Everyone loves to pet their dog, and it is no secret that your dog enjoys it too. If you’ve been playing with your dog since it was a puppy, then you probably already know that your dog prefers to be touched in some areas, and not touched at all in others. The tail, for example, is one area that dogs almost always prefer that you stay away from. While you might think that touching or grabbing onto your dog’s tail is a fun way to play, your dog would sorely disagree with you. Grabbing a dog’s tail—something that children are particularly tempted to do—can be very painful and terrifying for your dog. To help you avoid accidentally hurting or scaring your best friend, here are some reasons why your dog prefers to keep its tail to itself.
The Root of the Behavior
Tails come in all shapes and sizes, but regardless of the type of tail your dog has, it plays an extremely important role in how your dog interacts with the world around it. A dog’s tail is comprised of up to 23 vertebrae, which are all surrounded by a system of highly active muscles. This is how a dog’s tail is able to move so fluidly, and take on so many different positions. Every dog learns to make good use of its tail, which is important, as it is a dog’s most important tool in both communication and motor functioning.
Picture a dog happily wagging its tail. As you can see, the tail plays a critical role in communicating what the dog is thinking and feeling. In this case, it is happiness. The position of the tail can provide insight into whether a dog is happy, curious, afraid, angry, or sad. Typically, dog emotions are also accompanied by some form of movement in the tail, and this combination of position and movement provides a complex means of communicating a dog’s feelings to the rest of the world. This communication remains apparent even if a dog has had its tail clipped, or has a naturally short and stubby tail. There are some dogs that have no tail, but the instincts to wag, lower, or straighten out the tail remain.
The movements of the tail also have a functional purpose for different types of dogs. Various maneuvers such as climbing, jumping, and following narrow paths require the use of the tail as a counterbalance. Watch closely as your dog runs at top speed and makes a turn; you may notice your dog using its tail to assist in making fast turns. In this sense, the tail is a physical instrument that could change the way a dog interacts with the surrounding world if altered or damaged. While humans do not have a direct means of comparison, you can imagine that interfering with this critical body part might feel like someone had suddenly taken away your ability to speak, tied up your hands, and painfully grabbed onto a section of your spine. It is easy to see why a dog may not like that feeling.
Encouraging the Behavior
Don’t be offended if your dog shies away from you or expresses that it does not want to continue playing after you try to touch or grab its tail. Your dog may simply be feeling scared, disturbed, or confused. If someone else grabs your dog’s tail, make sure that your dog does not display signs of severe pain or injury. Accidently touching or grabbing the tail may be inevitable, but after you have done it once, you will know to what extent your dog is comfortable with having its tail touched. In general, it is good practice to avoid touching your dog’s tail, unless you suspect injury or need to check the areas surrounding a dog’s tail.
If your dog routinely gets its tail dirty, or you find yourself in a situation where you are required to care for your dog’s tail, you may need to teach your dog to accept being handled along the tail. Dog trainers typically do teach owners how to handle their dog’s tail, and if this is something that you are considering, be sure to do it with the utmost care. Allow your dog to become familiar with the practice slowly, and give them plenty of time to adjust to what may be a difficult situation for them to accept. It is entirely normal for a dog to resist having its tail touched and held, and it is up to you to respect and navigate that relationship with your dog.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Be aware that some dogs may take aggressive action if someone grabs aggressively at their tail. This is particularly important to be aware of if you are planning on having small children around your dog. Even if you do not have an aggressive dog, a dog that is scared enough may have an instinctive or reflexive reaction, and this may cause harm or injury to the perceived threat. If you think that your dog is being extra sensitive about its tail, it may be a good idea to take your dog to the veterinarian, as extreme sensitivity may indicate injury.
If you were worried that your dog was acting out of the ordinary because it didn’t like having its tail touched, then you can rest easy knowing that the behavior is completely normal. Respect your dog’s body, treat your dog’s tail with care, and try to discourage others from grabbing or touching it. Next time you have nieces, nephews, or little cousins over to play with your dog, remind them that it is always a good idea to keep our tails to ourselves. Your dog will certainly appreciate it.