About the Author: Dr. Finlay Tayler (DVM), a Harvard veterinary graduate, brings his five years of diverse experience to MyPetDoggie. Passionate about all animals, and a proud dog owner, he balances full-time veterinary practice with contributing expert insights to our content. Dr. Tayler’s love for the outdoors, cycling, and love for dogs enrich his holistic perspective on dogs care.
Generally, people assume owning a dog is a simple and easy task, but at times dog parenting becomes demanding and tough. Dogs have their way of communicating which often makes it difficult for their owner to interpret the message.
You have observed that your dog sometimes puts his tail between his legs which makes you wonder why he is doing that.
Typically, it indicates that his new surroundings are making him uneasy and unsafe. He might be frightened or feeling discomfort around unfamiliar places or faces.
It can be an indication of a medical condition such as an infection or he has a bruise on his tail or he is in pain due to a fall or injury.
If you want to see a happy wagging tail again, be a keen observer of your dog’s body language. To do so, it is important to figure out why he’s behaving in such a way.
So, to help you out, I have gathered some reasons why do dogs put their tail between their legs.
Why Do Dogs Put Their Tail Between Their Legs? ( 6 Likely Reasons )
You must learn what these signs potentially mean. There are quite a few possible reasons behind his behavior.
Fear or Anxiety
Dogs will put their tail between their legs whenever he’s around unfamiliar locations or faces. Your dog becomes anxious and feels unsafe when he is unable to recognize the place or people around him.
Specifically, rescue dogs display particular dog tail behavior. As compared to average domestic dogs, rescue dogs take much time to settle down and build confidence as well as trust due to their previous unpleasant experiences.
Taking up a new residency, encountering new dogs, visiting your local vet, having his first ever visit to local parks, or having a sleepover at your friend’s home with other dogs at their house can trigger your dog’s anxiety and thus putting tail between his legs
When dogs make a mistake or misbehave and their master (either human or dog) is unhappy with them, they express their submission and remorse by putting their tail between their legs. Dogs have a built-in sense of hierarchy and place you at the top of the pyramid. Your dog accepts this by putting his tail between his legs. Their behavior shows their submission and want forgiveness for their bad deeds
But, not all dog breeds are fond of expressing such kind feelings. Some breeds such as Pugs or Bulldogs have shorter tails as compared to other breeds thus, they can show submission.
But other breeds such as German Shepherds, Heskies Chow Chow, or Terriers are often stubborn and may not easily get influenced or controlled by their owner and may not consider you as their master. That’s why they rarely put their tail between their legs if they do something wrong or misbehave. They also put their tails between their legs when they get intimidated by other dogs. By expressing such feelings, your dog tries to exhibit his emotional state.
Pain or discomfort
Your dog is trying to hide his pain by putting his tail between his legs. Remember, not all dogs show such kind of behavior when in pain. Some dogs may express their discomfort while some are reserved and may try to hide their pain. Try your best to understand your dog’s behavior and be watchful of any indication of pain or discomfort. The best is to take your pet to the vet as they will run tests to determine the exact root cause of the pain.
Guilt or regret
You may want to yell at your dog whenever he misbehaves. Mostly, dogs already know and recognize when they have crossed the line or committed something unacceptable. Usually, dogs develop a habit of putting their tail between their legs when they are consistently yelled at or are being agonized.
To make up for their misbehavior, they crouch, dropping their head suddenly and tucking and curling their tail between their legs. By doing so, they try to avoid making eye contact with their human buddy. This gesture indicates guilt and regret for his misbehavior thus your dog is begging for an apology.
To avoid this from happening again, set some boundaries with your dog while training. So, it seems safe to say that it is not necessary to yell at your dog every time he does something wrong because he’s smart enough to know what he did.
Like humans, dogs do require some peaceful and quiet space of their own, especially a female dog while out in hot summer. Female dogs put their tails to avoid male dogs coming their way to sniff their private and sensitive parts.
This gesture helps them prevent any male dog from getting close or forming any unwelcome partnership with them. Make sure you are around your female dog and provide her comfort when out on walks to prevent unwanted male dogs from approaching and troubling her.
