Dog tails are basically just long, pointy vibe checks

3 mins
03 Jan 2023
Dog tails are basically just long, pointy vibe checks

Good news for corgis everywhere: science claims that dogs don't really need tails, though they do help with communicating mood

image Jon Damo / 500px / Getty

words Rhys Thomas

So you know how some dogs have big long beautiful tails and other “heckin’ good boys” - like Boston terriers, English and French bulldogs and some types of Pembroke Welsh corgis - don’t? And it can feel a little sad because, well, they’re meant to have tails and they wag and stuff? Well turns out it’s okay, because dogs don’t actually need tails to whip around having the zoomies or to catch a ball or whatever.

A new study published in the bioRxiv pre-print server (which has yet to be peer reviewed) has shown that unlike lizards, squirrels, and cheetahs whose tails are actually very important for the mobility of the animal, dogs don’t really need theirs and when a dog doesn’t have a tail it can move pretty much as well as a dog with a tail. So why do they have tails?

These researchers think tails are mainly a form of communication (and bonus feature: pest control). Specifically, they feel dogs might be using their tails for behavioural communication: tail wagging as a social cue for friendliness was also found within the research backing up the idea. We already knew this, obviously, but it goes a lot deeper than that.

Other research has also suggested that we can read quite a lot through how a dog is positioning its tail. In the happy corner: a high tail that’s wagging enthusiastically can be alert and excited, just kinda sticking it out neutrally can mean they’re curious, a floaty tail swishing back and forth fairly slowly might mean they’re chilling, too; while dropping their tail down might mean they’re concerned about something. A tail that’s very upright and stiff is usually a sign they’re very on edge. This can apparently vary depending on the breed of the dog too – for instance greyhounds generally do keep their tails low, while a pug’s tail is more-or-less always pointing upwards.

And the pest control thing? Well if there’s a bug of some sort flying nearby the dog can swoosh its tail to politely say to the insect; "Woof, sorry do you mind i’m kinda chilling here and it’s a bit annoying to have the vibrations all in my ears and I do better with personal space so can you be a little bit further away please? Okay thank you, woof, have a nice day."

The team behind the report are hoping to extend the research to rare and endangered dog species to be sure their findings ring true across all breeds of the animal we call man’s best friend.

more stories

keep reading