Why Dogs Put Their Tail Between Legs: 6 Key Reasons

October 18, 2022

6 Reasons Dogs Put Their Tail Between their Legs

6 Reasons Dogs Put Their Tail Between their Legs

Our dogs’ inability to communicate verbally means they let us know what they think and feel through physical actions and cues. Take the way they tilt their heads to the side, for example – this is their way of letting us know that they care.

Dogs use their tails as a tool for social communication. A happy dog will wag their tail, and an angry dog will have an erect or fluffed-up tail.

The different movements and positions of a dog’s tail can tell a lot about how the animal feels or what they are trying to communicate.

When a dog’s tail is between its legs, it could indicate a variety of things. Fear or pain are just a couple of reasons we initially think of.

It can be frustrating for you as a dog owner (and maybe even your canine!) trying to figure out what’s happening.

Dr. Nathan Lents, a biologist and professor at City University in New York, told the Daily Mail that this action is, in fact, called an “apology bow.” And although we are right to assume that the dog has misbehaved when it adopts this stance, the root of the action goes a little deeper.

When we see our dogs with their heads hanging low and tails between their legs, they become submissive to their master. This is an evolutionary hangover from the wolf pack mentality and is a way for the dog to beg its superior canine not to push it out of the pack due to its bad behavior.

Nowadays, of course, the master and superior canines are us, and the pack is our family. The dog uses its head and tail to say, “please don’t disown me because I destroyed one of your favorite cushions.”

This would be the ultimate punishment for our pooches as they are a species who “crave harmonious integration,” explains Dr. Lents.

What does the position of a dog’s tail mean? 

A dog’s tail and how it carries it is an essential indicator of many things, such as its current social standing as well as its mental state. Depending on how the dog naturally carries its tail, there can be some variations. Watch for these dog tail positions discussed below in your dogs and how they carry their tails in various interactions with other dogs, and it may help you begin to understand more about how your dog feels and sees the world.

1 – Your dog carries its tail practically horizontal, yet not stiff, and pointing away from its body. This lets you know that they are paying close attention to their surroundings.

2 – Your dog is holding its tail straight out, pointing away from its body horizontally and stiffly. Watch, and you’ll notice that this is part of the process that occurs in any initial challenge whenever they first meet a stranger or an intruder.

3 – If the dog’s tail is held upward, somewhere between a horizontal and vertical position, realize that this is often the sign of a dog that is dominant, confident, and feeling in control. This can also display a dog asserting his/her dominance – basically translating into “I’m the boss here. Don’t mess with me.”

4 – If the dog’s tail is carried up and slightly curved over its back, it means, “I’m the top dog.” A confident and dominant dog who feels in control will often express itself this way.


5 – If the dog’s tail is carried lower than the horizontal position but still has some distance from the legs, you can know that your dog feels pretty relaxed and that all is well.

6 – If your dog’s tail is carried downward, closer to its hind legs, it can mean several things, such as “I’m not feeling good” or “I’m a little depressed.” It could also mean “I feel insecure,” which is especially true of many dogs when they are in an unknown or new setting or situation.

7 – If the dog’s tail is tucked between its legs, it often means, “I’m frightened!” or “Please don’t hurt me!” This is especially common whenever the dog feels the presence of a more dominant dog or person. Tail carriage of this type can also mean, “I accept my lowly role in the pack, and I’m not out to challenge you in any way.”

How dog carries it tails

8 – All right, let’s talk about a few more examples of how a dog carries its tail. If you notice bristling hair down its back or down the dog’s tail, this often suggests a sign of aggression. This meaning may also change in intensity if the dog modifies its tail position. So, if the tail is carried straight out from the body, it means “I’m ready to fight if you are!” or if it moves the tail slightly up or over its back, it means that “I’m not afraid of you and will fight to prove that I’m the boss.” This is serious – especially if it happens between two dogs that won’t back down.

9 – If your dog carries its tail with a twinge or sharp bend while it is carried high, this often means the same thing as in the bristling tail example. This, too, can be read as a sign of aggression.

10 – If the dog has a nice broad tail wag, it often means “I like you.” You’ll often see this display during play sessions between dogs – for example, when one dog seems to be fighting the other, pouncing, growling, and barking but with a wagging tail all the while – the wagging tail reminds the other dog that this is all in fun. A broad tail wag can also mean “I’m pleased.”


11 – If you notice that your dog is exhibiting a slow tail wag, with its tail carried at half-mast, it can often mean “I’m confused.” Later, when the dog finally solves the problem that it was confused about, you will often notice a dramatic difference in the speed and size of the tail wags, which will usually markedly increase as well.

