Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
30 Fascinating Facts About Dog Tails You Probably Didn't Know
We are used to associating dog tails with wagging, but there is much more to them than that. Tails are actually used for a variety of functions, and not all tails are created equal. They also tell a lot about the traits and history of a breed and can indicate when something is wrong in a dog medically.
So, let's get to it—here are 30 fascinating facts you probably didn't know about dog tails!
1. Puppies Learn to Wag
Puppies aren't born wagging their tails. The tail wag is something that develops later on once a puppy is around 49 days old, explains Stanley Coren in the book How Dogs Think: Understanding the Canine Mind. This is because most of a puppy's life is spent nursing and sleeping prior to when they become social and aware of their surroundings.
2. Tails Share Information
The main purpose of tail wagging in social dogs is to spread personal information, courtesy of pheromones that are released by anal glands found under the tail. Those wide, sweeping motions of the tail help to spread personal information. It's sort of like giving out a business card.
3. Contraction Releases Pheromones
So what happens "under the hood" every time the tail is wagged? The muscles around the dog's rectum contract and press on the anal glands, which triggers the release of small, volatile molecules that are then detected by other dogs. The molecules provide info about a dog's age, sex, and reproductive status.
4. A Tucked Tail Is Intentional
A lower tail position decreases the amount of scent that is emitted from a dog's anal glands. Dogs with a tucked tail are, therefore, dogs who may wish to hold a low profile and "hide under the radar."
5. A Circle Wag Means "I Adore You"
Some dogs are capable of wagging their tail in a circular motion. This is known as a "circle wag." According to dog behavior expert Patricia McConnell, dogs use this type of tail wag with people they literally adore.
6. Cats and Dogs Do Different Things
Did you ever wonder why cats and dogs don't always get along? Perhaps it's a matter of miscommunication. For starters, their "tail talk" is quite different. Friendly dogs tend to wag their tail loosely back and forth at medium height. However, when a cat’s tail begins to wag back and forth, an unfriendly encounter or predatory attack is likely to occur, explains dog trainer Mikkel Becker.
7. Wag Right or Left
Did you know? The direction a dog moves its tail can provide some insight into his or her emotions. According to a study, stimuli that trigger a positive emotional association (e.g. a dog's owner) will make a dog move its tail to the right; negative emotional stimuli (e.g. an unfamiliar dog displaying aggressive behavior) will cause the tail to move to the left.
8. The Sickle Shape
The term "sickle" is used to depict a tool used for cutting blades of grass or grain. In dogs, a sickle tail is one that is of a semicircular shape. The Siberian Husky is an example of a dog breed sporting this type of tail. In this breed, the tail is carried over the back in a graceful curve when alert.
9. The Saber Shape
The term "saber," on the other hand, is used to depict a type of sword characterized by a curved blade. Dogs with a saber tail, therefore, carry their tail in a slight curve. An example of a dog sporting this type of tail is the German Shepherd. According to the American Kennel Club, when this breed is at rest, the tail hangs in a slight curve like a saber; when excited or in motion, the tail is raised and the curve is accentuated.
10. A Sign of Domestication
As a result of domestication, dog ears became floppy, coat colors started to lack pigmentation, coats turned wavy, and several breeds developed a circular or semicircular-shaped tail.
11. Cold Temps and Tails Do Not Mix
A condition known as acute caudal myopathy causes affected dogs to keep the tail low and tucked in between the legs. Also known as limber tail syndrome, this condition is more commonly seen in working dogs that are hunting and working in the fields when exposed to cold weather and water.
12. Inherited Tail Troubles
Dogs with corkscrew tails like Pugs, English Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers are predisposed to a condition called hemivertebrae. This is a genetically inherited bone malformation affecting the vertebrae of the dog's spine. According to a study, this spinal deformity is responsible for the characteristic kink in the corkscrew tail.
13. Stud Tail
Some dogs are equipped with a special gland on their tail that is known as the supra-caudal gland or "violet gland." These tail glands secrete substances that may be used for identification. At times, the dog's supra-caudal tail gland may get infected and cause a condition known as stud tail or tail gland hyperplasia. It's often seen in intact male dogs and may be testosterone-induced.
14. The Rat Tail and Hypothyroidism
A classical sign of hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels) in dogs is the so-called “rat tail." Dogs presenting with a rat tail typically show signs of hair loss at the last few inches of the tail.
15. "Happy Tail" Is Not so Happy
Certain dogs that are boarded in kennels for some time or are confined in small areas may be prone to developing what's known as "happy tail" syndrome. These dogs basically beat their tails repeatedly against hard objects when happy, which causes them to bleed. To protect dogs' tails from this type of injury, some kennels have started wrapping dog tails in special protective "tail guards."
