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Why do dogs have tails?

Updated on October 14, 2008

The original purpose of the tail

A tail enhances the appearance of the dog. The tail may be stumpy or it can be bushy but just the same, the tail makes a dog adorable. However, it seems that this is not the original purpose why dogs have tails. Dog experts theorize that the tail is purportedly designed to give the dog balance. Primitive dogs that need to hunt to survive would need to be agile, to be fast runners. The tail is used to counterbalance the body when the dog has to tackle a sharp curve. The tail is needed when the dog has to make an abrupt turn otherwise the dog would topple. The tail is also vital when the dog has to negotiate narrow surfaces. Shepherd dogs have to traverse steep and narrow mountain paths and the tail serves as a balancing bar similar to what tightrope walkers use. Water retrievers use the tail as a rudder that makes swimming easier. Obviously, domesticated dogs that walks and runs at normal speed and on flat surfaces would not have much use for the tail this way. The tail now has other uses.

Dog tails

To communicate

The movement of a dog's tail speaks volumes. Have you ever wondered why dogs have a lot of friends? It is because the dog's tail does the talking. Of course this is a joke but really, humans can learn a lot from the behavior of man's best friends. The dog uses the tail to communicate not only with other dogs but most especially with humans. The way the tail is wagged states what the dog is feeling. An aggressive dog has a tail that is held high, has a tense body and bared teeth. A friendly one has a loosely wagging tail while a submissive or frightened dog would have the tail between the hind legs.

As an identification tool

As mentioned, the tail is used by the dog to communicate with other dogs. Notice how the dog would raise its tail when they see another dog. By raising the tail, the anal gland is squeezed thereby releasing a small amount of the anal gland secretion with the unique scent of the dog. This is the reason why dogs sniff each other's behind.

To show the social status of the dog

The tail shows the social status of the dog. The alpha dog has a tail that is held very high and wagged widely and stiffly. A dog with a tail held low and wagging slowly is a sign that the dog is submissive.

For comfort

Northern dogs have bushy tails that are used to cover the dog's nose when they sleep in extremely cold areas. Tails are also used to shoo flies and insects from the dogs back.

dog wagging its tail

cats like dog tails too

dog chasing tail


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