Why Do Dogs Have Tails? Is It Just To Show You How Happy They Are?

why do dogs have tails

They’re synonymous with dogs. A wagging tail following them wherever they go. But why do dogs have tails? Is it really just to wag, knock things over, and get under your feet all day? Surely not. And what about the dogs that don’t have tails? There are a lot of questions about our dogs’ favorite toy (the one they go round and round in circles for). Here are the answers to the questions you’ve been asking! 

But First, What Is A Tail?

Ok, that might be an obvious question, but do you know what a tail is made from? A tail is actually the continuation of the spine, meaning it’s made up of lots of little bones. The bones get smaller towards the end of the tail which gives it its usual pointed look. These bones are surrounded by muscles, nerves, and tendons which is what lets it wag away when you go towards the treat box!

Why Do Pups Have Different Tails?

Dog tails differ hugely between breeds. Think of a Greyhound, a Labrador, and a Pembroke Welsh Corgi – their tails are as different as a lion’s and a monkey’s. This is because, over the years, dog breeds were developed for different purposes. And that included their tails too.

Otter Tail

Dogs such as Labrador Retrievers and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers have otter tails. They’re thick, rounded, and almost flatten out towards the end. Their strong tails act as a kind of rudder for these water-loving canines and help them to propel themselves through the water. 

Water retrievers were bred to, well, retrieve. They helped hunters and fishermen to collect nets, fish, and waterfowl. Breeders wanted a pup that had a tail that would allow them to get the job done as quickly as possible!

Dog Wagging Tail

Corkscrew/Sickle Tail

These types of tails curl up over the dog’s back. Many cold-weather dogs, such as Huskies, Samoyeds, Akitas, and Shiba Inus have thick, curly dog tails which help them to keep warm. They can wrap their tails around them and even use them to cover their faces when they sleep.

Some dogs, like the Pug and Bulldog, have a corkscrew tail which they can’t actually straighten out. These tails tend to be an inherited deformation and the result of years of breeding.

No Tails

That’s not, usually, anatomically true. Even French Bulldogs and Boston Terriers have stumpy, naturally bobbed tails. Some breeds have developed these very short tails out of lack of necessity for a long one.

Other dogs, however, have their tails docked for fashion. Boxers and Dobermans often have short tails because breeders think it looks good and it’s desired by owners. Both the RSPCA and the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) oppose the docking of tails and ears for fashion.

In the past, some working breeds had their tails docked so they could work better. This would prevent them from having their tails stood on or getting them caught in machinery.

Whip Tail

As the name would suggest, these tails look like a long whip. Short-haired and hairless dogs usually have this kind of tail and, to be honest, they look a little naked. It’s also common for hunting dogs and speed hounds to have a whip tail. Breeds such as Whippets and Greyhounds have these tails because they help them balance and change direction quickly.

Why Do Dogs Have Tails?

There are lots of reasons why dogs have tails – regardless of which type they have.

Social Communication

Dogs learn from a fairly early age that they can use their tails to communicate. Although dogs can’t actually wag their tails until they’re 6 or 7 weeks old, they soon realize it’s one of the best ways to communicate with furry friends and humans alike.

Tail Wagging

Why do dogs wag their tails? When your pooch sees another dog wagging its tail, they instantly know this is a friend who’s ready to play! When a dog’s tail is up in the air and wagging away, it’s a clear sign that they are not a threat and that they’re a happy dog (like when they’re running after their favorite, cute toy).

Tucked Away

If your dog’s tail is tucked down between their legs, they could be trying to tell you (or others) that they’re scared or frightened. If your pup is running around the doggie park and they see a particularly dominant dog, their tail may go down as a way of showing their submission.

Out at a Right Angle

When your dog’s tail is out and parallel to the ground, it’s usually a sign that they’re feeling particularly curious. In fact, when your dog is hunting or following a really good smell, you’ll notice that their tails stick out at a right angle. Even very young puppies do this when they’re learning something new or playing with their brothers and sisters.

Low Wagging Tail

Sometimes, a dog’s tail wag can indicate something other than happiness and excitement. When the tail is low and the dog wags it very quickly, it could be a sign of nervousness or anticipation. It can be because they’re scared of something, or (if your dog is anything like mine) when they know a walk is on the cards any minute now.

When your dog’s tail wagging is slow and almost cautious it can also mean that they’re feeling insecure, anxious, or are not liking what they’re seeing. Normally, a happy pup wags its tail whilst also smiling, playing, or with an openly content expression. A slow wag which is accompanied by a stern expression or pricked ears could be a sign that they’re uneasy or even about to be aggressive.

High Tail

When a dog puts their tail straight up in the air or so that it arches over its back, it can be a sign of aggression. In this position, they also release more scents from the anal glands which can alert other dogs to their dominance and potential aggression. 

To Help With Movement

Just as its tail helps a monkey swing through the branches, your dog’s tail helps them to balance and move. 

When your dog moves across uneven or difficult terrain, such as rocks, their tail and the tail position help them to balance better. Dog tails also act as a kind of counterweight when your pup is running. When they propel themselves forward and suddenly change direction, it’s your dog’s tail that stops the rest of the body from going in a different direction.

Because They’re Fun

OK, so it’s maybe not an answer to the question ‘why do dogs have tails’ but it’s certainly a benefit for dogs! The amount of entertainment a tail can provide is quite astonishing to us pet owners. Our pups can spend many hours going round in circles trying to catch the pesky toy chasing them!

Whilst this behavior is usually fun, some dogs walk around in circles before they die, and it’s important to be aware of signs of distress too.

Do Dogs Consciously Wag Their Tails in a Specific Direction?

Interestingly, yes they do! Scientists at the University of Trento in Italy started looking into dogs’ tail-wagging patterns to see if we could find out anything else about our beloved pups.

Apparently, dogs tend to wag their tails to the right when they’re happy and to the left when they’re nervous or anxious. Who knew! Most dogs can also recognize these subtle signals, so it’s an extra way for your pet to communicate with their canine friend!


So, there you have it. The wonderfully interesting reasons why dogs have tails. By getting to know your dog’s tail that little bit better, you can get more of an insight into your pooch’s world and how they’re feeling.

How well do you know your dog’s tail movements? Do you know what your pup is trying to tell you?