AKC Homepage Why Do Dogs Have Tails? Tail Tales Activity Safety Activity Name That Breed Dear Bailey

Many animals have tails, even humans! We evolved and started walking upright, so our tail is just a bone now, but dogs still have their tails, which are extensions of their spinal columns. Dog tails come in all shapes and sizes. Some are short and furry, while others are long and loopy. Breeds, such as Golden Retrievers, hold their tails level with the rest of their body, while Alaskan Malamutes' tails curl all the way over their back!

Sighthounds use their tails
for balance when lure coursing.
Chet Jezierski ©AKC

Dogs mainly use their tails to communicate and for balance. They can't talk, so they use body language. The way dogs hold their tails can show how they're feeling. For example, a dog whose tail is wagging and held in a natural position usually is relaxed, happy and excited to see you. If a dog's tail is curled underneath its body, this could likely mean that dog is scared or nervous. If a dog is holding its tail very high and stiff and its fur is bristled, this dog might be feeling angry or irritated.

How a dog holds its tail can show how confident a dog is feeling. The higher the tail is held, the more confident and dominant a dog tends to be. A tucked tail can be a sign of a submissive dog.

Dogs also use their tails for balance, especially when they're working - doing the jobs they were bred to do. A sighthound, such as a Borzoi or Greyhound, chasing a rabbit has to make quick, sharp turns while running super fast. They use their tails as a counterbalance as they lean into turns. Pointing breeds, such as a Pointer or Viszla, help signal game to the hunter with their tail by sticking it straight out when they find a bird. Retrievers, such as Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, do a lot of swimming and use their tails as a rudder to help steer them in the water. Sled dogs, such as Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes and Samoyeds, use their tails to keep their noses warm. These dogs work in very snowy, cold areas, so when they sleep, they curl in a ball and use their bushy tails to cover their noses.

Some dogs have short, docked tails so their tails won't interfere with their work. For example, the German Shorthaired Pointer has a docked tail so that it won't be caught in the underbrush if it has to run through any while hunting. Dogs involved in protection work, such as Doberman Pinschers, often had their tails docked so they wouldn't get ripped or torn during confrontations with other dogs.

Dogs use their tails in many different ways, and knowing about it can help you to understand their behavior and can help you be safe around dogs. For instance, if you see a dog with its tail tucked and hair bristled, it's best to leave it alone.

On the other hand, it's tough to find a nicer welcome home than the wagging tail of a best friend excited to see you!