Do Dogs Use Their Tails For Balance?

Cuteness may earn compensation through affiliate links in this story.

Dog breeds with docked tails might seem to go through life just fine with only a stump of a tail. However, the official policy of the American Veterinary Medicine Association opposes cosmetic tail docking, and only considers the procedure justified if it is for medical reasons. Part of the reason is that dogs' natural tails are considered essential to their balance, movement, and communication.

Advertisement

Do Dogs Use Their Tails For Balance?

Video of the Day

Dog jobs that require tails

Although dogs with naturally bobbed or artificially docked tails don't appear to have a physical or psychological disadvantage per se, some dogs rely on their tail to do their jobs. Working dogs use their tails when performing certain tasks, and in some breeds, that means carefully maintaining balance while performing their particular job.

Advertisement

Sighthounds such as greyhounds, Salukis, and Afghans have long whip-like tails that allow them to counterbalance as they quickly change direction when in pursuit of prey. Retrievers and other water dogs use the tail like a powerful rudder to change directions in the water. Huskies and other breeds that work in cold environments use their tail to keep their nose and face warm at night.

Advertisement

Some hunting dog breeds with long tails traditionally have their tails docked. Although one traditional reason for removal is that dogs' tails could be injured while pursuing prey through the underbrush, it is kenneled hunting dogs that traditionally sustain more injuries to the tail.

Advertisement

Dog tails for everyday balance

Watch your dog trot across the smooth kitchen floor and you'll see your dog using their tail for balance. When they turn a corner, for example, their front legs will go in the new direction they're taking. The rear legs continue trotting in the original direction. Meanwhile, the tail also turns in the new direction. Together, by using the front feet as steering and the tail as a rudder, the dog completes its turn to the new direction.

Advertisement

Even dogs with docked tails or born without a tail use this natural method of navigation, although it's not as obvious. Dog breeds such as Australian stumpy tail cattle dogs, Pembroke Welsh terriers, Jack Russel terriers, and Schipperkes are all examples of dogs who can be born with short tails or none at all.

Advertisement

Dog tails for communication

Most dogs need their tails as communicative tools. Dogs communicate primarily through body language, and the tail speaks volumes. A loose, naturally-wagging tail often demonstrates happiness, while a tail tucked between the legs indicates trepidation.

Advertisement

If a dog holds his tail stiff, he may be communicating agitation. Sometimes, the body language is breed-specific — for example, a pug's tail is naturally curly when he's content, and straightens out when he's nervous or upset.

Dogs who have "stumpy" or docked tails naturally still use their tails for communication. You might see your dog's little "nub" of a tail vibrating furiously back and forth when he's happy to see you or point straight up at the ceiling when he's suspicious of an approaching stranger.

Advertisement

Dog breeds with docked tails

Tail docking is the process of surgically amputating all or part of a dog's tail. This is a painful procedure and is generally carried out on working dogs, for whom having a tail could be considered an unnecessary risk. Tails are generally docked within 72 hours after birth before a pup's nervous system fully develops. Older dogs who need their tails removed for therapeutic reasons have an anesthetized surgery.

For example, guard dogs may have their tails docked because the tail is vulnerable when fighting off a wild predator. Rottweilers, Dobermans, and boxers are examples. For this same reason, dogs used in illegal dog fighting such as pit bull breeds also commonly have their tails docked.

Other working breeds, like hunting dogs, may similarly have their tails docked to avoid injury. Airedales and other terrier breeds are pulled by their tails from burrows where they pursue small animals. Two-thirds of the tail is sturdy but the third of the tail near the tip is prone to fractures and splitting. Dogs who have their tails docked generally suffer no physical disadvantage.

Advertisement

references
german boxer dog running outdoors
Why Are the Tails Cut on Boxer Dogs?
Dogs
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
What Types of Dogs Have Short Tails?
Dogs
Husky dog lying in the snow on snowdrift, front view
Which Dog Breeds Have Double Coats?
Dogs
Korthals Griffon
Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Dog Breed Facts & Information
Dogs
Tail of a dog on snow
Why Do Dogs Have Tails?
Dogs
Tail, paws a cute dog in green lawn.
Decoding the Movements of a Dog's Tail
Dogs
Small corgi dog standing on grass and looking up
Types of Dogs With Short Legs
Dogs
Crocodile in water
How Do Reptiles Protect Themselves?
Other Animals
Portrait of a dog of a hunting breed German Jagdterrier on a leash on a blurred background of green grass in nature. Hunting dog outside the city on the hunt in the summer season.
Jagdterrier Dog Breed Facts & Information
Dogs
...
The Best Dogs for Herding Cattle
Dogs