Breeds, fostering, puppies, puppy bowl

Which Way Does Your Tail Wag? (plus DNA results!)

There are a lot of wagging tails in this household, and Otis has just upped the ante.

He has a big, loose, 180-degree+, constant wag. His tail can make circles or figure eights. I’m fascinated by its repetoire.

Mia’s tail is also constant, and mostly back and forth, with her hips going just as fast.

Fanny’s tail is hesitant before becoming a windshield wiper, but it will freeze at the slightest alarm. Gracie’s is slow, strong, upright, over-her-back motion. What does it all mean?

I decided to do a cursory search on the internet for articles about tail-wagging to see if I could figure out why one wags differently than another.

The first article I read was from VCA Animal Hospital and had several explanations for the motion I see most from Otis and Mia:

  1. Friendliness. A dog that is very friendly may wag his tail more freely and even wiggle his hips at the same time.
  2. Excitement. The faster the wag, the more excited the dog. A tail wag may range from very slow to extremely rapid (known as flagging). Sometimes the dog’s tail wags so fast that it appears to vibrate.

Here is something fascinating I found on The Spruce Pets site:

Researchers found that dogs had different emotional responses depending on whether another dog’s tail was wagging to the left or right. Dogs observing another dog wag to the right seemed to become relaxed. Dogs watching another dog with a left tail wag exhibited signs of nervousness, stress, or anxiety.

I discovered that Otis’ circle tail wag is a ‘helicopter tail’ and usually indicates a very happy and friendly dog. He is definitely both of those things.

Both Mia and Otis are very friendly, but only Mia has that super-fast wag that looks like a blur and does appear to vibrate, which makes sense as she is one excitable pup.

I have to confess that Otis’ laid back personality is one quality that drew me to him. While I absolutely enjoy an excitable dog and have fostered more than my share of them, my life is about to get pretty transient and we have two dogs who are not simple, so a dog who can go-with-the flow will likely be happier (and easier) in our lives in the next few years.

Mia’s high happy energy is fun, but it can also make Gracie bark more and Fanny stress more. Everyone asks why we don’t adopt Mia, whom we clearly love, and this is why. She is just about the coolest dog I could wish for, but with the current make up in our house (grumpy dog and extremely shy, anxious dog), a high energy dog does not help the chemistry. A friendly, easy-going puppy has definitely helped, though. (and Otis loves Mia too!)

One of Otis’ siblings’ adopters had a DNA analysis from Embark done on their pup. The percentages of each breed will vary some between siblings, but here are the breeds found in Otis’ brother’s genes:

The best part of this was discovering that there is likely a bit of Husky in Otis. My son Ian loves Husky’s. He begs us to foster them (we have fostered one to date, and Siobhan WAS amazing). He always tells me he’s certain that our Gracie has some Husky in her.

Photo by Nancy Slattery

When I saw the DNA analysis for Otis’ brother, I immediately texted it to Ian and said, “See? I got you a Husky!”

He was doubtful and disappointed in Otis’ representation of the breed. Every time I tease him about it, he scoops up Otis and looks him in the eye, perhaps checking to see if there really is a Husky in there.

Otis’ potential Husky-ness, inspired Ian to purchase a DNA analysis kit of his own (from Wisdom Panel) to test Gracie so that he can prove his point. We are all holding our collective breath, although I’m a bit doubtful that he’ll be able to get a mouth swab from our most uncooperative dog.

Of course, now I’m weighing whether to have a DNA analysis of Fanny Wiggles. I hadn’t planned to because I truly believe that breed doesn’t matter, whatever she is, I love her beyond reason. My best guess is pit bull and Viszla, but who knows what lurks beneath that beautiful exterior.

It would be fun to know, but I’m not sure that a DNA analysis would be worth the expense. I often wrestle with why it matters so much to us. Too often breed can be the deciding factor between a life of luxury and death in a shelter.

On Sunday we took Otis and Fanny over to Edith Wharton’s house to watch the puppy bowl. There was probably more puppy bowl activity going on off the screen than on it.

Otis tried to get in on the action, but Fanny and Edith scrambled right over him most of the time, so he spent a fair amount of time smooching his hosts and raiding the food table.

All of the participants in the Puppy Bowl get their DNA analysis done and more than once the results were quite a surprise. It was also fun to see so many OPH puppies in the puppy bowl. Three of them even scored, although my favorite part was when Milky Way wouldn’t give up the ‘ball’ and her competitor had to drag her across the turf. Someday I hope I’ll have a pup in the Puppy Bowl. The closest I’ve come was two years ago, when my Frankie was on the pregame show.