Learn to read the signs. Dogs don’t talk like we do, but they communicate with each other. They are keen observers of body language and will often understand how to read you long before you can fully read them. But with a little practice, patience, and an intense desire to better understand your dog, these generalized gesture descriptions above will help you better read your dog in the future.

Also Read: Are French Bulldogs Tails Docked(cut) Or Are They Born Without Them?

Different Reasons a Dog Has Their Tail Between Legs and Acting Weird 

Have you ever heard of the expression, “they went off with their tail between their legs”? That means that the person in question felt insecure and worried. And this expression we apply to humans came from canine behavior. 

However, seeing your dog acting strangely with its tail between its legs probably means they are feeling extremely anxious and frightened. Take this seriously and attend to your pet, reassuring and comforting them.

If it just happens for a day, that’s one thing.

But if a dog continues to tuck their tail after some time, it may be a sign that something else is wrong.

Let’s look at illnesses.

Aside from fear or general anxiety, dogs position their tails between their legs in response to numerous health conditions.

Some of these ailments will be apparent with visible injuries, while others could be challenging to diagnose.

Don’t worry; with some knowledge and upfront guidance, you can rule out or even identify the possible causes.

To start, here are five canine disorders that are associated with the tail:

6 Reasons Dogs Put Their Tail Between their Legs

  • Pyoderma
  • Limber Tail Syndrome
  • Tail Fracture
  • Fleas
  • Impacted or Infected Anal Glands
  • Happy Tail Syndrome

This article covers these five common canine disorders that could cause a dog to tuck their tail between its legs.

We have included a basic definition of the disorder, other signs and symptoms to look out for, and susceptible breeds to each disease, and We offer what you should do to help your dog get their tail behavior back to normal.

Also Read: Do Australian Shepherds Have Tails? – The Truth About the Bobtailed Aussie

1. Dog Tail Between Legs Due to Pyoderma

A tucked tail on a dog could be an indication of a skin infection.

There are various reasons that skin infections could occur on a dog’s tail. When a canine’s tail is scraped or cut, it is more at risk of infection.

Pyoderma is an infection caused by bacteria, fungus, or parasites.

Rest assured, this condition is prevalent in dogs.

The condition is one of the most frequent reasons owners bring their dogs to the vet. There has been a considerable amount of research done on Pyoderma in canines.

Signs And Symptoms

There are several symptoms associated with Pyoderma.

As one of the most common health conditions in canines, veterinarians are very effective at detecting this condition.

The most frequently reported symptom of Pyoderma is the presence of papules or pustules.

Papules and pustules are lesions that develop on the skin. They often appear similar to human “pimples.” The injuries are red on the outside and usually have a white, pus-filled center.

Here are more of the common symptoms associated with Pyoderma:

  • Circle-shaped crust
  • Dry areas of skin
  • Loss of hair in the infected area
  • Itchiness
  • Dog sitting with tail between legs


There are several breeds of dogs that are more prone to developing Pyoderma.

It is thought that these dogs are more at risk of developing the infection due to excess skin causing skin folds.

  • Bulldog
  • Terrier
  • Shar-Pei
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Pitbull


The standard treatment for Pyoderma and resolving the problem of your dog keeping its tail between its legs is a prescription of antibiotics for two to six weeks.

In some severe or chronic cases, the veterinarian will conduct a skin culture examination to determine whether or not the correct antibiotic is being used.

The majority of pyoderma cases will heal with the use of antibiotics in combination with topical skin medicine.

Dog owners should give their pets regular baths with special medical shampoo.

2. Limber Tail Syndrome Causes Dog’s Tail to Go Between Legs

Limber Tail Syndrome is another potential cause of a dog keeping its tail between its legs and acting strangely. You may hear other pet owners referring to this syndrome as frozen tail, swimmer’s tail, broken wag, cold-water tail, and even sprung tail

Sometimes the meaning of a dog’s tail tucked between its legs can be challenging to identify.

Canines use their tails for a variety of functions. Limber tail syndrome or acute caudal myopathy is a disorder within the tail muscles.

What’s this really mean?

Veterinary medical experts suggest that this condition comes from the overuse of the tail.

  • Excessive exposure to cold temperatures
  • Too much confinement to a crate
  • Swimming
  • Too strenuous exercise (without having the proper conditioning beforehand). 

Excessive or prolonged stress on the dog’s tail can cause damage to the vertebrae bones, muscles, and surrounding ligaments.

Critical risk factors are overexertion, exposure to frigid water, and extremely cold weather.

Also Read: 20 Most Dangerous and Aggressive Dog Breeds – According to the Dog Bite Statistics

Signs And Symptoms

A dog with its tail between its legs can mean it’s dealing with some kind of pain in the tail.

In this case, it could indicate the dog is trying to cope or even communicate with its tail that something doesn’t feel right.

