When dogs wag their tails, it usually means they’re happy or excited. I noticed my pig, Hamilton, wagging his the other day, and it made me wonder if he also used this method to express delight or whether something very different was going on.
So, in this pig-raising guide, we’re going to talk more about why pigs their tails. We’ll also discuss how to figure out if your pig is happy – or not!
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- Why Do Pigs Wag Their Tails?
- Pig Tail Wagging and Pig Happiness FAQs
Why Do Pigs Wag Their Tails?
It’s easy to observe pigs wagging their tails when eating, making many people assume that a wagging pig’s tail indicates happiness or contentment the same way it does in a dog. I used to think that when pigs wagged their tail – it always meant they were happy – and excited! (We all get excited when it’s time for dinner!)
But, it turns out that some research says the reason why pigs wag their tails is more complicated than most of us think.
The research still isn’t 100% conclusive whether or not we realize the full extent of why pigs wag their tail – and all of the complex behavioral science underneath everything!
For example – I read an excellent study from Wageningen University in the Netherlands. The study analyzes tail posture as a possible emotional state indicator. The study found a correlation between negative social behavior and tail wagging.
We also found one fascinating pig study that says pigs wag their tails when experiencing physical pain.
(We reveal more details of the study later in this article.)
What a Pig’s Tail Says About Its Emotional State
A pig’s tail posture and motion communicate social information about the pig’s experiences and emotions.
Like other animals, pigs use their tails to swat away irritating pests. They also use them to communicate effectively.
After studying 96 different pigs, Jordy Groffen concluded that pigs usually stand with their tails curled or hanging between their legs. The posture of the pig’s tail largely depends on the pig’s activity levels.
A pig at rest will generally have its tail hanging in a relaxed position, whereas an active pig will keep theirs in more of an upward curl.
Also – pigs tend to curl their tails while eating or drinking. (Are curled tails related to a happy emotional state in pigs? Perhaps.)
However, pigs being pushed around or bitten by others engaged in intensive tail wagging.
The tail-wagging suggests that pigs wag their tails during negative social behavior or manipulation rather than happiness.
Some evidence suggests that pigs in food-frustrated situations wag their tails more, as do those who have recently undergone a surgical procedure.
Other studies indicate that tail wagging in a pig may reflect pain or discomfort. Piglets with tail damage or skin irritation were seen intensely wagging their tails more frequently than others.
Here’s an eye-opening analysis of pain management for pigs. The best sources we could find say that piglets may wag their tail excessively when responding to great pain – like tail docking and castration. (YIKES!)
(The piglets also trembled, huddled, scratched their rumps, and went stiff when exposed to pain.)
Researchers have also found that pigs curl their tails when happy or content rather than wag them.
Your pigs will love these delicious berry and cream treats! Perfect if you want to reward your training pigs - or if you want to keep them happy and content.
Tail Biting – and Tail Docking
A piglet that has its tail permanently tucked between its back legs, on the other hand, could be the victim of tail biting.
Tail biting is an abnormal behavior that often occurs in pigs housed in suboptimal conditions. To alleviate stress boredom, these pigs will bite and chew on the tails of others, causing significant pain and injury.
Piglets exposed to this type of behavior often tuck their tails under, and this posture has become synonymous with an outbreak of tail biting.
(You can help prevent tail biting by giving your pigs plenty of space, water, entertainment, treats, and food!)
I’ve heard of pig farmers docking their pig’s tails to prevent this behavior. Docking the pigs left the pigs with stumps that no longer curl or communicate the same range of emotions.
Should all pigs have their tails docked? That question is controversial among some farmers – many now believe the poor effects on the pig later in life. Tail docking also has other unfavorable side effects!
Tail docking makes it more difficult for the owner to use tail postures and motions to establish the physiological well-being of their animals.
(Some farmers also think it’s inhumane! But – opinions vary on this topic.)
Read More – 6 Ways Pigs Are Exactly Like Your Dog!
How Do Pigs Communicate Happiness?
If a wagging tail is associated with a negative emotional state, such as frustration or restlessness, how can you tell if a pig is happy?
Pigs use various vocalizations to communicate their emotions. Their voices and tones are often more reliable than watching their tails.