16. Quite the Handle
A dachshund's long back was selectively bred so that the breed can easily enter burrows to hunt down ground-dwelling badgers. There's the belief that a dachshund's long, sturdy tail must have worked as a "handle" to pull these fellows out of the burrow as needed.
17. High Tail Carriage
Beagles are known to have a desireable high tail carriage. The standard for this dog breed even asks that the tail is "set moderately high; carried gaily, but not turned forward over the back." The white tip of the tail helps hunters to locate the Beagle when its nose is stuck to the ground during a hunt.
18. The Siberian Swirl
In cold weather, Siberian Huskies are known to do the "Siberian swirl." In order to stay warm, they sleep curled up and tuck their noses under their furry tails.
19. The All-Natural Bobtail
The Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog is often confused for an Australian Cattle Dog with a docked tail. In reality, this dog breed has a naturally bobbed tail. There is the belief that this breed was the first breed developed in Australia and came from the same ancestors used for the development of the Australian Cattle Dog.
20. The Otter Tail
Labrador Retrievers are known for having an "otter tail." According to the American Kennel Club, an otter tail is defined as a tail that is "thick at the root, round, and tapering, with the hair parted or divided at the underside." This thick, strong tail has an important function: it acts as a rudder when the dog is swimming and making sharp turns.
21. A Collection of Nerves and Muscles
A dog's tail is an extension of its spine. Here, specialized muscles and nerves play a role in the correct functioning of the dog's hind body as a whole.
22. Injuries and Indications
When the nerves that control urination and defecation are injured in a dog, the tail may become flaccid. A flaccid tail, therefore, often occurs in conjunction with loss of bladder and bowel control.
23. Legislation Around Docking
Tail docking is a procedure that involves cutting of the tail for either cosmetic or medical purposes. Docking for cosmetic purposes is outlawed in several countries. Due to such legislations, dogs born with natural bobtails are growing in popularity in traditionally docked breeds. The Bobtail Boxer is one popular dog breed that is naturally bobtailed.
24. Medical Risks With Docking
According to a study by Holt and Thrusfield, urinary incontinence mostly seems to affect certain breeds such as the old English Sheepdog, Rottweiler, Doberman, Weimaraner, and Irish Setter. It appears that commonly docked breeds are more likely to develop urinary incontinence than undocked dogs of the same breed.
25. Sloped Hair Follicles
According to the book The Pet Lover's Guide to Cat and Dog Skin Diseases, dog hair follicles grow at 30 to 60-degree angles to the skin. It is thought this sloping tends to help dogs shed water.
26. Funambulist Fun
Did you know? Tails help dogs to balance. Like a funambulist walking on a tightrope using a horizontal pole, tails help dogs to accelerate, brake, walk along narrow structures (think agility A-frames, catwalks, and teeter-totters), and turn at fast speeds.
27. A Tool for Flight
When dogs jump an obstacle as seen in the sport of agility, their tails will lower as they take off, flick upwards in mid-flight, and lower again as they touch the ground.
28. For Social Purposes, Only
Since tail wagging is a strong social signal, a dog will only wag in the presence of other living beings. "When the dog is alone, it will not give its typical tail wags, in the same way people do not talk to walls," explains Stanley Coren.
29. A Difference in Carriage
All dogs breeds have a different tail carriage. Many Beagles and terriers sport tails in nearly vertical positions; whereas, Greyhounds and Whippets have a naturally low tail carriage.
30. A Wagging Contest?
Fun fact: The city of Solana Beach, California, holds a yearly dog-tail-wagging contest.
Little Dog Gets Whacked by a Wagging Tail
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 25, 2020:
Irish setters have beautiful tails, makes you wonder who would dock them! Possible, there were some concerns about tails getting injured in the past. Docked Irish setters are hard to come by nowadays though, so most likely this practice has been weeded out.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 13, 2020:
My husband's and my first dog after we were married was an Irish Setter. They are so beautiful, and in reading your number 24, I cannot believe that anyone would dock their tails. I do not see many Irish Setters these days as compared to the past. Whenever we do see one, it makes us think of our Kelly.
Your article about dog tails is so informative. You are the dog expert here on HubPages!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 03, 2019:
Thanks Heidi, those dog tails are surely fascinating! We are fostering puppies at the moment and they are at the stage of chasing and playing with their tails. So funny to watch.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on August 03, 2019:
Truly fun facts! Our cattle dog mix's big tail is one of her distinguishing features. And she always walks with it held high when we're walking. Super confident girl!
I've also noticed that when my two dogs are standing next to each other, their tail wagging is in sync. Hmm.
Fun and informative, as always! Happy Weekend!