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My dog is absolutely the cutest when she sees me. She wags her tail from side to side and does a little trot along with a wiggle that makes my heart melt. But once I reach down to pet her, she instantly stops wagging her tail! Her behavior made me curious.
And I asked myself, why do dogs stop wagging their tails when we pet them?
Dogs will stop wagging their tail when pet as a result of overstimulation, a sign of relaxation, or in order to signal that they’re friendly and non-combative. Fear can also explain the behavior, especially with dogs that you’re not already familiar with. In rare cases, an injury could explain the behavior.
A dog’s tail is the number one way to communicate with other animals. That includes us! They use their tails to show us to either stay away or come closer. Knowing how a dog uses his tail for communication is key to understanding their language.
In this article, we will look at the reasons why dogs stop wagging their tails when we pet them, when you should be concerned, and how to change the behavior.
Why Dogs Wag Their Tails
The best way to learn why dogs stop wagging their tails is to understand why they wag them in the first place. Dogs wag their tails for communication purposes and use different tail positions and movements.
When dogs stop wagging their tails when pet, and we understand their initial mood, it helps us understand their reason for the abrupt ending.
Most people assume that a wagging tail is a sign of happiness in dogs. While this is true most of the time, it’s not the only emotion a dog can express with tail wagging. Dogs also show fear, nervousness, curiosity, and aggression with their tails.
Tail wagging can convey the many feelings the dog may have. Just as humans use our body language to communicate, dogs use their tails to communicate as well.
Below we will go deeper into each tail position, and what it could mean when your dog stops wagging their tail upon being pet.
Reason 1: They Are Overstimulated
When the dog in question is our own, they are most likely happy to see us! They loosely wag their tails in an upright position from side to side when they are happy. When they are happy and excited, they will do the same movement at a faster pace.
Think of a helicopter blade, yep that is what their tail will look like when they are happy and excited! You know, something like this:
When you begin to pet them, they may stop wagging their tail because they are overstimulated or at least extremely focused on the petting you’re giving them.
Overstimulation or sensory overload happens when too many things are happening at once or when one experience is especially intense. Thanks to your petting, their brains went from extremely happy to extremely happy and stimulated!
But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing!
It could just mean that your dog is super focused on the petting you’re providing. Of course, it could go too far and the petting could become uncomfortable but this is much rarer for dogs compared to cats.
In most cases, there’s is no reason to be alarmed if you see your pup’s tail go into freeze mode as soon as the belly rubs begin! And it may just mean that you’re doing a great job with belly rubs!
Reason 2: They Are Relaxed
I don’t know about you, but as soon as someone rubs my head, I almost fall into a trance of relaxation!
It is the same for your dog! If the dog trusts you, it will be easier for them to let go of fear or the thought of you overstepping their boundaries. When you begin to pet or rub them, they let their guard down and become so relaxed that their tails will stop wagging.
A dog’s tail has vertebrae and muscles that they control using their spinal nerves. When they become relaxed, they subconsciously ease these nerves and muscles, which cause their tails to stop wagging.
Once they are relaxed, their only focus is on you and the massage they are receiving!
You will notice that your dog is relaxed around you before you pet them if their tail is also relaxed. They may do a slight wag of their tail when they are relaxed or no wag at all.
Reason 3: They’re Letting You Know That Their Mood Changed
Sometimes when we meet a new dog, we want to pet it and gain its trust. I am a sucker for dogs and will pet them all if they let me! Luckily, I’m one of those people that dogs seem naturally attracted to so that certainly helps!
But, some dogs don’t want to be touched. Whether it is because petting is too much for them, or they need more time to learn to trust you, not all dogs will be anticipating your hands all over them.
In this case, the dog may stop wagging their tail as a way to be noncombative. Not all dogs bite or show aggressive behaviors when you pet them. But some will use non-aggressive approaches to show that they are simply not interested in you.
This is common with dogs that aren’t ours. They don’t know us, and maybe they don’t want to get to know us, or they just aren’t ready to trust us. When we see them wagging their tails, we assume that it means that they are happy to see us. But they may actually be telling us something completely different.
When a dog wags their tail to the left, they are showing signs of aggression, fear, or anxiety. An anxious dog may be mistaken for an excited dog by someone who assumes all tail wags mean happiness.
If you do reach out to pet this type of dog, they will likely stop wagging their tail. They are showing you that they don’t want to be touched, and they would rather avoid your physical stimulation and would like to be left alone.
In other cases, dogs may be excited to see you at first but if you come on too strong that can lead to them stopping their wag. You may have read the signals right at first, but dogs then changed their mind and decided they actually didn’t want petting!
