Tails That Tell Tales

A dog’s tail does tell many tales – happiness, anger, aggression, excitement, fear, among them. But you may also be able to determine what breeds make up your mixed breed dog by its tail.

A dog’s tail is an extension of its spine. It consists of 6-23 vertebrae, muscles attached to the spine and vertebrae by tendons, nerves, blood vessels. The flexible vertebrae and muscles give the tail its movement. There are glands at the underside of the tail that can produce fluid. If the tail remains wet or damp, it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. So it’s important to check the area for any dampness.

A dog’s tail can be short or long or bobbed or even non-existent. It can hang low, curl at the end, be carried over the back. The tail can be bushy, feathered or smooth.

Some dogs have tails that are thick at the base and then taper to the point. Breeds such as Labrador Retrievers and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers have this type of tail. It is called an otter tail and acts like the rudder of a boat.

Terriers who hunt underground also have tails that are thicker at the base and tapering. These underground hunters like the Manchester Terrier and Border Collie can pulled out of the ground by the tails if there’s a problem. Other breeds such as the Dalmatian and English Setter have similar tails.

Beagles and Foxhounds carry their tails high, almost like a flag.

Pugs have cute little tails that look like corkscrews and lie on their backs.

Breeds who have tails called sword-like include Great Danes, American Staffordshire Terriers and some Pointers.

Spitz-type dogs like Huskies have bushy tails that curl over their backs and are called sickle tails. They don’t touch the back but are carried over it. Scientists believe that the sickle-like tails helped humans to differentiate between domesticated dogs and wolves. Some breeds carry these tails over the back to one side.

Breeds like the Akita have ring tails which are carried over the back touching it.

Some breeds are born with naturally occurring short or bobbed tails such as the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, French Bulldog, Boston Terrier.

Herding breeds’ tails that appear sword-like with a slight curve at the end are held low and reach the hock. Included in this group are the German Shepherd Dog, and the Belgian Malinois.

Sighthounds like the Greyhound and Whippet have long, thin, smooth tails which are low set and have a slight curve at the tip and carried low. Their tails help them brake when running at high speeds.

Border Collies and Briards are among the breeds that have bushy tails that reach the hock and curl up forming the letter “J”. The Border Collie’s white tip at the end of the tail is called a “shepherd’s lantern” which helps lead the owner home in the dark.

A Setter’s tail is feathered and held just below the back, tapering to a point. Golden Retrievers have well-feathered tails that are thick and muscular at the base.

Without DNA testing, it’s very difficult even for experts to be able to tell the parentage of a mixed breed. But check out your dog’s tail to see if it gives you a clue as to which breed may be included in its history. We believe that the best tails are those left on the dog.

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