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Can Dogs Feel Their Tails?

Wondering whether or not dogs can feel their tails may seem like a strange question to ask. We often assign human traits to our furry friends, though we can’t know with certainty their thoughts, feelings, or physical attributes.

Dogs can feel their tails. There are touch and pain receptors in dogs’ tails, but they do not function in precisely the same way that human receptors do. Dogs use their tails in the same manner that we use our hands. While dogs are mostly known for their wagging tails to show excitement, the tail is also meant for other communication. 

Dogs are fully aware of what they are doing with their tails, and there is a lot to learn about their emotions through body language and movement. Read on so you can learn what your pet is trying to tell you.

Why Do Dogs Wag Their Tails?

Dog tails are all about communication. If you’ll pardon the pun, they tell a tale. Similar to the way that humans use body language as a form of communication, dogs do the same, though in a slightly less subtle way.

Humans indicate their feelings through body language, whether it’s a smile, a raised eyebrow, or crossed arms. Dogs also use their faces and other methods to communicate, but their tails are vital to their communication as they cannot be easily overlooked.

We should not assume wagging is always the sign of a happy and friendly dog (source). A wagging tail would generally be accompanied by licking or a gleeful attitude to indicate true friendliness.

The direction of a wagging tail can also be a telling sign. Tail wagging has been associated with the hemispheres of the brain. A  left-leaning wag is considered to indicate a relaxed mood compared to the more anxiety-driven right waggle (source).

On the question of biology, we have to ask how much control dogs have over their tails. Is wagging an involuntary reaction to external stimuli, or are dogs’ tails meant to communicate their feelings more meaningfully? 

Image by Andres Perez via Unsplash

What Are Dogs’ Tails Made Of?

Tails, also known as caudal vertebrae, are made up of small bones that are stacked together (source). A tail is similar to the neck or back, but its function is significantly different. 

The bones in a tail are surrounded by muscles, which control the movement and allow dogs to move their tails in a variety of ways. While the tail is used primarily for communication, it can also help with balance.

While the process of moving the tail may be instinctive to some degree, similar to how we smile and frown without thinking, depending on our emotions, dogs do have some control over their tail’s movement.

Dogs also have touch and pain receptors in their tails, making the practice of tail-docking an unnecessary and painful one. 

How Do Dogs Communicate with Their Tails?

Dogs can show a lot of emotion through their tails, besides just wagging. A good dog owner should learn his or her pup’s emotions over time, but there are a few emotions that are more readily noticeable. We’ll take a look at a few telling signs of communication below. 

Tail held up stiffly: If the dog is barely moving his tail and is holding it straight up, this indicates a dog’s discomfort with a situation. This could be because the dog is anxious, and it’s best to move away (source).

Wagging tail only: A wagging tail on its own is more likely to signal other animals. A dog can make himself look bigger and more intimidating by wagging his tail. The tail will be stiffer, and the dog’s facial expression will be neutral or unfriendly.

Wagging tail with a welcoming nod or licks: The dog likes you, and you can likely approach the dog safely. A wagging tail while petting a dog also indicates a positive response.

Tail low or tucked between legs: When a dog feels scared, he will show this by keeping his tail low. A dog that has been punished is more likely to show this behavior, along with one that has been caught doing something he knows he should not be doing.

A bow: If a dog lowers its front to you and keeps its back up, it’s considered a play bow, and the dog is indicating that he wants to play with you. 

Frozen: If a dog becomes completely stiff and stands without moving much, this is generally a sign of fear or aggression. The dog is watching for danger at this point, and any threatening movements could result in an attack of some kind (source). 

Rolling over in a relaxed manner: The dog wants some belly rubs. If the dog rolls over onto its back and has a relaxed stance with an open mouth or tongue sticking out, the dog feels like he can trust you and is willing to expose his stomach to you for more attention.

If the dog tenses up after rolling over, do not approach. This is a sign that the dog has changed his mind, and he may bite if approached.

Licking in a high-tension situation: Dogs are like humans when faced with stress and may resort to fight-or-flight behavior. When a dog cannot choose between fight or flight, they may do other things, including grooming as a way to manage anxiety.

Dogs may also show other displacement behaviors, such as  licking their lips when there’s no food, yawning, or panting. It’s essentially the dog equivalent of fidgeting in humans, and it is often used to hide a variety of anxious or nervous feelings. 

Final Thoughts

Dogs are amazing creatures. Anyone who has had one as a pet can testify that dogs really are man’s best friend. Science has helped us to learn more about our animals, and it has helped us to understand their behavior better.

They might not be able to speak, but a dog’s tail can tell us quite a lot about how they are feeling, especially when combined with other body language. All we need to do is take the time to learn and appreciate their mannerisms and personality, as well as their intelligence.


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