Dog’s Tail has Many Tales

Imagine a dog and what do you visualize? It is the wagging tail which impresses a dog lover the most. If the tail is not waging then it could mean danger too especially for an intruder in the house. A tail of a dog has many tales hidden in it. Why does a dog wag his tail? This is a common question. Yet another question is often asked, ‘why do we dock the tail of a dog?’ A simple answer to these could be, ‘Why do we smile?’ and ‘Why do we go for cosmetic surgery?’
Yes, tail wagging is an expression. It is part of the body language of the dog. What happens when we are happy? Our lips may be sealed but they are stretched in to a grin. On the other hand when we are unhappy there is a frown on the forehead and a fire in the eyes and the person opposite can clearly make out from the expression that all is not well. Especially if the person happens to be a subordinate! Similarly a dog expresses his feelings via his tail.  If you observe carefully you will find that the tail is wagged differently for different occasion. For example, when the master returns home after the day’s work, the tail of his dog wags rapidly in greeting. In case the master has come home after a longer than a day’s absence then not only the tail, dog’s hind portion also dances.
All animals with tails express their feelings through their tails. For example, a cat does not wag her tail like a dog. She raises it up like a stiff pole and may twirl the tip of the tail from side to side. This means greetings and also an invitation to play. In case of anger she slashes her tail from side to side. She is just opposite of the dog. A cow fleeing in fear gallops with her tail horizontal, in like with her body. There the tail acts like a rudder.
Many dogs too use their tails like a rudder and it is a characteristic of many dog breeds. For example, a Labrador retriever’s tail is known as an otter tail, because it resembles the tail of an Otter. It helps the Labrador while swimming. Similarly, the sweeping tail of an Irish Setter helps him in his fast actions. If you have an Irish Setter, never place costly curios within the reach of his tail. They would be swept down, every time the dog is happy. Most of the Gun dogs work their tails a lot. This is perhaps they are genetically engineered in such a way that they bark less and indicate their happiness or otherwise through their tails. So powerful is the sweep of the tail that once a child in my house remarked ‘let us tie a fan on Goldy’s tail and in times of power cuts her wagging tail will keep us cool!’
While charging, many animals like cows and bulls roll their tail in to a loop. Dogs often raise their tail during a charge, with even hair of the tail raised. Most animals when scared keep their tail lowered. Dog tucks it between his hind legs. Often one finds the tip of the tail projecting from between his legs, shivering in fear. The dog may snarl his lips and bare his fangs simultaneously. It is better to maintain a distance from such dog. He may be a fear biter. Keeping the tail down or tucking it between the legs is meant to keep the genitalia covered. The adversary can always sniff the fear from that region.
Some dogs bang their tail loudly on the floor, while lying flat. That is an invitation to the master to come close and caress. Tail tells a lot about the personality of a small pup. If he keeps his tail straight, while you make him lie flat and caress his belly, indicates that the pup has a normal temperament. A scared pup will always try to roll his tail towards his belly and cover his genitalia.
Each individual has a characteristic tail. The general shape of the tail may remain the same for a particular breed, yet individual tails have minute differences. A correct placement of tail at the end of the back is important. This gives an over all balance to the body. Apart from balance and beauty, the tail is the ‘smile’ of the dog. Biologically the tail is the distal end of the vertebral column and a tail placed high on the back means a wrong angulation of the pelvis. An incorrect angle of the pelvis in a bitch apart from her beauty can cost the lives of her puppies. As an incorrect placement indicates that the passage for the puppies to arrive in this world is not normal. Such a bitch will need a cesarean every time. In India such facilities are available but in smaller towns it is difficult to get a cesarean section done. Moreover post-operative care is not available in the hospitals and most of the owners can not manage on their own.
Dogs with docked tails have a different story. For a novice it is difficult to tell whether the Doberman of the neighbor is happy and welcoming him or is about to charge. The stump does wag, but one needs an eye to identify. For many breeds it is the requirement of the breed standard to dock the tail. Many tribes in India dock the tails of their dogs. They believe that by doing so their dogs become fearless. Sometimes they crop the ears too. Actually the tail and the ears of a dog tell a lot about his mental state. If the dog is scared, the tail will go between his legs and the ears will be drawn back, known as the flying ears in doggy parlance.
There used to be an English film song, ‘Lipstick on your collar, told the tale on you’. The tail on the dog also tells lots of tales. Only one needs eyes to read them.

