Dog Discoveries

Dog Word of the Day: Circle Wag in Dogs

 

A circle wag in dogs is not your average tail wag: when wagging their tails this way, dogs show off the acrobatic capacities of their tails. Who ever imagined dogs were capable of moving their tails in such a way? Interestingly, not all dogs appear to be capable of such dexterity. In order to complete a complete circle wag, you would need the right type of conformation along with a certain type of personality. On top of this, you would also need the right circumstance to evoke this type of tail wag. These combinations ultimately lead to what’s known in the doggy world as the “circle wag.”  But what exactly is a circle wag? And what does it mean? Following is some information about circle wags in dogs.

Firstly, Not all Tail Wags in Dogs are Created Equal 

As we know, there are different types of tail wags in dogs and not all tail wags are created equal. One of the most common answers to the question: “why do dogs wag their tail?” is ” because they are happy” however, tail wagging isn’t always a sign of happiness and countless dog owners have been bitten due to their misinterpretations.

As explained in the article “Why do dogs wag their tails, the real underlying reason why dogs wag their tails is for the purpose of  communication.

On top of offering a visual display, tail wagging is meant to spread personal information (sort of like handing out our business cards) courtesy of anal gland secretions which contain pheromones. Basically, every time the dog wags his tail, the muscles around his rectum contract with the end result of pressing on the anal glands triggering the release of scent.

Detecting such pheromones and interpreting them requires a special organ, the”Jacobson organ” also known as vomeronasal organ. Humans are believed to have a small area in the nose that’s claimed to be a Jacobson’s organ, but it appears to have lost its functionality eons ago.

In dogs, the Jacobson organ is located within the dog’s nasal septum and connects to the nasal and/or oral cavities courtesy of a narrow duct. Specialized nerves connect this duct to the brain.

Of course, dogs don’t know that our noses are not as sensitive as theirs and that we lack a Jacobson’s organ, so they still use their tail wagging with us just because that’s just how they have learned to communicate. So until dogs can talk, it’s our job to try to interpret tails wags, and that involves carefully observing the rest of the dog’s body and keeping context in mind.

In general, the sweeping, broad and fast-paced wag of a happy dog’s tail upon greeting the owner is quite easy to interpret, but as mentioned, not all tail wags convey friendly interactions. Dog tail wags may be used to express a variety of emotions including  excitement, arousal, and also concern, which given the right context, may even morph into aggression.

When in doubt, it’s best to not approach a stranger dog even if its tail is wagging. A circular tail wag though doesn’t appear to generally fall under such dire category (but of course there may be always exceptions to the rule!).

Introducing the Circle Wag 

Also known as “helicopter wag,” or “propeller tail,”  the circle wag is a particular tail wag where the tail performs a complete circle. As the name implies, it’s almost as if the tail was a rotor blade spinning in circles producing a draft almost as if dogs were getting ready to be propelled and “take off.”

The circle wag typically starts side-by-side as most dogs do and then (usually as the dog’s arousal increases) it starts wagging higher and higher until it ends up performing a full, complete circle. Full body wags (the body moving along with the tail) may also be seen added in the mix.

The circle tail wag is reported in a variety of dogs of different breeds and types including Labradors, boxers, Newfoundlands, pitbulls and several shepherd crosses. Many dog owners witness this type of tail wag and seem to concur that it happens in particular circumstances.

When is it likely to occur? Patricia McConnell, in her popular dog blog “The Other End of the Leash” reports that she has seen this type of tail wag directed towards people dogs literally adore. She also mentions having seen it in her own dogs after ending a great herding session and she and her dogs were particularly proud of themselves.

This type of tail wag is therefore associated with certain types of emotions ranging between happiness, enthusiasm or excitement or just pure joy. Common scenarios that seem to evoke this type of tail wag are enthusiastic play, greeting a certain person after an absence, praise, anticipation of pleasant activities (feeding time, walk time, etc.)  and general circumstances where dogs feel particularly happy. It’s not typically seen in dogs who are anxious or aggressive, but as mentioned, there may be exceptions to the rule.

As mentioned, not all dogs are capable of performing this type of tail wag. Circle tail wags require a natural predisposition. For instance, dog breeds with curly tails  or dogs with bob tails or docked tails will obviously have difficulty and might be unable to perform such acrobatics.

 

Watch a Circle Wag in Action!

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Adrienne Farricelli

About the author: Adrienne Farricelli is a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant. She is also a former veterinarian assistant, and author of  the popular online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs." Her work has appeared in several print and online publications including E-how, USA Today, Every Dog Magazine, Daily Puppy and Connecticut Dog Magazine.
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