When girlfriend think the dogs’ tails, you probably think one thing: wags. The wagging tail is among the most renowned forms of non-verbal communication in the animal kingdom.

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But tails are so much an ext than wags. And wags mean an ext than you can expect. 

While a tail looks prefer a pretty straightforward appendage, there’s endless selection in shape, length, cloak covering, and of course, usage. A dog’s tail is a an essential indicator of your mood. Together humans, we tend to rely on facial expressions and tone of voice, but while you can tell specific things native a dog’s face expression (who no love a dog who smiles?), the tail is really where you can understand more about a dog’s state of mental at any given moment.

The tail can also assist a dog preserve his balance and also move around swiftly and also quickly.

When it comes to your duty as a dog owner, top top the tail prior you’ve obtained two jobs: protecting it from injury, and learning what that saying around your dog’s feelings (as we’ll check out below, it’s no as an easy as “if that moving, lock happy”).

Let’s head south and take a long look in ~ tails—what they are made of, how they can help a dog function, and what pet owners need to know about reading, and taking care of them.

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What’s a dog’s tail do of?

While their fluid movements deserve to make it appear as if a dog’s tail is made of cartilage or just muscle, the tail is consisted of of a variety of small bones. Canine tails room the last segment of the spine and also are made up of as many as 23 vertebrae that get progressively smaller sized from base to tip. The tail additionally includes muscles that enclose the bones, and also tendons and nerves. Acting together they facilitate a wide variety of tail movement.

What function does a dog’s tail serve?

Most animals that have four legs also have tails—that includes mammals, and reptiles. For countless of them, the tail dram a significant role in balance, and in part cases, propulsion (think: crocodile). Due to the fact that humans go on 2 legs, we don’t require a tail to assist us move or balance.

A dog’s tail has three main purposes: to assist the dog balance, move, and communicate.

Especially if a dog is moving quickly, transforming direction, or climbing, the tail can assist steer and guide the dog as a counterbalance, ultimately avoiding them native falling, tripping, or overcompensating in the opposite direction. When swimming, a dog largely uses your paws to paddle, but if you take it a look at at your backside, their tail can be hard at work, too, acting as a rudder to assist them move and turn.

What space the various shapes the dog tails?

How a dog’s tail works can likewise depend top top its shape. Simply as over there are countless different each other of dogs – according to the AKC, 195 registered together of September 2020 – there room different varieties of tails, too. Part dogs have short tails, some have actually long tails, some have curly tails, and also some even have no tail in ~ all, even if it is by breeding, or because of the exercise of docking. 

No tails / bobbed tails

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Most dogs the are considered tail-less actually have tiny, stumpy tails, usually referred to as bobbed tails. This breeds include the Brittany spaniel, Braque du Bourbonnais, Pembroke Welsh corgi, Australian stumpy tail livestock dog, Boston terrier, English bulldog, and French bulldog.

There space also certain breeds that are connected with bobbed tails due to the fact that they’ve traditionally had actually their tails docked, or cut off. If this practice was traditionally justified because that the health and safety of some kinds of functioning dogs (for example, a livestock or herding dog might be docked to avoid gaining their tail stepped on), the largely end up being a cosmetics procedure, and also one that the American Veterinary clinical Association (AVMA) opposes. 

Ringed/curly/sickle or corkscrew tail

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A ringed or curly tail, as the name implies, often tends to curl end the dog’s back in a spiral or curlicue. Dogs the usually have ringed tails incorporate Samoyeds, akitas, chow chows, and also shiba inus. A sickled tail is a type of curly tail, however it often tends to be a less characterized curl. Some breeds known for having actually sickled tails incorporate Siberian huskies, and other breeds the are linked with cold climates (in cold weather, this dogs deserve to curl up through their hefty tails wrapped roughly them, or also covering their noses). In corkscrew tails, the ring is prolonged into a spiral shape. This type of tail is resulted in by a vertebrae deformity, so unlike sickled or ringed tails i m sorry dogs can straighten according to their mood, corkscrew tails remain in one curled position. Pugs and bulldogs often tend to have actually corkscrew tails.

Otter tail

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An otter tail is a thick, rounded tail that tapers towards the end, and also in its organic state tends to be pointed down. This is a good tail for water dogs due to the fact that it’s an especially effective as a rudder when swimming. Dog breeds through thicker coats and also a water-loving personality usually have this kind of tail—think Labrador retrievers, Chesapeake only retrievers, and, naturally, otterhounds. 

Whip tail

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True come its name, the whip tail often tends to look favor a whip—long, thin, and also mainly straight—and that most usual on short-haired or hairless dogs. These tails have tendency to be lengthy relative come the size of the body. Most dog each other that have actually whip tails are searching dogs, or dogs well-known for your speed, like greyhounds, whippets, and also wolfhounds. This form of tail is especially efficient as a counterbalance so may assist with stability, agility and quick turns. 

What do various tail wags mean?

Though there are countless different shapes and sizes that tails, v some breed exceptions, most tail habits mean the exact same thing no issue the tail type. That’s the other, and perhaps most important use because that tails: communication or expression.

A wagging tail appears to it is in the universal sign of a happy dog. But simply seeing a tail in movement isn’t enough. Us can additionally learn around the dog’s mood and mindset native the place of the tail:

Is it sticking right up, is that horizontal, or tucked down?

How quick is the moving?

Which method is it moving?

What else is walking on with various other parts that the body? Is the dog quiet with just the tail moving?

When you take into account several of these factors, you have the right to see the a wagging tail might be a sign of a dog it is happy and also ready to play, or it can signal a dog who is curious, anxious, afraid, aggressive, or uncertain. Other indications like increased hackles, a crouching stance, a play bow, or pricked ears can help round the end what the tail motion is saying.

