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What is the Purpose of a Dog's Tail?

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

The tail is an extension of a dogs spine. It is the hind most part of the backbone. However, not all dogs have a tail. Some dogs are born with short tails, others have their tails docked shortly after birth. Dogs without tails and those with docked tails usually belong in the herding and working breed of dogs. In these breeds, a long tail is considered disadvantageous or a hazard, depending on the line of work.

What is the structure and function of the tail?

The dog tail usually has between six and 23 mobile vertebrae. These bones are surrounded by muscles and ligaments.

You can tell a lot about how a dog is feeling by their tails. Dogs use their tails to communicate. They express happiness, anger, fear, and stress by how they move their tail. You can tell what a dog is thinking by the position and movement of their tail.

What does tail movement and position mean?

When a dog wags his tail high and back and forth, he’s usually happy. When the tail is horizontal to the ground, he is usually interested in something. When a dog tucks their tails between their legs, they are afraid or submissive. A tail that is low and wagging means that the dog is insecure or worried.

In addition to emotions, the tail has a huge role in dominance. When a dog moves his tail, it acts like a fan and spreads his scent around him. One of a dogs most important scents comes from the anal glands. This smell is as unique among dogs as fingerprints are to us, hence the reason dogs smell each other’s butt when they first meet. Every time a dog wags his tail, the anus contracts, pressing on the glands and releasing the scent. A dominant dog that carries a high tail will release more of this scent than a dog who holds his tail lower. A frightened dog carries his tail low between his legs to keep others from sniffing him and thereby, does not draw attention to himself.

The tail also acts as a counterbalance when the dog is leaping, climbing, or walking along narrow structures. Fast dogs often have long and thin tails, making it easier for them to turn. Their tails may increase their agility and ability to run faster so that they can keep up with their pray. Dogs bred for swimming usually have thick, strong, flexible tails which helps them to move easily through water and make quicker turns.

Like human babies, dogs must learn their language, or means of communication. While dogs cannot speak, they can communicate to us through their tail wagging to help us understand how they are feeling!


Andie Ibarra, D.C., C.A.C.

Dallas Animal Chiropractic

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