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Do Wolves Wag Their Tails & Why?

Yes, wolves wag their tails. Most canines do, but it is most common among domesticated animals. This is most often done as a greeting behavior or show of excitement.

A wolf’s tail can be used to communicate information or as greetings with other wolves. 

All Wolfpack Ranks (Wolf Facts) x
All Wolfpack Ranks (Wolf Facts)

Wolves combine this tail wagging with lip-licking to show affection. 

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into why wolves wag their tail, and how they use this behavior to communicate.

Do Wolves Wags Their Tails?

The short answer is yes, wolves do indeed wag their tails. Most dog owners are familiar with the gesture, but it’s not exclusive to domesticated animals.

While wolves don’t wag their tails as much as dogs, they have been observed to do so in a variety of circumstances.

This behavior is more commonly seen in a submissive manner from a subordinate to a dominant member of the pack. This is most often done after separation during reunions.

Wolf packs have a specific hierarchy, where wolves have different social statuses. The alpha wolf is on top, being the most dominant of them all. [1]

Under the alpha wolf, you’ll find the beta wolves, then the mid-ranking wolves, and at the bottom, you’ll find the omega wolves.

As this gesture is mainly done by submissive wolves towards the dominant wolf, the alpha wolf will rarely wag their tail.

wolf pack with alpha howling

When Do Wolves Wag Their Tails?

Where domesticated dogs wag their tails to show excitement, wolves primarily use tail-wagging as a greeting gesture.

Wolves do this combined gesture with lip-licking to greet each other, as well as to show affection towards their mate or the dominant member of the pack. 

It is common for young pups to do this toward their mother, as they are closely attached to their mother during this stage of their life.

While wolves live and hunt in packs, it’s not uncommon for them to split up into separate hunting packs. 

An example of this would be if a mating pair has produced offspring, where many of the female wolves will stay home from hunting to take care of the pups.

When the male wolves return, the female wolves will approach them with wagging tails to show the excitement of their return, submission, and affection.

pack of wolves in the forest

Used as a Greeting Along With Lip-Licking

As mentioned, tail-wagging is often combined with lip-licking behavior. This is when a wolf will approach another, essentially licking their lips.

Lip-licking is an act of submission, as well as affection.

As mentioned previously, this greeting behavior is done by the submissive wolf to the dominant wolf. It’s also seen frequently in mating pairs. When the male returns from hunting, his female counterpart will greet him with tail-wagging and lip-licking.

To Show Excitement

Dogs use tail-wagging to show happiness, excitement, and affection toward their owner. Wolves sometimes wag their tails for similar reasons.

When wolves are excited, they may jump around while making high-pitched noises, as well as wagging their tails.

wolves playing with their owner

A Sign of Submission & Respect

Wolves do not wag their tails for fun. Tail-wagging is a sign of submission and respect. It’s a type of non-verbal communication between wolves in order to avoid aggression if two adult wolves meet each other. 

Hence, tail-wagging is primarily done by lower-ranking wolves (mid-ranking and omega) in the pack toward the higher-ranking wolves (alpha and beta).

Related: How do wolves show submission?

Where Does Tail-Wagging Come From?

While tail-wagging does come from wolves, the act has a different meaning from species to species.

Wolves use their tail, ears, and vocalization to communicate with members of their pack, yet the behavior is still seen in dogs.

Tail-wagging is actually seen more in dogs, which begs the question: what has caused this?

Extreme tail-wagging, as seen in dogs, is mostly seen in wolves that have formed bonds with human caretakers. Tail-wagging is believed to be a “side effect” of domestication.

An ongoing Russian experiment on the domestication of foxes shows how tail-wagging is developed during domestication. While wild foxes don’t wag their tails, the domesticated foxes in this experiment quickly began doing so. [2]

Tail-wagging is also believed to be used in aggressive encounters. [3]

The position of the tail, as well as the posture, has a great impact on the message dogs or wolves are trying to send. If the tail is somewhat horizontal, and the wagging is fast, it’s most likely a sign of friendliness, excitement, or otherwise submission.

If the position of the tail is high, and the tail-wagging is slow, it’s most likely a sign of aggression.

All-in-all, dogs have inherited tail-wagging from their ancestor, the wolf. The way it’s used has merely changed, as most dogs mainly communicate with humans, their owners.

domesticated dog

Combined With Lip-Licking

Even wolves do not just wag their tails, but they also do so with a combined greeting of tail-wagging and lip-licking. 

Two wolves will approach one another in an upright position while standing on four legs at all times.

This gesture is done to show affection towards pack members, giving a sign of inclusion. Wolves in captivity also do this toward their caretaker, much like dogs lick the face of their owner.

Difference Between Dogs & Wolves

Wolves do a combined greeting of tail-wagging and lip-licking as a sign of submission and affection when meeting each other after being apart. Dogs use their tail differently.

Dogs use their tails to express emotions such as happiness, fear, aggression, insecurity, and frustration. 

The message of tail-wagging depends very much on other factors as well. Things such as posture and tail positioning have a lot to say about what dogs, and wolves, are trying to communicate.

If you’re trying to decipher the meaning behind tail-wagging, make sure to take posture and position into account as well.

pack of wolves in the winter season

Conclusion

Wolves do indeed wag their tails. They use their tail as a means of communication amongst pack members. Tail-wagging is specifically used as a greeting behavior. This is most often seen when wolves reunite after being apart.

This is mainly done by submissive or subordinate wolves toward the dominant pack members.

Wolves often split off on hunting trips. Sometimes, the female wovles stay back to take care of the pups, while the male wolves go off hunting. When the males return, the females may wag their tails.

About Dennis Stapleton

Dennis Stapleton has a passion for animals, especially dogs, and their relatives. He’s intrigued by their social structure and loves to write and teach about the world's most popular pet animal.