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The importance of the tail for dogs in the eyes of science

According to the American Kennel Club, a dog’s tail has many uses. Tails help dogs move, balance, and communicate in many ways. Some uses of the tail vary by breed and location. For example, northern breeds like the Siberian husky use their fluffy tails to cover their nose and face when resting in the cold.

According to veterinarian Matthew McCarthy in an interview with Reader’s Digest, a dog’s tail is an extension of the backbone: interlocking vertebrae that are enclosed in muscle and filled with blood vessels and nerves. The tail is flexible and strong, able to move in all directions. This is necessary for many of the ways dogs use their tails every day.

Movement and balance

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Tails help dogs move, navigate and balance, according to Psychology Today. When the dog changes direction when running, the tail will point in the direction of the turn to create counterbalance, allowing the dog to maintain speed when changing direction without falling. Fast hounds with whip-like tails aim to be exactly that, the American Kennel Club points out.

Similarly, when walking on narrow surfaces, dogs may use their tails for balance. Again, the tail becomes counterbalanced, pointing in one direction when the dog leans in the other, “much like how a circus walker would use a balance bar,” Dr. McCarthy explained in Reader’s Digest. But tails are not only useful on land, they also help dogs navigate and steer underwater. Dogs that swim a lot, such as retrievers, often have thick tails to act as rudders, according to the American Kennel Club.

Nose communication

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Dr. Sarah Wooten, a veterinarian interviewed by MSN, explains the importance of tails to the way dogs communicate. Dr Wooten said: ‘Dogs are primarily nonverbal communicators, which means they use their bodies, including their tails, to communicate. Much of a dog’s communication involves their keen sense of smell.

According to Psychology Today, dogs have scent glands located under their tails that secrete pheromones, or scents, used to communicate. Each dog’s scent emitted by their glands is unique and therefore identifiable, in the same way that each person has a unique fingerprint.

The wagging tail acts as a fan to spread each dog’s signature scent around to announce its presence to other dogs and the position of the tail is important. Leader dogs often keep their tails high, releasing more scent than submissive or fearful dogs, who keep their tails low to obscure their scent.

Communicating feelings, needs, and intentions

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Tail communication has more to do with scent dispersal and masking. Dogs use their tails to communicate their feelings, needs, and intentions in a way that other dogs and even non-canine species (such as humans) understand. Most people are familiar with the frantic wagging of the tail in an upright position (action means a happy dog). But according to Dr. Sarah Wooten, a dog’s tail can convey a wide range of emotions. Scared dogs will wag their tails. Curious dogs will raise their tails straight out, parallel to the ground…

When in the mood to fight, dogs raise their tails high, sometimes arching over their backs. “The taller the tail, the more aggressive the dog,” explains Dr. Wooten. Another important sign people need to watch out for: When a dog happily wags its tail but then suddenly stops, says Dr. Wooten, it’s “usually a way of communicating that the dog doesn’t really want to be.” touch and want to be alone”.

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Dr Sarah Wooten argues that the tail language of the donor is not instinctual, but rather learned. “Puppies learn to wag their tails at 1 month old,” she said. They learn from their mother, and use it to communicate with the mother dog as well as the dogs around. On the other hand, Dr. Jamie Freyer said in an interview with Reader’s Digest that tail wagging is instinctive.

Dr. Stanley Coren, writing for Psychology Today, points out that newborn puppies don’t wag their tails at first, even though they are physically able to do so. The first three weeks of a puppy’s life are spent sleeping and eating, so communication is unnecessary. As puppies move around and start interacting with each other, that’s when they begin to use their tails to communicate with their mothers and siblings. Dr. Coren points out that the social communication system in puppies is not fully understood, but tail communication seems clear “need to learn to use and interpret the signals it wants to convey”.

So what about dog breeds without a tail?

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Although the tail is important for movement, balance, and communication, not all dog breeds have tails. Some dog breeds have natural or extremely short tails, like the Pembroke Welsh Corgi (pictured). Or some dogs have a genetic mutation that causes them to have a tail that may have a disadvantage in communicating with other dogs. However, tailless dogs can still communicate. In addition to the tail, dogs can also understand each other’s intentions through facial expressions and waving other body parts.


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