found this blog in a Google search for the meaning of circle wags, since my Basset/Lab does it so much. I’d have to say you’re right. He always seems to do it when he’s extremely happy, which is quite often. He is a very happy dog!
Crystal Normandin says
My dog does like a figure 8..is that similar to the circle? In regards to happiness?
I adopted a stray from a shelter two months ago so I know nothing of her history. She is a yellow lab mix — German shepherd tail and probably some hound given her intense interest in scents. She has started circle wagging — which I call ‘helicopter tail’ with me. She stands in front of me and the tail whirls.
While I know nothing of her past, she doesn’t know the word “treat” nor “walk” or “walkies” (she’s learning them, though!) All my previous dogs were adoptees, all knew those words. She has excellent house manners so she’s clearly lived with a family. I suspect that she was more or less ignored since she loves attention. I like to think that she’s so happy to be in a home where she gets lots of attention that she can’t contain that tail!
My Barnaby (Germain Shorthaired Pointer/Pit Bull mid) only circle wags for me!
Emma chambers says
My horse hair shar pei Rupert circle wags when I wake him up in the morning. His ears go low on his head and his face looks all soft. He also circle wags when he is offered prawn crackers or a cup of tea. When he is cross his tail is stiff and rocks slowly, his ears are erect and his face looks hard and wrinkled
my rhodesian ridgeback circle wags for me particularly when i talk to her like she’s a baby 🙂
I found your site after Googling “Is there a difference between dogs tail going side to side and in circles” We’ll have to do some more tests to see if she does it with both me and my wife. But in the same 10-20 seconds some times it will go side to side then it will go in circles and back. The first site I looked said the same thing as you. They do it usually over a particular person and they are more happy than usual. Thanks.
My mixed black lab does a circle wag every time she sees my mom or myself. She gets really excited to see us and jumps up and lick our faces as much as possible. So I think you are correct on your belief of the circle wag.
Jeannette Tunstall says
in reference to circle tail wagging, my Border collie Bob had a circle tail wag when my neighbor drove up on her car. He bit her twice in spite of his circle tail wagging. Was this just excitement?? he has given her dirty looks before, but never bitten her. No blood was drawn, but the bite was hard
Clarence Dillon says
My 2yo hound, Sophie wags communicatively; left, right, circles, high, low, curled, straight. I’ve been searching for more, more, more information about tail wags. Sophie wags her tail like a honey bee and I’m sure she’s literally trying to spell something out for me. For example, I’ll often get two swings left, one right, three circles, pause, look at me (did you get that?), repeat. She has other tail patterns, too. It’s these semaphores that I’m interested in understanding.
I work with dogs in a daycare and have done for a year and have had/been around dogs my whole life. I find their body language so interesting but I have never seen such strange behaviour in tail wagging before…a golden retriever that processes things quite slow, if you will, and now and again frustrates the other dogs by not leaving them alone although he is submissive when they tell him to stop. I have noticed sometimes when other dogs react his body freezes, his ears go down and he shows the whites (obvious signs of fear). However, his tail isn’t a high or a low wag, it is medium and wags quite slowly in a circular motion. In any other circumstances I would say the dog is anxious although this dog seems both submissive and excited when told to back off, could it be possible he doesn’t understand other dogs behaviour? Or that he is overly confident?
Barbara Finch says
My dog has a particular tail wag that I interpret as meaning “I know you’re there and I’m glad to see you, but please can we both pretend I’m asleep”. This is a very rapid burst of short tail wags and is only seen when he’s lying down. He also has a wide circle wag in his repertoire.
Recently, he’s started carrying his tail straight up in the air and wagging with restricted movements when meeting another dog. I know that’s supposed to be an aggression signal, but it doesn’t seem to mean that with him. It seems to be related to the confidence he’s developed over the last couple of years, since I adopted him . He’s generally friendly, but aloof with other dogs, unless there’s a chance of going for a run together, and he’s very aloof with very small dogs. When I first adopted him, he often put his tail between his legs and tried to avoid meeting strange dogs and didn’t want to let them sniff him. (That may also have been because he’d just been castrated. They say dogs are unaware when that’s been done, but I’m certain he was aware because of a look on his face once when he was cleaning himself: he looked puzzled and upset.)
My baby definitely Circle waggs everytime I come in the house I think it’s because when I come in I always Serenade her with a song with her name Incorporated in it laugh out loud I love cookie she’s a four-year-old Papillon and she’s been my best friend every since I got her truth be told I Circle wagg too when I see her😁😁😙😙😙
Our dog does this:) 1st time we’ve ever seen a dog do this. He is suppose to be a American Dingo/ pit mix. He does it when hes extremely happy its so funny. Such a great dog, hyper and can be stubborn but great.
I have two pitbull sisters and have seen the windmill from them and their family. Thought that it was more of a distinct pitbull thing, but I’ve been proven wrong. I definitely think that it is an excitement thing. One of the sisters (kai) only does it once in a while, and the other (Loki) does it much more often. Loki is the people pleasure and she is a very high energy, excitable dog. They are super obsessed with my wife and I so we usually get the wag when we are giving them special attention or when we come home. I absolutely adore my little pits.
Our mini poodle Bella circle wags when she is very happy. Most usually when she is carrying a “baby” in her mouth. Like many others here we have referred to it as helicopter tail but Bella’s helicopter tail is special so we call it the “Bellicopter”
None of our other poodles do it though and none of our past poodles did it either.
Carol Stewart says
My Great Pyrenees does the circle wag whenever my daughters, who she loves, come to visit. I have been calling it her “hula dance” as she stands with her front feet on a dog gate her whole lower body is rotating with her tail in circles. It is easy to tell that she is extremely happy to see them!
My pit has done the circle wag, I call it a propeller wag, all his life. He is 13. He does it when he has his toys of power and is is telling us about his powers. He just gets so proud and happy. His head is usually held high and he prances in a circle.
He is a very happy dog, but doesn’t like strangers coming up to him.
My black lab mix female has started circle wagging more than ever. She had a sebaceous cyst that became very infected. Over time she managed to rub on the particular rug that opened the cyst causing it to drain. I was giving her extra love and attention. When I would approach her or speak to her, she would put her head down almost subserviently and vigorously wag in a circular motion. I ended up taking her to the vet. Good thing I did. She had a fever and required antibiotics and more hands-on attention. She is doing so much better. I feel the circular wag is a way of communication when they’ve got something special to say. Love my baby Bonnie.
My shepherd cross circle wags, I call it his helicopter tail. He never stops, he genuinely is the most happy dog you will ever come across. My border collie bitch also circle wags and talks 🤗
I just noticed my dog was circle wagging while I was scratching all his favorite spots — his underarms, his side, his lower back. Cool! He’s just super happy. (I knew that!)
I come out of the bedroom in the morning, dog spots me and gets up. I hide partially behind a bookshelf dog circle wags.. i pop out from behind the bookshelf and head to the kitchen for doggy breakfast i get the fast tail waggin.. i finish mixing (dry and canned) dogfood.. and when i pick up the bowl it’s whole body wag including leaps front paw slaps thru the air.. dog is on two legs a great deal of the time till i set the bowl down.. then while eating get the tail only wag at a slow rate. Unless “pointing” i think the dog can wag cus of stress too perhaps hopeful it will win the coming battle or trying to transmit hi to a new situation? (when the tail stops waggin at a dog nose to dog nose meeting i expect violence next) I don’t equate just the tail wagging to a joyful dog. unless it’s (obvious) whole body wag.