Shyness and Insecurity
The most common reason why a dog puts his tail between his legs is because he is shy and feels insecure about his surroundings. Like humans, your dogs need some focus when they are consuming food. If they feel hesitant and shy, they won’t enjoy their food. That’s why they put their tails between their legs while eating. This shows that they are being protective of themselves in case they need to guard themselves from an attack. Make sure to keep your dog with you at new places to make them feel safe.
Other Reasons A Dog May Hold His Tail Down
Some other significant reasons why your dog may hold his tail are mentioned below
Bones in the tail are breakable and fragile, just like all the bones in your dog’s body, are delicate. Your dog may develop a tail fracture when he is being hit by a car, falling from the bedside or height, or when his tail is slammed into a door.
Whenever this happens, your dog’s tail is usually downward. He’s unable to move and faces a struggle even lifting his tail. In such a scenario, your dog puts his tail between his legs to prevent from making any further contact until it is fully cured. There are other signs to look for that indicate your dog’s broken tail such as excessive skin bleeding, changes in the manner your dog walks, the stinky smell from the tail, or any bald spots on his tail.
Another medical condition that requires serious concern is a skin infection. Your dog might put on his tail due to an infection on his skin. Infection on the skin likely forms when a dog’s tail is cut or there is an open wound on the tail. By tucking his tail, he wants to cover his wound.
One of the most common forms of infection is Pyoderma which is caused when the external cover of the skin is damaged or injured. It has a white core full of pus and a red outer layer. Certain dog breeds with more skin creases such as Dogue de Bordeaux or Bulldogs are more in danger of developing Pyoderma.
Anal Gland Issues
Anal gland issue or infection is a result of nutritional problems when your dog doesn’t have a good diet and lacks important nutrients, it may lead to a poor immune system and other health-related issues.
Anal gland infection is commonly found in smaller dog breeds. If your dog doesn’t have a diet packed with fiber and protein, he may not have normal dog feces. In consequence, the liquids in his body will build up, thicken and stick to the anal gland.
If your dog is putting his tail between his legs due to an anal gland infection, there is a possibility that his former habits might be surfaced. Such as he might drag his bottom all over, lick his anal or he might sit in unusual manners This behavior indicates that there is pain and unease in his anal.
Sometimes, the dog puts his tail between his legs to show that he is expressing constipation and it’s your cue to show him to the vet. Constipation is a serious digestive health problem that can cause loss of hunger or vomiting in pets, particularly in dogs.
It occurs due to a lack of fiber in your dog’s diet. It can also cause difficulty for your dog to urinate thus making matters worse. That’s why he is putting his tail between his legs. As pointed out by Dr. Cote :
“ Possible causes for this behavior include anal gland infection or impaction, constipation, trauma or stool or foreign material stuck in the rectum… “. So, you should consult your vet as soon as possible.
Limber Tail syndrome
Your dog may tuck his tail between his legs due to Limber tail syndrome. It also goes by the name Summer’s Tail, Cold Water Tail, or Broken Wag. It causes pain and discomfort on your dog’s tail, as a result of an injury. Although it is not life-threatening and with some rest and time your dog can improve over a short duration, but it can be painful and can restrict your dog’s physical movement.
Although all breeds are at risk of having Limber tail syndrome, some breeds are more likely at risk such as English Pointers, English Settlers, Retrievers, Beagles, Hounds, and Vizsla.
Why Do Dogs Tuck Their Tails When They Eat
Some animals can do both, hunting other animals and being hunted or chased by other animals. Such as cats as they are well known for their chasing and hunting skills and some breeds of dog. They are conscious of their position in the food chain and can act accordingly.
This is particularly the case with certain dog breeds such as Dachshunds who can play the role of predators but they are typically much smaller in size than those who they hunt or chase out of the forest.
It is important to consider this because dogs feel most unsafe when having their meals as predators can approach them and attack them. They feel threatened by their surroundings while having their meal. As a consequence, dogs have a quiet instinct to curl their tail between their legs to safeguard themselves from danger.
