Why Dogs Have Tails

By Karen A. Soukiasian

A dog's tail tells you about their lineage, their moods and their social status. They come in all shapes and sizes. They serve general and breed specific needs. Shapes of tails include:

  • Whip -Whippets and Greyhounds
  • Plume -Tervuren and Borzoi
  • Gay -Beagles, German Shorthaired Pointers and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Saber -German Shepherds
  • Tapering -Dachshunds and Border Terriers
  • Otter- Labrador, Flat Coated and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
  • Tufted -Poodles
  • Sword -Great Danes, Pointers and American Staffordshires
  • Curled -Pugs, Chow-Chows and Akitas
  • Snap -Pomeranians and Alaskan Malamutes
  • Brush- Spitz and Siberian Huskies
  • Bob - Cardigan Welsh Corgis and some Australian Shepherds
  • Carrot - West Highland White Terriers

Some like the Airedale Retriever and most Terriers wear their tails higher on the topline of their body. Others like the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog and Bernese Mountain Dog have a low set tail, that begins beneath the topline of their body. The West Highland White Terrier's carrot shaped tail, served as a sturdy "handle" so farmers could pull them out of vermin holes.

Most of us believe the only reason our dog has a tail is to whack them or knock precious chotskies off end tables. Well, they may have a point. But, there are more logical and practical reasons why dogs have tails. They include:

  • Communication
  • Balance and Steering
  • Warmth
  • Pest Repellent


Primarily, dogs use their tails to communicate their moods and their social status.

Most people believe if a dog's tail is wagging, they are happy. The way a dog wags its tail, and the position it is in, speaks volumes about the dog's mood and perceived social status. Never assume just because they are wagging their tail, they are glad to see you. It could be a warning.

Recent studies are producing more information about why dogs wag their tails more to the left or right.

  • Right wags - Is a positive response. Dog appears more relaxed, confident, happy and curious.
  • Left wags - Is a negative response. Dog appears more fearful, anxious and less confident.

Most hunting breeds have a white tip at the end of their tail, like a white flag. They also are higher up on their body, making it easier for the hunters to follow them.

Balance and Steering

Dogs being predators, had to hunt down their next meal. That meant having to change directions while on the run. Their tails are used for counter-balance, so they wouldn't flip over while chasing. When making a right turn, the tail leans to the left and vice-verse.

Water dogs, such as Labrador and Flat Coated Retrievers in particular, have what is called "otter tails." The shape of their tails helps to propel and steer them like a boat rudder, when swimming.


Dogs originating in colder climates often have thick, brush, plume and/or snap tails similar to their common ancestor, the wolf. Dogs from colder climates will curl up into a tight C- position and wrap their tails over their nose when sleeping, to help retain body heat.

Pest Repellent

Tails come in handy to shoo away flies, mosquitoes and other pests, just as they do with horses and cows.

Why Some Breeds Don't Have Tails

Over the centuries several breeds and their tails have parted ways. Usually hunting, herding and fighting dogs had their tails docked for cleanliness and protection. Chasing prey or protecting herds and flocks usually meant running through brambles and thick brush. Tails only got in the way, or seriously matted, causing pain to the animal.

Fighting breeds had their ears cropped and tails docked, so as not to give their competitors anything to grab.

During the Middle Ages it became common to dock the tails of most working dogs to avoid being taxed. A dog with a tail was considered a luxury only the wealthy could afford.

In the past hundred years, we have chosen to crop ears and dock the tails of dogs to set standards in breed conformations. Basically, it was done for no other reason than appearance. The thinking is changing. In many European countries, it is now illegal to crop ears or dock a puppy's tail. For the sake of their pets, Americans should follow suite.

It is interesting to note, how nature has stepped in. Today, there are Australian Shepherds that are born without tails. All they have for a "tail" is a flap of fatty tissue.

Bottom line: To prevent injury to yourself or your dog, learn how to read a dog's tail.

Karen A. Soukiasian
Article by Karen A. Soukiasian
Karen A. Soukiasian, GOOD DOG! - DOG TRAINING and BED-n-BISCUITS dog boarding and training - Owner/Trainer, St. Augustine, Florida - AKC CANINE GOOD CITIZEN and S.T.A.R. PUPPY Evaluator. Visit my website at: www.freewebs.com/gooddogsite and www.bednbiscuits.webs.com.

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