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Why Is My Dog’s Tail Down: Understanding Droopy Tails In Canines

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

why is my dog's tail down

Many dog owners have experienced confusion about why their dog’s tail is down. A dog’s tail is a significant part of their body language and can indicate their emotional state. Therefore, it is essential to understand why a dog’s tail may be down and what it could mean.

Since most tail lowering is anxiety-related, It’s crucial to identify and alleviate the source of their anxiety. All some dogs need for their lowered tails is some alone time in their crates or safe spaces like their dog beds. However, others need long-term behavior modification to reduce this behavior.

This is why it’s crucial to understand your dog’s unique circumstances and address them accordingly. We have the help of Dr Bonnie Beaver’s Canine Behavioral Insights for a complete guide on dogs placing their tails down. 

Dogs experience a wide range of emotions, which is why they have blended so well with humans as pets. These emotions also include negative ones like anxiety, stress, and depression. Canines have several body language cues that communicate what they’re feeling.

Unlike stretching a lot or smacking the lips that communicate mixed feelings (ambivalent), a lowered tail typically shows emotional discomfort. Dogs with low tails often have other signs like pinned ears, a tight mouth, and being wide-eyed with visible eye whites.

By understanding dog tail language, owners can better communicate with their pets and identify potential issues. Pay attention to the context and other body language cues to fully understand what a dog is trying to communicate.

Fun fact: Wagging is typically associated with a happy dog. However, though It may be hard to pick up, dogs wagging to the left express uncertainty and sometimes fear. Also, research shows that right-side wagging is associated with positive feelings.

Understanding A Dog’s Tail Language

Dog tail language is a vital aspect of canine communication. How dogs hold, wag, and move their tails can convey much information about their emotional state and intentions. Understanding tail language can help dog owners better communicate with their pets and identify potential issues.

Luckily, most pet owners have a rough idea of what most tail placements mean. This is unlike other more subtle cues, like dogs shaking their bodies after petting, which may be slightly more challenging to interpret.

Here are a few dog tail positions and what they mean:

  • A dog’s tail held high can indicate confidence, possession of something important, alertness, or even possible aggression. 

When a dog holds its tail high, it may signify that it is in a positive emotional state and feeling dominant or self-assured. Dogs will also hold their tail high when they have found something high-value, like a bone or a toy.

  • On the other hand, dogs putting their tails between their legs is typically a sign of submission, insecurity, or fear.

However, a tucked tail on a dog does not always mean fear or stress. As this video explains, a dog simply tucks her tail when she has food or toys. It is possible that this shows some kind of submission or anxiety around having high value items, but it could also just be that she is focused on food and toys. So interpreting a dog’s body language means viewing the tail in context of the rest of the dog’s body language, never on the tail alone.

 It may indicate that the dog is feeling insecure or trying to show deference to a more dominant individual, whether it’s another dog or a human. It’s usually a sign a dog is trying to appease another individual and avoid conflict. Most people refer to this tail posture as tucking in the tail.

  • However, dogs may also keep their tail low just because they’re relaxed.

 In this case, the tail will be neutral instead of tucked between the legs. The body will be relaxed, and the tail will simply hang low in a relaxed fashion.

This Great Dane has a low but relaxed tail:

@calm.your.tides

So many people think her tail is tucked for stress but really she is just conscious of it sticking out. #servicedog #greatdane #tuckedtail

♬ Past Lives – Martin Arteta & creamy & 11:11 Music Group
  • A wagging tail can have various meanings depending on its context and how it wags. 

A loose, relaxed, wagging tail often signifies friendliness and happiness. However, a fast, stiff, wagging tail can indicate arousal or potential aggression. The direction of the wagging, whether right or left, also tends to change depending on whether the dog is interacting with other dogs or people.

7 Common Reasons for a Dog’s Tail to Be Down

Discover the reasons why your dog's tail is low and learn how to interpret what your canine companion might be trying to communicate or if there is a health issue.

Fear is a common emotion in canines, and most express it using their tails. A study of nearly 14,000 dogs found that more than 70% had one form of fear and anxiety. However, there are other causes of a low tail in dogs.

1. Fear

Fear is one of the most common reasons for a dog’s tail to lower. When a dog is scared, they may tuck their tail between their legs or hold it down. The ears will typically be pinned back too. Various things, including loud noises, unfamiliar people or animals, and new environments, can trigger fear. 

It’s essential to identify the source of your dog’s fear and work to desensitize them to it. You can read our article on whether your dog is scared of you to discover if fearing a person causes the low tail. Constant fear can lead to chronic anxiety and even depression if not addressed.

