At one point or another, you may have wondered why dogs have tails. Since most dogs are born with tails, it’s safe to assume those tails are there for a reason. Tails offer several benefits for dogs, outside of helping them look adorable for the humans they meet. In fact, tails are quite important to daily life. Have you ever thought about why your dog has a tail? Here’s why:
Most dogs were bred for some sort of work, but you don’t need to see them performing some extraordinary task to see their tails in action. Simply throw your pup’s favorite toy and watch him chase after it, or watch him during a fun game of chase with another dog. What you’re likely to see is your dog’s tail working to assist with skillful movement. As our dog needs to change direction while running, his body needs a little extra help. You’ll notice that your dog’s front legs will go in the direction that he intends to go, while the rear legs continue in the original direction. The tail, however, will also turn in the new direction. Tossing the tail in the same direction the body is turning serves as a counterweight to your dog’s body, ensuring that your pooch doesn’t spin off course or tumble around.
Your dog's tail serves as a counterbalance on a regular basis, not only when he's running. If you watch a dog walk along a narrow surface, you’re almost sure to see the tail hard at work. The tail helps the dog maintain his balance by putting its weight on the opposite side of the dog’s tilt, much like a tightrope walker uses the balance bar to stay on the tightrope. Dogs that enjoy climbing various surfaces will use their tails to balance on uneven footing, such as rocks or trees.
It should come as no surprise that dogs use their tails for communication. It’s probably safe to say that most of us are greeted by a happy, wagging tail when we walk through the door after being out. But tails offer more insight than whether or not a dog is happy. Dogs use their tails to communicate mostly with other dogs, but we’ve learned to recognize their signals and understand them ourselves. A happy dog will likely be wagging her tail, while a frightened dog will have it tucked between her legs. However, a wagging tail doesn't always mean a happy or friendly dog. In addition, wagging tails contract the muscles surrounding the anal glands underneath the tail, spreading your dog’s unique scent. This is why more dominant dogs keep their tails higher, as if to let everyone know they’re around. Submissive dogs, though, will keep their tails down in an effort to reduce their scent and go unnoticed. We also know that dogs use tails for communication because it appears to be a learned behavior. Puppies do not wag their tails until they are about 30-50 days old. That’s because this age is the time the littermates start playing and interacting with each other, learning how to communicate between themselves and every other dog they’ll meet as adults.
There are several other reasons dogs use their tails based on their breed. The Northern breeds are known to cover their noses with their thick tails when it’s especially cold out. Sighthounds and other running dogs have whip-like tails that allow them to change direction at extremely high speeds. Water dogs, such as retrievers and water-rescue dogs, have thick tails that act as rudders while they swim. So, if you’ve ever asked yourself what exactly your dog’s tail does, you know it’s useful is many different ways.