Paying attention to this cues can assist prevent or de-escalate conflict, and also ensure every social encounters, whether v dogs or people, are pleasant ones. Knowledge your dog’s body language—and responding appropriately to what your dog is trying come say—can also assist build a trusting relationship. 

Here, according to clinical research and behavior and training experts, are some usual meanings to different tail wags.

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Tail straight up: The general ascendancy is the greater the tail, the an ext assertive the dog. If a dog’s tail is increased straight up or arcs end the back, it’s regularly an aggressive stance. 

However, a higher tail is not constantly a sign that a dog is in an aggressive mode. A tail held higher can be a sign of alertness. Blake Rodriguez, trainer and also founder of Dream Come True K9, says he many associates a high tail v an aroused, alert, intense state the mind. “Tension is a word the often best explains this tail position, the says. “This have the right to be dominant, nervous, unsure, or complete of suspense, and also can uncover itself turning into aggression or play.” Again, look for several of the various other body language that’s accompanying the raised tail. If hackles space raised, ears are flattened, and also the dog is leaning forward virtually on tiptoes, those space all signs of a dog in an aggressive posture, so a elevated tail in this context have to be a loud and also clear signal the tension.

Hackles, it must be noted, space a specific kind the hair located along the earlier of a dog the are connected to muscles referred to as arrector pili. Increased hackles are recognized as “pilorection.” similar to just how you could get goosebumps, or some of your hairs might stand up when you are freaked out, this is one involuntary response from the sorry nervous mechanism in solution to stress. In various other words, her dog isn’t “trying” come look tough; their body is responding to something that’s got them aroused. And while raised hackles space thought to it is in an evolution trick that permits animals to show up bigger and more threatening, like raised tails, increased hackles don’t constantly mean a hit is about to break out. They can be connected with fear, fear, surprise, or excitement (just prefer your goosebumps).

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Tail position isn’t only a visual cue, that conveys a chemistry message, too. A raised tail place allows an ext scent come be released from the anal glands—in other words, a dog is assertively announcing your presence and claiming an area. 

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Tail horizontal: A tail it is being hosted straight earlier may average that your dog is top top alert. Specifically if it’s accompanied through pricked ears and a quiet posture, this position can mean that they’ve heard or watched something that’s acquired them curious or concerned. Again, it’s beneficial to look for accompanying body language. Part dogs, favor Beagles, can tend to hold their tail more horizontally and it no necessarily suggest a involved posture. Watch for just how your dog holds their tail once they’re relaxed and use that place as a baseline. 

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Tail relaxed / hanging and a lower angle: This is generally the default place for a relaxed dog who’s simply living life (like the beach-loving dog above). 

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Tail under / tucked: as soon as the tail is in a lower than neutral position, it typically way a dog is showing submission. They room announcing they’re no a threat. If the tail is tucked between the legs, that a an ext pronounced blog post of insecurity or fear. They may also be crouched or cowering, licking their lips, or roll over. Note that these actions are the dog’s attempt to signal the they want to diffuse a threat. But if the hazard persists or they feel no other option, they might lash out. 

Again, native a chemical communication standpoint, a lower tail means less odor emitted native the anal glands, and also is the authorize of a dog that doesn’t desire his visibility known. Accompanying human body language may incorporate flattened ears, gaze avoidance, and lip licking. 

Slow, stiff wag: If you’re seeing a very slow wag, and the remainder of the body is very still, it have the right to mean that a dog is uncertain, anxious, or insecure, or have the right to be a warning authorize of potential aggression. As behaviorist and author Patricia McConnell writes, if a dog stand still, stiff-bodied and immobile other than for a tail wagging slowly earlier and forth, that a big red flag that states to stop every little thing you’re doing. “Tail wags that just involve the tail are frequently the canine tantamount of (human) smiles the only interact the mouth,” she says. They space NOT moral indicators of a happy dog, and also are often a sign of potential danger.”

If your dog is wagging their tail and they stop and also freeze, this deserve to be a sign that they will do rather prevent what is happening roughly them. Take it stock of those happening and potentially extricate your dog from the case if yes a chance that they may be uncomfortable or move to a more aggressive response. 

Full, wiggly wag / wagging in circles: This is the wag us all want to see. Here, the tail is moving loosely, most likely at a reduced position, and also it’s relocating broadly earlier and forth, or, even more delightfully, wagging in circles. This wagging motion sometimes entails the whole back end, resulting in the wiggling-wagging activity that signals a dog that is very happy to watch you. 

Lightning fast, short wags: This is a bit various than a basic vigorous wag. There space different meanings to a fast wag, yet if her dog’s is wagging their tail in super short, super rapid wags—this wag has actually been explained as practically vibrating— it can mean they are operated up and about to do…something. The something could be running away, or it might be fighting, for this reason this is a wag that indicates you have to either relocate away from a dog who’s directing it in ~ you, or interrupt a instance that’s causing your dog to execute it. 

Wagging to the left/right: In the last several years, researcher have shown that the direction the the wag yes, really matters. In a 2007 study, researchers discovered when dogs were presented with optimistic (or “approach”) stimuli, such together seeing their owner, lock wagged their tails to the appropriate side. When challenged with an unfavorable (or “withdraw”) stimuli, such together seeing a dominant, unfamiliar dog, they wagged to the left side. The same researchers found in a 2013 examine that dogs became anxious when they saw an additional dog wagging its tail to its left side. However when they saw a dog wagging the tail to its best side, they remained relaxed. These twin wags it seems to be ~ to suggest that, as in humans, the left and right hemispheres that a dog’s brain are responsible for different feelings and also actions. 

This research, which clearly shows just how much details a wagging tail provides, likewise demonstrates that docking a dog’s tail have the right to interfere v their capability to communicate.