Due to this danger, dogs often eat in groups or packs. So that they can look out for each other and warn in case a predator is lingering around. In the face of danger, they can fight as a group instead of alone.
Likewise, it is quite natural for dogs to eat in unfamiliar areas. This behavior is so common that many pet shelters advise and caution respective pet owners that their newly adopted pet may not be able to eat food for the first 48 hours after adoption.
As there is always a solution to a problem, this problem can be solved with a few steps to make your dog relax and make him enjoy his meal time. One of the most essential steps is to cut down all distractions which means not feeding your dog when there are lots of activities going on in the kitchen. This will enable your dog to eat his food with focus and peacefully. Interruptions from your family members can divert your dog’s attention, thus, developing poor eating habits. It can potentially make your dog nervous or uneasy during meal times.
Make a habit of sitting with your furry friend during his meal times. This can somehow recreate the typical pattern of an animal pack which will make your dog feel that you will look out for him if a danger is nearby. This practice is also helpful in a household packed with multiple pets as it discourages pets from snatching food from each other.
What Does Dog Tail Position Mean?
A dog’s tail position is a major indicator of your dog’s mood or behavior. Your dog’s tail can show his emotional state. It can also be used to send messages to you or other dogs. Learn to interpret his behavior, as it can tell how your dog feels. It is important to know your dog’s tail positions and what these signs potentially mean so that you can determine what your furry friend feels or thinks.
- When the tail is pointing downward and closed to the legs: This tail position indicates that your dog is anxious or panicking.
- When the tail is tightly tucked between its hind legs: This behavior shows that your dog is being submissive or that new surroundings are making him stressed.
- When the tail is partly tucked between legs: Typically, when your dog somewhat tucks his tail between legs, it means that he is being submissive but also he is scared. Make sure you are careful, otherwise, he may launch an attack on you or others around him
- When the tail is rigid and vertical in position: This position indicates that your dog is being threatened and aggressive towards others.
- When the tail is rigid and horizontal in position: While this position may not be threatening, your dog is being watchful and vigilant of his surroundings.
- When the tail is straight and wagging: This position of your dog’s tail is a clear indication of your dog’s happiness and excitement. He’s cheerful and thrilled to see you around him and he’s content with his life.
How Dogs Communicate With Their Tails
As humans use language to express their feelings, dogs use their tails as a communicative tool to express their intentions and convey their messages. Dogs usually bark, howl, or growl to convey their emotions. So, it’s essential to interpret different sounds. Dogs typically depend on non-verbal communication, hoping their master will understand. As the dog language is unfamiliar to human language, there are chances we understand completely the opposite of what is being communicated.
One common way dogs communicate with us or other dogs is through their tails. Dogs use their tails to express different emotions such as happiness, anxiety, or submission. When a dog wags his tail, we naturally assume that he is happy and content.
However, research shows that a waggy tail doesn’t always indicate your dog is happy. Dog owners usually misinterpret tail wagging as an indication of happiness. Tail wagging doesn’t always mean that your dog is cheerful, it could indicate that your dog is irritated or discontent. To understand what your dog is going through, watch carefully the position and the speed at which your dog wags his tail. A slower pace wag shows a cheerful and calm dog. A faster and quicker wag shows more emotional arousal, thus it can be negative.
Look out for the direction of the tail as well. A study shows that when dogs are more calm, they tend to wag their tail to the left. When they feel frightened, they wag their tail to the left. So, it is recommended to learn to decipher the different body language of your dog to understand him more.
What Should You Do When Your Dog Has Their Tail Between Their Legs and Acting Weird?
Your dog communicates with his body language and the position of his tail can tell a lot about him so look out for the position of his tail in case he is acting weird. Here are some suggestions you can make to help calm down your furry best friends.
When your dog has his tail between his legs and is acting weird, observe him and figure out the root cause of his behavior. Different positions of your dog’s tail suggest different things. So, watch his body language closely and try to pinpoint the cause of your dog’s distress and unease. Make sure to approach him calmly and try to remove any triggers that may cause his stress.
