To many owners, one of the easiest ways we can tell that our dogs are happy to see us is because they are joyfully wagging their tails.
As you reach down to pet him, though, you may find that the wagging stops. You might panic and wonder if you did something to upset your pup, or if they are feeling unwell.
What’s going on here?
If your dog stops wagging its tail while you pet them, it could be due to overstimulation or relaxation, where they’re too focused on enjoying the petting to focus on wagging.
Mood changes, particularly discomfort or anxiety from the physical contact, especially in less socialized or anxious dogs, can also cause tail wagging to cease this is a less likely explanation when it comes to your own dog.
In rare instances, an injury might be the cause, requiring a vet check if accompanied by signs of pain. Environmental distractions can also divert their attention, stopping the tail wag. Generally, a dog not wagging its tail during petting isn’t alarming. Observing their overall body language and the situation helps understand their feelings, but it’s crucial to respect their space if they show discomfort.
We’ll take a closer look at each possible reason so you can figure out what makes sense for your situation and help you understand the body language associated with each explanation.
Let’s get started!
Why Dogs Wag Their Tails (And Why They May Stop)
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.
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.
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
In most instances, our dogs may wag their tails when they are happy to see us or something in the environment is making them happy.
In some situations, our pups may become a little TOO excited!
When we go to pet them during this state of overstimulation, they may stop wagging their tails. It’s not because they are upset that we are petting them, but rather they are experiencing sensory overload and as a result they can’t focus on multiple things at once.
They likely enjoy your petting, and want to focus more on it so they’ve had to “pause” the tail wagging in order to focus on the feeling of your petting.
Using frantic movements when petting your pup or speaking in a high pitched, excited voice while petting them can also get them worked up to the point of being overstimulated, which can cause a stop in their tail wagging.
Reason 2: They Are Relaxed
While some dogs may stop wagging their tails because they have a little too much energy, other dogs may stop their tail wagging for the exact opposite reason…they are feeling relaxed!
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.
If you are relaxed while petting your dog, or you use smooth, slow movements of your hands, then it’s even more likely that your dog has stopped his tail wagging because he is moving into a much more relaxed state.
Reason 3: They’re Letting You Know That Their Mood Changed
Some dogs may stop wagging their tail when you pet them as a way to tell you that their mood has changed.
Dogs rely heavily on body language in order to communicate, and their tails can tell us all sorts of things.
While your pup may be wagging his tail as you are giving attention to him from a distance, he could become uncomfortable when you go to actually pet him and may stop the tail wagging.
I see this happen with strange dogs meeting new people for the first time, or with dogs who are poorly socialized or suffer from general anxiety and fear. The dog may stop wagging their tail altogether, or they may drop their tail lower between their legs and only wag the tip slightly.
As with any time you’re trying to understand your dog’s behavior, reading their body language is very important.
If the dog’s tail drop comes along with their ears dropping or pinning back, dilated pupils, growling or lip snarling, or piloerection (where the hair on their neck and back stands up) then you should give your dog some space as these are all possible signs your pet may be uncomfortable and want you to stop.
Some dogs may overcome these reactions with time and training, but others may opt to stop their tail wagging when their personal boundaries are breached.
It’s always a good idea to respect a dog’s personal boundaries and communication with us. If the pup you are petting stops wagging her tail and you see other signs of discomfort such as heavy panting, tension or stiffness in their body, it’s probably smart to back off a little bit.
Reason 4: They Have An Injury
In rare cases, your dog could stop wagging his tail when you go to pet him because his tail is injured.
While our pups may wag their tails initially upon seeing us, they may stop wagging when we go to pet them because they are attempting to prevent any further pain from the injury.
Dogs can suffer from diseases to the tail area such as cauda equina syndrome or certain cancers, both of which can have a long-term effect on any tail wagging.
If your pup normally wags his tail as you pet him and he suddenly stops, or if you see additional signs of injury to the back or tail area, it’s worth a visit to the veternarian to get him checked out.
Reason 5: They’re Responding To Something Else In The Environment
As dogs use their tails to communicate a variety of different things, your dog could have stopped wagging his tail as you were petting him not because of something you did, but because of something else in his environment.
Did a new dog or person walk in the room? Is your significant other opening up a bag of chips in the kitchen? All of those things (and more!) can cause a dog to stop wagging their tail as you are petting them.
They may choose to stop wagging their tail to avoid miscommunicating with whatever or whoever entered the area, or they may have become distracted by hearing, smelling, or seeing something else and temporarily moved their focus from you to whatever distracted them.
Should I Be Concerned?
If your pup stops wagging her tail when you go to pet her, it’s likely there’s no reason to be concerned. Many dogs will do this, even if they normally keep wagging their tails as you pet them.
It’s important to pay attention to the environment, the situation in which you are petting your dog, and the rest of their body language. If you take notice of everything, then it’s usually easy to pinpoint why your dog stopped wagging their tail when you started petting them.
From there, you can determine if there’s a cause for concern (such as a negative change in mood or a tail injury) or if it’s just your pup’s normal behavior.
The exception to this is if you are petting a strange dog or one that is new to your home.
In many cases, it’s still likely normal behavior for the dog, but because you are only just getting to know this new dog, it’s better to be safe than sorry and keep your distance until you are sure the dog is friendly and happy to receive petting.
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. By doing this, we can deepen our bond with our dogs and allow them to feel more comfortable.