2. Submissive Appeasement Signal

A dog may hold their tail low as a submissive appeasement signal. This is a way for the dog to communicate that they are not a threat and are not looking for a fight. It’s important to note that a dog holding their tail low in this way does not necessarily mean they are afraid or anxious.

3. Warning and Aggression

It’s essential to remember that a fearful dog can also be a dangerous one. A dog in a fearful state can often resort to aggressive behaviors as a means of self-defense, even if their tail is held low. Such dogs may display clear warning signs like showing their teeth, snarling, or even lunging.

 These defensive aggressive reactions are the dog’s way of communicating, “Stay away, I’m scared and I might react if you come closer.” It’s crucial for individuals to recognize and respect these signals. Just as a raised tail can be a sign of an alert or dominant dog, a tail held low can be a warning sign of a dog that feels cornered and might react aggressively out of fear. Always approach unfamiliar dogs with caution, and heed the silent messages their body language conveys.

4. Relaxed Dogs Hold Their Tails Down Too

Sometimes, a dog may hold their tail low simply because they are relaxed. In these cases, the dog typically carries its tail in a gentle downward curve, just slightly below the line of its back. The tail isn’t tucked tightly between the hind legs, indicating fear or submission. 

The tail hangs comfortably and loosely, aligning with the hind legs instead of between them. They also have a slightly open mouth, gentle panting, and their eyes are soft.

5. Physical Injury or Broken Tail

If a dog’s tail is injured or broken, they may hold it low to protect it. This is especially true if the injury is recent or painful. If you suspect your dog’s tail is injured, it’s essential to seek veterinary care immediately.

6. Illness or Disease

In some cases, a dog may hold their tail low due to an underlying illness or disease. For example, dogs with hip dysplasia or arthritis may have their tail low due to pain or discomfort. 

Other medical conditions that can cause a low tail include spinal cord injuries and nerve damage. You can check out our dog tail anatomy article for more on common canine tail injuries. 

7. Limber Tail Syndrome (Especially After Swimming)

Limber tail syndrome, also known as swimmers tail, broken tail, limp tail, broken wag, cold water tail,  or cold tail  (the medical tail is acute caudal myopathy), is a condition that can cause a dog’s tail to hang limply and low. 

This condition is most commonly seen in swimming dogs like Labs, Labradoodles, and Retrievers or those that exercise vigorously. While limber tail syndrome is not usually severe, it can be painful for the dog.

8. Cognitive Decline, Arthritis, or Stress in Senior Dogs

Senior dogs may hold their tail low due to cognitive decline, arthritis, or stress. As dogs age, they may experience cognitive decline, which can cause changes in behavior, including holding their tail low due to increased anxiety.

In the video below, notice how 16-year-old Chihuahua, Cricket, keeps his tail low and tucked, while displaying symptoms of doggy dementia.

Arthritis can also cause pain and discomfort, leading to a low tail. Finally, stress can be a factor in senior dogs, especially if they are experiencing changes in their environment or routine.

When to Consult a Vet About Your Dog’s Lowered Tail

If a dog’s tail drops briefly, it’s usually nothing to worry about. However, persistent tail dropping, visible signs of pain, or changes in behavior may indicate a more serious problem, and it’s essential to consult a vet.

Persistent Tail Lowering 

If a dog’s tail remains droopy for an extended period, it may indicate an underlying medical condition. Some of the possible causes of persistent tail drooping include:

  • Spinal cord injury;
  • Arthritis;
  • Nerve damage;
  • Infection; and
  • Cancer.

A vet can perform a physical examination and diagnostic tests to determine the cause of the lowered tail and recommend appropriate treatment.

Visible Signs of Pain

If a dog’s low tail is accompanied by visible signs of pain, such as whimpering, yelping, or reluctance to move, it’s essential to consult a vet as soon as possible. Some of the possible causes of pain associated with tail drooping include:

  • Fractured tail;
  • Tail sprain;
  • Infection; and
  • Tumor.

A vet can perform a physical examination and diagnostic tests to determine the cause of the pain and recommend appropriate treatment.

Change in Behavior

If there is a change in behavior, such as decreased appetite, lethargy, or aggression, it may be a sign of an underlying medical condition or behavioral issue. Some of the possible causes of behavior changes associated with tail drooping include:

  • Anxiety;
  • Depression;
  • Hormonal imbalances; and
  • Neurological disorders.

A vet can perform a physical examination and diagnostic tests to determine the cause of the behavior changes and recommend appropriate treatment.