More By  :  V. K. Joshi (Bijji)

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Comments on this Blog

Comment You are on the right track Subodh. the more you observe them the more you learn about them. Dogs can not tell you about them in words-you have to understand their body language to know them better. Thanks for your comments.

16-Feb-2011 02:39 AM

Comment Kamal ji this is in response to your both comments. First of all thanks a lot for enjoying my artciles (I prefer to call them stories) about dogs.
Regarding dogs rolling over on their back-let me explain in slight detail. Dog's world revolves around smell/s. Thier underbelly has the genitalia too. The smell from which conveys to the other animal the condition (mental and physical both) of the dog exposing himself. Once a dog rolls over on his back means an abject surrender. In other words it means he has full faith in you and offers his treasure of smells (poor guy doesn't know that you dont have strong olfactory senses like his!) and lets you pat and scratch him. A shy dog on the other hand will also roll on his back but his quiverring taill would cover his genitals and part of the belly. He is not sure and does so again in surrender but out of fear. Such dogs if threatened may even urinatein this condition and or bare their teeth and snap and flee. Thus if you are about to touch a shy dog in this position, beware and talk to him soothingly before touching him. Never look in to the eyes of such a dog as it means a challenge in their lingua.
Hope this clarifies your querry!

16-Feb-2011 02:33 AM

Comment Like all your other articles this one also is just excellent. I too wtach dogs oin the neighborhoods almost 70% of our neighbors have dogs. One of the is attached to the two of us, my Spouse and I, we pet him and he does recognie us.

One question is why does he roll over and want to be petted on his belly ?

Kamal Joshi
15-Feb-2011 11:07 AM

Comment This is a very informative and nice articles. I will now observe tails of dogs. One of the dogs I know rolls over on the ground everytime I see him . Why do dogs do that , of course he wants me to pet him -- but why on the belly, why does he roll over ? 

14-Feb-2011 10:01 AM

Comment Thanks Sir,
We keenly go through the articles in your regular Blog and Labrador Forum.
It's an seemingly wonderful scene to watch brilliance and twinkling in the eyes of your pet once his /her wishes are accomplished like throwing a ball,running with him.At that point of time as you said an imaginary smile run over pet'sface and wagging of tail is side by side continues with the excitement .When you return from office you find that jumping and wagging of tail alongwith rolling oh rear half portion gyrating like our film stars(I shouln't name)   

subodh kumar sharma
13-Feb-2011 08:53 AM

Comment Thanks Subodh. I am glad that you are observing the different 'styles' of wags that your Lab displays. Infact Labrador retriever, Irish setter and Golden retriever are the breeds which make use of their tails maximum. But that doesnt mean that others dont. I find that when a dog wags his hind portion along with the tail, at that time you should observe his facial expression too. And you will certainly notice a beaming smile on his face with a twinkle in his eyes...

12-Feb-2011 09:50 AM

Comment Thanks Mrugank. Yes it is true that a dog expresses a lot through his tail. One needs only to observe and interpret the story behind the wag... I am glad that you enjoyed it.

12-Feb-2011 09:46 AM

It's a wonderful article and eye opener in many aspects.
I myself observing the variety in tail wagging by my Lab  Naunny.
Definitely each kind of wagging of tail has unique meaning and giving signal to be watchful and careful.

Subodh Kr. Sharma

subodh kumar sharma
12-Feb-2011 07:39 AM

Comment Very nicely written...Such simple language which makes every individual understand what to look for whether they are Pet dog people or Dog enthusiast like us...

hats off to you sir.....



11-Feb-2011 09:51 AM

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