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Why A Dog's Tail Wags (And Why You Shouldn't Cut It Off)

If you think about it, a dog's tail might be his most effective means of communication. It tells us when he's happy, when he's anxious and, sometimes, he uses it to smack us in the face when he wants some attention. "Accidentally," of course.

But how does that adorable thing wag back and forth so fast and what, exactly, is inside there?


Shutterstock/Ross Stevenson


The Biology of the Tail

The tail is actually an extension of the dog's backbone. Some dog tails are long, while others are itty-bitty stubs barely poking out of their bums. The fast-paced appendage is made up of muscles and bones that work together to create movement. Tendons allow the dog to move his tail in any direction and even control the tip separately from the rest!

If you think a dog doesn't feel it when his tail is removed, you're mistaken. The pain is sometimes short-lived, but often it continues on well after the tail has healed from the mutilation. The tail is made up of anywhere between four and seven different pairs of nerves depending on a dog's breed and size. Anestheticsaren't even used in many tail docking operations.


Shutterstock/Annette Shaff


Your pup doesn't just use his tail to let you know what's on his mind. It alsoprovides balance when running and swimming and, when he wags it, the tail releases his scent so other animals can know he's there! The more dominant the dog, the higher he will raise his tail to spread his scent.

What Does a Wagging Tail Mean?

Dogs wag their tails for a variety of reasons — the direction and height of the wag can each have separate meanings. Some dogs have tails that hang naturally low to ground while others, like pugs, twirl toward the sky. When discerning what a dog is feeling, you have to take into account the changes to his tail's natural position.

Dogs who lower their tails are usually feeling anxious, afraid or submissive, whereas a tail pointing upward can indicate excitement or arousal. If your furry friend has a tail that's pointing straight out, he could either be curious or aggressive. You've probably noticed how some dogs' tails tend to go perfectly straight when they hear a curious sound or are hunting down a critter in the backyard to play.




Meanwhile, a tail's back-and-forth can also express emotion. Tails wagging toward the right generally indicate that a dog is excited or happy while movement to the left is a sign of trepidation or anger.

That's because each side of a dog's brain controls opposite sides of his body. Weird, right? The left side of a dog's brain is in charge of emotions like love and attachment. The right brain controls feelings like fear and anxiety. So, when a dog is happy his left brain causes his tail to swing right and when he's scared his right brain tells it to sway left.

So, you see, when you dock a dog's tail, you're not only inflicting unnecessary pain but you're also missing out on a wide array of emotions and ways your dog could talk with you! Some argue tail docking was once necessary due to dogs working in areas where the tail could get caught, but most dogs are companion animals today. It's become completely cosmetic, even for breeds who traditionally have had their tails docked more than most like Doberman pinchers, Weimaraners, pit bull terriers and spaniel breeds.

Let your dog keep his tail and he can use it to show you all the emotions it was intended to!



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