Reason 4: They Are Nervous Or Afraid
When my dogs know they are in trouble, they will stop wagging their tails, even if I pet them, especially my chihuahua!
While the jury is still out on whether or not dogs truly feel guilt, they can absolutely sense our own body language and know when they’ve done something wrong. So when I find that my Chihuahua has decided to pee on her favorite blanket, she knows that I’m not happy about it- or at least know that something has gone wrong!
A fearful dog’s tail tucks low between their legs and may continue to wag in a slow back and forth motion. With my dog, once I reach down to pet her she stops wagging her tail. Of course, she quickly realizes that everything is okay and that little tail starts up again.
But with dogs that you don’t know, their tail may stop wagging when you pet them because they’re still quite nervous around you.
Reason 5: They Have An Injury
Sometimes our pups get injuries to their tails, and it causes them to stop wagging. Nothing makes me sadder than seeing one of my dogs in pain!
Since dogs use their tails as a way to communicate, they may muster up enough energy to wag their tail to tell you something. But as soon as you pet them, they stop wagging their tail to relieve the pain or stress caused by the injury.
Dogs can get something called limber tail. Limber tail is a sprain in your dog’s tail that can be caused by overuse from swimming or excessive exercise. It can also be caused by weather changes, cold climates, or being in their crate for too long.
If your dog has limber tail they may have a completely or partially limp tail, and may not be able to wag at all. They will have discomfort and may whine or chew at their tail.
Other injuries can also happen to your dog’s tail, which may cause it to stop wagging. Diseases such as cancer or cauda equina syndrome can impact your dog’s tail. Or something such as an impacted anal gland can be to blame for the inability to wag- or rather the ability to only wag a little.
While many of these injuries could lead to dogs not wagging their tail at all, in other cases they could lead to dogs occasionally stopping their wags. Depending on where you pet your dog, it could make the pain worse which would cause them to stop wagging, but in other cases petting may not have anything to do with the injury at all.
If you notice your dog has not been wagging their tail fully or stopped wagging at all, it may be best to call your vet and set up an appointment. The sooner you treat your dog’s injury or disease, the better the chance is for a full improvement.
It Could Be More Than One Reason
Dogs use their tails as a primary source of communication. When happy dogs stop wagging their tail, they may be showing you that they are relaxed. But, they could also be overstimulated as well. Especially if you use both hands or pet them aggressively!
Tail injuries can also add to the mix, so be sure to always be aware of new behaviors in your dog. Use your hands to feel your dog’s tail to be sure that they are not in any pain. Don’t wait to call your vet if you notice any abnormalities or signs of pain.
But never just assume that there’s only one explanation at play and your dog’s expressive tail could be telling you a variety of things.
Other Tail Wagging Scenarios
We know a happy wag, a fearful wag, and a relaxed wag. But, what are the other types of tail wags that help us indicate how a dog is feeling?
When a dog wags their tail quickly, and the tail is arched above its back, that could mean that the dog is being aggressive. When you see this, you may mistake it for a friendly wag, but it means the dog is more likely to act on its aggression. The quicker the movement, the more agitated the dog is. I would limit physical contact with this type of dog. They are more likely to bite humans or other animals.
How To Change The Behavior
When a dog stops wagging its tail upon being pet, it is part of their core behavior that can’t necessarily be stopped. Nor should we want to. Their tails communicate to us what they need. When we pet a dog and they stop wagging their tails, it helps us understand if they are enjoying it. Sometimes it indicates that they would rather us stop.
Unless the dog is doing this because they have an injury or disease, there is no reason to be concerned or try to change its behavior.
However, if the dog is one that you are unfamiliar with and would like to strengthen the bond between you, use other methods to allow the dog to build trust with you, and eventually they may love being pet by you!
Should I Be Concerned?
If you are petting your own dog and they stop wagging their tail, you have no reason to be concerned. They are likely enjoying you and the stimulation that you are providing! Some dogs will go to great lengths for back scratch (even going so far as rolling on food) so they’re probably quite happy to have you save them the trouble!
If you are trying to pet a dog that you aren’t familiar with, you may want to leave it alone if they stop wagging their tail, especially if they are anxious, to begin with. Not only is the dog telling you that it is uncomfortable, but it could also lead to a fear aggression response.
The main cause for concern when a dog stops wagging their tail is if they show signs of limber tail or have pain and discomfort. This is concerning and should be checked out by a vet right away.
Overall dogs are great at communicating how they feel by using their tails. It is up to us to learn these telltale signs of how they communicate to understand why they stop wagging their tails when we pet them.
Being aware of what each tail wag represents will keep us safer, but also show the dog that we respect them. Dogs have feelings and deserve to be treated the way that they want to be treated.