Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Purpose of a Dog’s Tail

By Langley Cornwell

We all know what a dog’s tail looks like. We know the tail starts at the end of a dog’s vertebral column and extends beyond his body. We know a dog wags his tail when he’s happy. Other than that, we’ve probably never thought much about it.

There are some types of dogs that are born without a prolonged tail, and there are dogs whose tails have been altered. Some herding and working dog breeds have their tails docked short when they are young; a long tail can be a disadvantage to a working dog because it can interfere with his specific responsibilities and duties. But we’re talking here about the tails of dogs that are long and unaltered, and the many purposes these tails serve.


I can tell what my dog is feeling by the way she holds or moves her tail. Her ears speak volumes as well, but that’s a story for another day. Her tail tells me if she is happy, stressed, aggravated or scared. When she holds her tail high and wags it back and forth, she’s happy. A CANIDAE dog treat never fails to elicit that happy tail wag! When she’s both happy and excited, her tail is high and she moves it in a circular manner which always makes me smile. When something captures her attention, her tail is parallel to the ground.

When my dog is aggravated or feels challenged, she holds her tail a bit higher than her attentive position but not as high as her happy position. I know she feels especially provoked when her tail is held upright and it’s puffed up and rigid.  

Too often, our shy girl tucks her tail between her legs, which lets me know she is scared or feeling submissive. And when she keeps her tail low and wags it quickly, she’s nervous or insecure.

Spreading Scent

Dogs communicate on many levels, one of which is spreading their scent – which is another function a dog’s tail performs. According to PetPlace.com, there are two anal glands located right under a dog’s tail that contain a liquid with a unique smell, specific to that individual animal. When a dog wags their tail, the muscles around the anus contract and press on the anal glands, releasing the dog’s particular scent. To further spread the scent, the dog’s wagging tail acts as a fan.

You may have noticed how an alpha dog carries his tail high. That’s because holding the tail upright will allow the dog to release more of his scent. Alternatively, a submissive dog tucks his tail between his legs, which prevents other dogs from sniffing him. Submissive and frightened dogs do not want other dogs to sniff them because they want to keep a low profile and not call attention to themselves.

Physical Functions

A dog’s tail performs various important functions; it provides the counterbalance necessary to perform difficult maneuvers such as climbing, jumping or walking along slim structures.

Many fast running dogs have long, slender tails that improve their agility and serve as a counterbalance when they make sharp turns while traveling at high speeds. By contrast, dogs bred for swimming usually have thick, strong tails that can function as a rudder in the water. Sled dogs are known for their fluffy, bushy tails that serve as insulation. At rest, these dogs often wrap their tails over their faces to shelter themselves from the frigid weather.

So there you have it. A dog’s tail does more than simply wag when he’s happy. Now you can impress your friends and family with dog tail trivia. 

Photo by Celestttial

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. That's a great and informative post! It's so interesting that animals communicate so much with their tails.

  2. So interesting! I didn't know it helped to spread the secretions!

  3. You find out so much information and thanks for sharing. Hugs GJ xx

    There are about 5 blogs that wont allow me to post as me which is a mystery.

  4. That was some great info about the doggie's tail. I have one dog with a short cut off tail and one with a long tail. You are right, we don't think much about their tails. Super post.

  5. Very good information on a dogs tail.
    Zoie had her tail cut off when she was little!! She just has a little stub now!!
    xx. Zoie & Fern

  6. It's interesting! Thanks for the tail information.


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