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Dogs have tails for the purposes of communication and to help maintain balance when moving.
The way a dog maneuvers its tail to communicate is very interesting. It mostly wags its tail to convey happiness at seeing the people they love.
Tail position can tell you a lot about how a dog is feeling. If a dog's tail is up, it means that it is spreading around its scent to showcase its presence. Such a dog is a dominant one. Similarly, a submissive dog will have its tail down to mask its scent. Tails come in handy for balance when the dog is walking on uneven terrain. Dogs also use their tail as a counterweight while running at high speeds. Another way that a dog communicates is that when frightened, the tail will be tucked between its legs. Some dogs don't have tails because of their natural health genetics. For example, dogs like the Australian stumpy tail cattle dog, English bulldog, and the Welsh corgi have their tails docked by humans
Dogs have different kinds of tails which they use for movement and balance. A lot of them have curly tails and there is variety among them too.
Bulldogs and pugs have tails that are corkscrew-shaped. This is because the vertebrae have fused together or they are in the shape of a wedge. Such vertebrae are called 'hemivertebrae'. This is common for these canine animals and not a cause for concern. Another type of curved tail is the sickle-shaped tail. Some dogs that have this kind of tail are Akita, Malamute, Alaskan, Chow-Chow, American eskimo dog, Spitz, and Siberian husky. Dogs that do have corkscrew tails also have a deformity in their vertebrae.
If a dog is normal and happy, it will hold its sickle-shaped tail up, and gently curl the tail over its back. There may be some slight wagging too. If the tail curls entirely over the back and is bristly, it shows your dog is alert. If the hackles are up too, the dog is in a defensive posture. If the dog is overjoyed, it tends to wag its tail fast and hard and it no longer looks curled. The dog may allow the tail to straighten out when wagging it. If the tail is held low and straight, it indicates that the dog is unwell or frightened. A lot of sickle-shaped dogs come from a cold climate. The end of the tail curls over the nose so that the dog can keep it warm while sleeping
Also, it is hard to believe but a dog is capable of controlling whether its tail is curled or straight. While stretching, the dog may straighten it out and pull it back in a curl afterward. This happens rather quickly and it looks like a party favor being blown out and curling back.
Tails have several uses for dogs and they are essential to their daily life.
Dogs use their tails for movement. When you throw your dog's favorite toy, you see it chasing after it. The tail assists with the skillful movement of the dog. As the dog changes direction as it runs, it needs extra help. You can see that the front legs turn in the direction where it wants to go, but the rear legs stay in the same direction. However, the all-important tail turns in the direction it wants to go, just like the front legs. The tail serves as the essential counterweight as the body is turning. This makes sure of the fact that your dog will not run off course or even tumble around on the ground.
Another function of the tail is to provide balance. Apart from running, the tail serves as a perfect counterbalance. If you observe a dog walking on a surface that is narrow, you can see how the tail helps with the balance. If a dog tilts in one direction, the dog's tail moves in the direction opposite. This is similar to a tightrope walker using their balance stick or bodyweight to create an equal distribution of weight overall. Also, dogs love climbing surfaces and the balancing act of the tail comes in handy when it walks through uneven land.
Another very important function of tails for pet dogs is communication. A happy dog often greets humans with a wagging tail. However, a dog's tail can convey far more than a happy state. Mostly, dogs utilize tails to communicate with other dogs. A dog is happy if it wags its tail but if it is a frightened dog, the tail will be tucked between the legs. There may be another purpose to tail-wagging as well. Wagging contracts the muscles around the anal glands that are beneath the tail. These glands spread the unique scent of the dog. This is the reason dominant dogs tend to keep their tails higher up, to let others know of their presence. Submissive dogs tend to keep their tails down to reduce the scent that they give out. Puppies don't tend to wag their tails until they reach the age of 30-60 days. This is the age when littermates begin interacting and playing with each other.
Different breeds of dogs may use their tails differently. Pet dogs of northern breeds cover their noses with their thicks tails when they sleep on a cold night. Sighthounds as well as certain running dogs tend to have whip-like tails which enable them to change direction when running at very high speeds. Waterdogs like retrievers and rescue dogs have tails that are thick. These thick tails act like rudders when swimming.
You may think that a dog wagging its tail can only indicate happiness, but there may be several other reasons for this behavior.
If a dog wags its tail, it doesn't mean that it's an invitation to go and pet it. Dogs have an entire language around wagging and maneuvering their tails. They use the position of the tails to communicate their emotional state. A wagging tail may often reflect the excitement of a dog, with vigorous wagging indicating even greater excitement. If a tail wags to the right, it means that the dog is in a positive and curious mood. But if the tail wags to the left, the dog is feeling negative emotions. This is because the left hemisphere is in charge of the body's right side and the right hemisphere controls the left part of the body. Research about approach-avoidance traits of animals shows that the left brain hemisphere is responsible for positive-approach feelings and behaviors, and the right brain hemisphere is responsible for negative-avoidance feelings. Dogs can be given training for tail-wagging.
Also, it has been found that dogs follow each other's asymmetrical wagging of tails. A tail that wags to the right relaxes other dogs, and a tail that wags to the left stresses other dogs out.
Some breeds of dogs have tails of different sizes, while some have none at all. Several factors influence this including selective breeding, natural predisposition, and human interference.
Certain breeds like Jack Russel terries, Australian stumpy tail cattle dog, French bulldog, English bulldog, and the Welsh corgi are born only with a small stump for a tail.
A breed that is definitely born with tails are Bobtail dogs but they get cut off from the body by pet owners. There are several reasons for the docking of the tails of dogs by humans. One is to conform to the standards of a breed, another is for sanitary purposes. Some do it to prevent injuries, some to conform to standards set by the American Kennel Club (AKC), and some for cosmetic reasons.
Dogs without tails can't signal to other dogs if they are challenged, under threat, aggressive, or unhappy. As a result, they may fight other dogs more. They cannot signal to humans either. They may try to signal 'intruder' with their non-existent tail and then bite a human to save them, then get blamed and punished for biting. Dogs without tails can indulge in communication, but with limitations. They can approach people and other dogs with more caution. They may utilize ear position, stance, and facial expression to convey their emotions.
Also, the tail muscles of a dog have pain receptors, but these receptors behave differently when the dog is excited and when it is relaxed. If you step on your relaxed dog, it will feel pain. Dogs mostly don't like their tails being touched. Also, if a dog's tail goes up when it sees you, it may mean they're mad.
Asian dogs mostly have hemivertebrae which gives them a curled tail. Also, Fido was a dog from Italy that became famous for waiting for his master to return after his death.
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for why do dogs have tails? amusing facts on your Fido's tail wags! then why not take a look at why do coyotes howl? animal behavior facts about howling or why do dogs bury bones? is it a dog's natural instinct or a play?
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