Mama Mia Update:

Mia continues to wait. I still find it incredibly hard to believe this girl hasn’t been adopted. She is just the best pup—loves EVERYONE she meets, is crazy-smart, and embraces life with a contagious joy. Beyond that, she’d make a first-rate running buddy and an equally great couch-snuggler. Throw in the fact that she’s crate-trained, house-broken, and knows basic obedience, and I’m simply stunned that we’ve had her nearly a year.

Yes, she is excitable and yes, she does have a wild-walrus yell when she sees new dogs, but as those are her worst traits, she should have found her forever home months and months ago. My heart breaks a bit for her—I know she thinks she’s our dog and she can’t be. She deserves her own people, her own home. It’ll happen, I know, it’s just hard to wait. Hard for all of us.

Thanks for reading!


For information on me, my writing, and books, visit where you can also find more information on my book, One Hundred Dogs and Counting: One  Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues, (Pegasus Books, July 2020) and my latest novel, Blind Turn (Black Rose Writing, Jan 2021)

If you’d like regular updates of all my foster dogs past and present, plus occasional dog care/training tips from OPH training, be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.

And if you’d like to know where all these dogs come from and how you can help solve the crisis of too many unwanted dogs in our shelters, visit where you can follow the blog that shares stories or find the link to our podcast!

Our family fosters through the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes, a network of foster homes in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and south-central PA.

If you can’t get enough foster dog stories, check out my book: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs. It’s available anywhere books are sold.

I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at

Many of the pictures on my blog are taken by photographer Nancy Slattery. If you’d like to connect with Nancy to take gorgeous pictures of your pup (or your family), contact:

11 thoughts on “Which Way Does Your Tail Wag? (plus DNA results!)”

  1. I have DNA tested all 4 of my rescues through Embark (the most accurate test currently on the market). The first 2 I did out of curiosity about their breeds (results made complete sense!) and after receiving the health results I decided to make the test part of my future dogs’ veterinary care. One of my dogs came back as having a gene that can cause seizures, coma or even death if she has certain medications and having that info may have saved her life (and saved a lot of money if we’re weighing the costs of investing in an Embark test, but her life and health are the important things). My other dog came back as having low ALT levels and being just a carrier for some eye issues, but that prompted me to take her in to an ophthalmologist as I had noticed she struggled in bright sunlight and in darkness, I found out she was missing her tapetums and light bounced slowly off her retinas. My other 2 dogs that I adopted later came back clear on their genetic health testing, which gives me peace of mind. Cost wise, it also rules out a lot of genetic health issues that would cost hundreds to test for separately if diagnostics needed to be ran. Knowing the breed is also always fun, but the genetic health testing through Embark is invaluable and definitely how I justify the cost of the tests! They often have sales as well, so don’t buy at full price!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s such helpful information – thanks! I am leaning towards Embark, should I go forward with it. Otis’ brother’s report looked pretty good healthwise (although to be honest I didn’t understand a lot of it!).


      1. That’s great that his brother’s looked good! I don’t know much about sibling genetics but if his brother’s health report looked good and their inbreeding coefficient was low, I’d say he has a good chance of being clear of the genetic health issues they test for and personally, I would prioritize testing your other two dogs first. The Embark DNA Discussion Group on Facebook is a fantastic resource and it’s fun to see the different mixes!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m agog that Mia hasn’t even had any interest. She has high energy, but probably no more than a number of other breeds (huskies, hunting retrievers, etc), and she’s dog friendly and people friendly. Seems like she would be a good match for a family with a similar energy dog (so they can wear each other out!) Mia seems to have such a open personality that I could believe she thinks she’s a part of your family, but when her family comes along, she will transition well to them (I love my Cara family! I love my now family! I love everybody! Everybody loves me!)
    So funny, I would have bet Otis has some hound; his nose just looks kind of houndy. Let’s hope Gracie has some Husky to soothe Ian’s soul!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am also agog that Mia is still here. Not everyone (or all dogs) can handle her level of energy it seems. But if we have to be stuck with one for so long, she’s a good one. Still, I remember that Flannery and Gala were with us even longer and they found their homes. You’re right, though, when it happens she will embrace it in true Mia fashion – all in.


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