Dog tails can be long or short, fluffy or nearly hairless, and curly or straight, but one thing is sure - they all wag their tails out of control when they get excited to see us come home. Read below to learn why dogs have tails and the different types of dog tails we see in each breed.
A dog's tail is an extension of its body, but also its feelings.
Historically, every type of tail served a purpose for working dogs, so we selectively bred our pup's bodies to suit the task at hand, whether hunting, swimming or herding.
Today, most of us don't need our dogs to work for us anymore, but their tails still serve to help our pups communicate with us through their body language.
We're breaking down the types of tails we see on most dog breeds and how our dogs use them to help navigate their world.
Why Do Dogs Need a Tail?
While these days, we rarely use our dogs to help us work, they still use their tails to assist them while performing more complicated tricks and movements.
When a dog makes a quick turn, his front body moves in a new direction while his back body stays in the same direction. Before their back body catches up to the rapid change, their tail turns in the new direction, too.
The tail counterbalances the dog's body weight to help the dog remain steady during these tricky, agile movements. This is useful to prevent the largest to the smallest dog breeds from tumbling all over the place.
A dog's feelings are written all over his face - and his tail! Our dogs can't speak to us, so they utilize their body language and use non-verbal cues to show their feelings.
They primarily use their tails when communicating with other dogs, as they both speak the same language and can easily pick up invitations or warnings by what another dog's tail is doing.
A dog will put its tail low between its legs when it's nervous or upset and wag its tail when excited and happy.
Dogs also wag their tails when they're making their presence known as a sign of domination, as it releases their scent, located in their anal glands.
The tail helps a dog to maintain balance when walking along narrow or challenging surfaces. As the dog tilts one way or another, the tail moves in the opposite direction to counterbalance the weight.
9 Types of Dog Tails
There are hundreds of dog breeds today and nine differently shaped tail possibilities they may have. Every dog will have one, but a mixed breed may have a tail that shows a blend of these features.1. Curled Tail
The curled dog tail shape is standard in Nordic and northern breeds to keep themselves warm.
It's relatively long, bushy, and curves upward, curling towards the back of the dog's head in the shape of a C. These handy tails easily curve around a pup's face to keep them warm while they sleep in frosty temperatures.
Common breeds with a curled tail are the American Eskimo, Akita, Siberian Husky, Shiba Inu, and, oddly enough, the Chihuahua.2. Snap Tail
A snap tail is almost identical to a curled tail but with a slight distinction. The curve of the snap tail is an even tighter roll than a curled tail.3. Sickle Tail
A sickle tail is closely related to the curled and snap tails. It curves up toward the head in much the same manner.
The sickle tail, however, is much more straight than the snap and curled versions. It carries over a dog's back loosely, and the tip of the tail doesn't snap to its back.4. Swimmer or Otter Tail
You can see these large, thick tails on swimming dogs, who use them as a rudder to move through the water effortlessly.
A swimmer's tail is medium to short in length, thick, relatively furry, and tapered at the tip. The fur usually parts naturally on the tail's underside to cut through the water with less friction.
Dogs with otter or swimmer tails are Labrador Retrievers, Otterhounds, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.5. Carrot or Whip Tail
We find the carrot tail to be a pretty funny name, but we must say, it's accurate.
This tail's shape looks like a carrot - wide at the base and narrow along the length, ending in a stubby tip.
The carrot tail was once handy, as farmers could grab their farm pups by the tail and pull them out of rabbit and gopher holes.
Common carrot tail breeds are West Highland Terriers, Manchester and Border Terriers, Dalmatians, and Dachshunds.6. Bobbed Tail
The bobbed tail is no tail at all - it contains a nub of fatty tissue but no bones or cartilage we see in every other dog tail.
These pups still manage to communicate quite well with others, considering the negligible size of the tail.
Breeds with this dog tail shape are Pembroke Welsh Corgis, Old English Sheepdogs, Australian Shepherds, Jack Russell Terriers, and Brittany Spaniels.7. Gay Tail
A gay tail sticks straight out from a dog's spine and is thick, slightly curved, and has the telltale, or tell-tail, white cap at the tip of the tail.
We named the gay tail after the mood it seems to convey - these tails are often flying high when a dog is excited, giving the impression that the pup is pleased!
Some of the breeds that own a gay tail are Beagles, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Wire Fox Terriers, and Border Collies.8. Docked Tail
A docked tail isn't a natural tail type at all; it's human-made. We traditionally clipped the tails short on certain dog breeds at a young age because owners preferred the look.
Luckily, today many see this practice as unnecessary and cruel, and many countries have banned tail cropping.9. Saber Tail
These long, low dog tails resemble the shape of a saber.
You can see a saber tail on the incredibly agile German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Collies, and the Cardigan Welsh Corgi.
Determining Mixed Breed Dogs By Their Tail
If you're trying to determine a mixed pup's breed, you can send a sample away for a DNA test.
You can also identify breeds by assessing their build, including muzzle shape, body type, and, you guessed it, their tail shape.
Many of these tails have distinctive qualities that can quickly narrow down the options to a few similar breeds.
Fun Facts About Your Dog's Tail
Here are a few more of the weird and unique facts about a dog's tail:
- When a dog is alone, it doesn't wag its tail, even when excited.
- Except for the bobbed tail, all tails have 5-23 spinal vertebrae, and soft cushion discs, just like the spine.
- Dogs that don't have tails use their ears to communicate their feelings.
- A pup usually chews his tail because of allergies that cause dermatitis or itchy skin.
- Puppies don't start wagging their tails until they're four weeks old and begin interacting with their littermates.
- Each side of a dog's brain controls the opposite side of the body. This means that when a dog is feeling happy, it wags its tail to the right; when it's feeling negative emotions like fear and anxiety, it will move to the left.
The Many Uses of Dog Tails
Dog tails fulfill both functional needs for their body movements and provide dogs with a means to connect and communicate with other dogs and us.
The next time you take a look at your dog, take note of its tail.
Imagine how their ancestors used those tails for swimming, hunting, searching out rodent holes, and keeping themselves warm in the icy Arctic climates.
Watch your pup use its tail to keep balanced while it runs and eagerly tell us how they feel. Dogs genuinely wear their hearts on their sleeve - or in this case, their tails!