Create Safe space:
Like humans, dogs do need some quiet space to exercise their feelings. If your dog puts his tail between his legs, try to give him some time and safe space to feel at peace. The best is to make him a cozy bed or a shelter in the corner of your house whenever he wants some time and space rather than going out on the street on his own to seek comfort. Try to avoid approaching him during his time.
Your dog may feel frightened around unfamiliar places and people. He may feel some threat lingering around in a new environment that’s why he wants to put his tail between his legs. Try to comfort him by petting him and talking gently to make him feel safe around a new place. Indulge some calming techniques such as turning on his favorite music or giving him a relaxing massage or a cold bath to reduce his stress level.
Offer a Treat and Toy
His favorite treats and toys can be very helpful in keeping him calm in a new place. Your dog may feel scared and start panicking the minute he steps into a new place. Toys can be useful to distract him from unwanted thoughts, thus making him feel safe and sound. So, try to bring along his favorite treats with you to calm him down.
Check For Physical Discomfort
One of the significant reasons why your dog is putting his tail between his legs is because he’s in physical discomfort. Check for any symptoms of his pain and uneasiness. Your dog may try to hide his discomfort, so try to seek what’s troubling him. Check if there is an open wound on his tail that you may not have noticed before. Remember, open wounds can lead to a bacterial infection on his tail so try to treat him as soon as possible.
Eliminate Potential Threats
Dogs can easily detect if there is a potential threat around them. Some dogs become nervous and feel threatened by loud and harsh voices or unrecognizable people or pets. Make sure to check his environment and remove any potential threats from his surroundings.
Punishing your dog for putting his tail between his legs and acting weird will make matters only worse. He may want to avoid you and can run away. Remember, there is a reason why he’s putting his tail between his legs as his new environment is making him nervous or he feels threatened by other dogs around him or there is an infection on his tail that may cause a great deal of pain for him. Instead of punishment, try to use positive reinforcement to cure his behavior. Such as giving him his favorite treats or providing him with toys whenever he shows courage and confidence can reduce his stress level.
Consult a Veterinarian
It is always recommended to consult a veterinarian or behaviorist in case there is a significant change in his behavior. You should seek professional help if you detect your dog has limber tail syndrome, he has a fractured and injured tail, or anal gland issues. Try to identify the reason and address it with your vet.
What is silent pain in dogs?
Sometimes, your dog may be having pain but he’s trying to hide it from you. Silence evolves slowly and gradually over a long period. Look out for signs such as your dog’s movement at a slower pace or lack of interest when out on an outdoor adventure. Dogs won’t convey their silent pain so it’s better to be watchful of these signs.
How do I know if my dog is in pain?
There are many signs you can look out that indicate your dog is in pain. such as if is facing distress or anxiety, if he’s panting, crying out or even growling, if he is sensitive to touch, he is barking or snapping at you, trying to hide from you, or changes in breathing. However, it is best to contact your vet in case any of these signs appear.
How do dogs show their feelings with their tails?
As humans use language to convey their message, dogs communicate through their tails. We generally assume if the dog is wagging their tail, he’s happy, but vets do suspect that a wagging tail is a sign of nervousness and anxiety. A wagging tail is frequently interpreted as being excited, but it can also mean that your dog is frightened or anxious.
Do dogs like it when I touch their tail?
Typically, dogs don’t want their owner to touch their private parts. Some dogs are sensitive to touch. So, it is better to respect their preferences.
Why is my dog walking around with his tail between his legs?
Your dog is walking with his tail between his legs because he is frightened and confused around a new place. He feels scared and threatened around some people or other dogs. So, make sure you are with them whenever they meet new people or visit unfamiliar places.
Does the tail between the legs mean pain?
Dogs usually tuck their tails between their legs because they are feeling uneasy or uncomfortable in a new environment. However, it also indicates that your dog has an injury or is in pain
So In The End,
Dog’s tails do mean a lot of things. It is wise not to ignore such signs and try your very best to interrupt these signs. So that you can understand your furry emotional state. Keep a keen eye on their behavior to understand their personality. Remember, look out for other body parts as well, as tail positioning is only one way of communication.