Treatment Options for Lowered Tails in Dogs

Medical Treatments

If the reason behind your dog’s tail being down is medical, your veterinarian may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • Medications: Your veterinarian may prescribe medications to treat underlying medical conditions causing your dog’s tail to go down, such as pain or inflammation.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to correct the underlying medical issue causing your dog’s tail to lower.
  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy can help improve your dog’s mobility and function and may include exercises, massage, and other techniques.

It is essential to follow your veterinarian’s instructions carefully and to continue any prescribed treatments for the recommended duration.

Behavioral Therapies

If the reason behind your dog’s tail being down is behavioral, your veterinarian may recommend one or more of the following therapies:

  • Positive Reinforcement Training: Positive reinforcement training can help improve your dog’s behavior and increase their confidence, which may help alleviate the issue causing their tail to be down.
  • Counterconditioning: Counterconditioning involves changing your dog’s emotional response to a particular situation, which may help alleviate the issue causing their tail to be down.
  • Desensitization: Desensitization involves gradually exposing your dog to a particular situation or stimulus, causing their tail to be down in a controlled and positive manner, which may help alleviate the issue.

Working closely with a qualified dog trainer or behaviorist is vital to ensure that any behavioral therapies are carried out safely and effectively.

Preventive Measures for a Low Tail in Dogs

Regular Check-Ups

One of the best ways to ensure your dog’s tail is always up and wagging is to schedule regular check-ups with your veterinarian. This will help identify any underlying health issues that may cause your dog’s tail to droop. 

During these check-ups, your veterinarian will examine your dog’s tail and overall health, recommend any necessary treatments, and provide helpful tips on keeping your dog healthy and happy.

Proper Training

Training your dog is another way to prevent their tail from drooping. Proper training can help build your dog’s confidence, reduce anxiety, and improve their overall behavior.

You can teach your dog basic obedience commands, such as “sit,” “stay,” and “come,” to help them understand what you expect from them. Positive reinforcement is an effective way to train your dog and can help build a strong bond between you and your furry friend.

Balanced Diet

A well-balanced diet is essential for your dog’s overall health and well-being. It can help prevent various health problems, including obesity, which can cause your dog’s tail to droop. Ensure your dog’s diet includes all the necessary nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Consult your veterinarian to determine your dog’s appropriate diet based on age, breed, and activity level.

By following these preventive measures, you can help ensure your dog’s tail is always up and wagging. Regular check-ups, proper training, and a balanced diet can go a long way in keeping your furry friend healthy and happy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is my senior dog’s tail down?

As dogs age, they may experience dementia or joint pain and stiffness, affecting their ability to hold their tail up. Additionally, senior dogs may have decreased muscle tone in their tail, causing them to droop. It’s essential to monitor your senior dog’s tail position and consult with your veterinarian if you notice any sudden changes or discomfort.

Why does my dog put their tail down between their legs?

A dog putting their tail down between their legs is often a sign of fear, anxiety, or submission. This behavior is typical in situations where a dog feels threatened or uncomfortable. It’s essential to identify the cause of your dog’s fear or anxiety and work with a professional trainer or behaviorist to address the issue.

Why does my dog’s tail go down when they eat?

Some dogs may exhibit a submissive behavior of lowering their tail while eating. This can be an instinct to show deference to other dogs or humans in the household. However, if your dog’s tail position changes suddenly or they exhibit other signs of discomfort while eating, it could be sign of anxiety around food, which could lead to resource guarding or food aggression.

Why is my senior dog’s tail between their legs?

A senior dog’s tail between their legs may indicate pain or discomfort. It’s essential to monitor your senior dog’s behavior and consult with your veterinarian if you notice any changes or signs of distress.

What does it mean when a dog’s tail is up?

A dog’s tail up is often a sign of excitement or alertness. A dog’s tail position can also indicate aggression or dominance or a sign that they have something of high value, like a favorite toy they don’t want anybody else to take. Understanding your dog’s breed and behavior is vital to interpreting tail position correctly.

Why is my dog’s tail down after swimming?

After swimming, a dog’s tail may droop due to fatigue or muscle soreness or limp tail syndrome. It’s important to monitor your dog’s behavior and give them adequate rest and recovery time after swimming or other physical activity. If your dog’s tail position does not improve or they exhibit signs of pain or discomfort, consult your veterinarian.

Final Thoughts

A dog’s tail position can reveal much about their feelings. If a dog’s tail is down, it could indicate that they’re feeling anxious, scared, or submissive. However, it’s important to note that each dog is unique and may have their reasons for keeping their tail down.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.