Hamilton’s favorite thing in life (after food) is a belly rub! If you start scratching him behind the ears, he’ll soon slump to the ground and roll over, panting and uttering quiet, satisfied grunts as he does so.
Before he flops to the ground, you can see his previously curly tail start to relax and unfurl until it’s hanging loosely behind his hind legs. His body will also begin to relax, and his eyes soften or even close.
He usually opens his mouth in what appears to be something akin to a decidedly slobbery smile and increases his panting until it almost sounds like laughter.
Not every panting pig is giggling, however, and on a hot summer’s day, a panting pig is probably hot rather than joyful!
Similarly, pigs produce many different grunts and vocalizations that, together with their body language, give you a good idea of how they’re feeling.
According to another pig study I read from the University of London, pigs use sound to convey their emotional, motivational and physiological state.
They may squeal in excitement, or fear, whereas grunting seems to be more associated with foraging and letting their pack know where they are.
A pig’s tail behavior can give us a basic overview of how a pig’s feeling. But vocalizations provide a more detailed impression of individual personalities, social behavior, and group dynamics.
(Pigs are also extraordinarily intelligent! Sometimes, I’m surprised my pig doesn’t start talking to me!)
Pigs are intellectually curious creatures! This pig activity mat will keep them busy for hours. Tuck a few of their favorite treats into the fold for endless entertainment.
Pig Tail Wagging and Pig Happiness FAQs
We have a ton of experience dealing and interacting with pigs of all ages – and sizes.
We also realize that interacting with your farm creatures, especially pigs, is tricky!
They’re such intricate, beautiful, and expressive animals.
That’s why we compiled these pig and tail-wagging FAQs below.
We hope they help you!
How Do Pigs Show Affection?
Pigs will grunt and nudge you with their snouts when feeling affectionate. Depending on the size of your pig, this can be disconcerting. Our old boar Humphrey weighed nearly 400kg and stood as high as my hip. A gentle nudge from him would instantly see me deposited on the ground. Nevertheless, if he was grunting gently, I knew he was content enough to lie down for a belly rub once I’d recovered.
How Do You Know if a Pig’s Happy?
Hamilton often gallops down the field when he sees my husband at the gate. I’m pretty sure he’s happy when he does that. With his ears flopping around and what appears to be a big smile on his face! He certainly looks pretty upbeat. As he gets closer, he’ll start grunting quietly and nudge my husband’s legs with his snout.
By comparison, if he becomes distressed or unhappy because one of the dogs is in his space, Hamilton will dash off for a few meters before stopping and spinning around. He also makes barking noises and squeals if a dog gets too close. This kind of behavior indicates fear and stress.
We don’t rely on a wagging tail to gauge Hamilton’s level of contentment, as the only time he does that is when he’s eating or when flies are irritating his hindquarters.
Why Do Pigs Nudge You?
In most instances, a nudge from a pig is a sign of affection. If you’ve ever watched a pig feed, you’ll know this is a natural behavior for them. Pigs use their snouts to move soil so that they can access the tasty roots and insects underground. They also nudge one another to establish dominance.
If a pig pushes you, don’t move away, as this indicates that you’re backing down. Instead, respond positively and acknowledge the pig’s desire to communicate by giving a stroke or scratch.
What Do Pigs Do With Their Tails?
Pigs usually have their tails curled upwards or loosely hanging between the back legs. A curled tail is associated with activity, while a hanging pig’s tail usually means the pigs are at rest.
A pig that’s wagging its tail is more likely to be frustrated or distressed than happy, even though they often wag while eating.
A pig’s tail posture and motion communicate information about the animal’s emotional and physiological well-being.
But a pig doesn’t use its tail the same way as a dog.
A pig that’s wagging its tail may be in a state of high arousal, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s happy – or comfortable!
On the contrary, a pig whose tail is hanging limp likely feels more cheerful about life than one who’s wagging.
Rather than relying on a pig’s tail to keep you up-to-date with his state of mind, pay attention to the vocalizations your pig makes and watch his body language.
A relaxed pig who’s grunting gently and nudging you is most probably expressing affection.
If he starts panting, there’s a good chance he’s giggling with delight, even if his tail isn’t wagging.