As we’ve said, a painful tail is one of the symptoms of acute caudal myopathy.

The symptoms generally occur within twenty-four hours of the event or situation that causes the condition.

Here are a few additional symptoms that are reported in cases of the limber tail syndrome:

  • The dog has a limp hanging tail
  • Tail straight for two to three inches, then hanging downwards towards legs
  • The dog has difficulty defecating
  • Changes in appetite such as refusing to eat or drink
  • Pain at the base of the tail making it hard for tail to raise up
  • The dog doesn’t want to sit
  • Dog’s tail is between legs consistently
  • Swelling at the bottom of the tail
  • Whimpering

Breeds That Are More Susceptible To Limber Tail Syndrome

Certain kinds of dogs, sporting and working dogs are more susceptible to limber tails.

The syndrome would occur more often in sporting or working dogs because one of the primary risk factors is overexertion (and that includes the tail working).

The following specific breeds of dogs have been identified as the most susceptible to the syndrome:

  • English Pointer
  • English Setter
  • Foxhound
  • Beagle
  • Labrador
  • Spaniel
  • Retriever
  • Vizsla

What To Do

In simple, standard cases of a limber tail, the syndrome is effectively treated with anti-inflammatory medication and rest.

The tail is likely swollen, and in pain, so owners shouldn’t allow the dog to do strenuous activity.

Most dogs with this syndrome will typically return to their usual, hard-working selves within approximately one week.

A dog with the limber tail syndrome is not more likely to develop the condition a second time.

Therefore, once the tail is fully healed, owners should let their dogs return to what they love but keep a closer eye on their tails.

3. Dog Tail Fracture

This point is something not many pet owners think about, but there’s a possibility that your dog’s tail may be fractured. Have you noticed your dog seeming distressed or in pain, and have they been acting strangely with their tail? Can you think of anything your dog may have done that could have ended up in a fractured tail? If so, bring your dog to the vet right away. 

A dog’s tail between his legs could signal that the dog is in pain.

What kind of pain?

A fractured or dislocated tail can be an agonizing sensation for your furry friend.

Believe it or not, dog tails are fractured easily. And those with longer tails are more at risk of severe injury.

You may be asking, how can a dog fracture its tail?

Numerous situations, events, and examples of how a dog can suffer a tail fracture. Here are some of the ordinary events that lead to the injury:

  • Often occurs when dogs are struck by vehicles
  • Falls from high places
  • The tail is stepped on, or something falls on it
  • The tail is compressed or crushed by something (you never know fully what your dog gets into!)

Signs And Symptoms

As we just saw, a dog’s tail between his legs may indicate that the dog is suffering from a tail fracture.

But what else should you look for?

Here are the additional signs to look out for if you suspect that your dog has a tail fracture:

  • Dog won’t wag tail normally
  • Bleeding skin
  • Variation in “gait” or the way that your dog is walking
  • Chewing and licking tail
  • Foul smells coming from the tail
  • Hair loss in the tail region
  • Crying or whimpering
  • Incontinence

Breeds That Are More Susceptible To A Tail Fracture

No dog breeds are more susceptible to tail fractures than others.

Often, a tail fracture will occur as the result of a “freak accident” or an event that is entirely out of the ordinary.

Dogs with certain jobs, especially active dogs like Australian Cattle Dogs or Staffies for example, and those with long tails may be more prone to tail fractures than other dogs.

Also, consider hunting and working dogs that are highly active. They may be more at risk of a tail fracture because of their daily strenuous work.

Also Read: 7 Longest Living Large Dog Breeds

What Can You Do?

The recovery of your furry friend will depend on numerous factors.

The most important factors are the cause of the injury, the severity of the injury, any additional trauma, and whether or not the effects of the injury will be permanent or temporary.

Owners should be ready to observe closely and ensure the dog rests without moving strenuously.

It would help if you also prepared a nutritious diet and a safe, clean environment.

Depending on the severity of the injury, your dog should be back to normal and doing its usual antics within a few weeks to a few months at the most. Just watch that tail!

4. Fleas

There is one aspect of the summer months that dog owners despise, the dreaded increase in fleas.

In most areas that are not warm year-round, fleas are only around in the summer.

These tiny insects can make life miserable for you and your dog. Their tail between their legs is one way they’re letting you know.

Fleas are little, brown insects that enjoy warm temperatures. Fleas are attracted to dogs for the same reason that they are drawn to humans, the blood!

A good flea collar can help with this, of course.

Fleas also possess powerful back legs, which allow them to jump from one animal to another almost instantly.

Signs And Symptoms

A dog’s reaction to fleas can depend on several factors.

Some canines will have a severe reaction, which makes them highly uncomfortable and irritated. Other dogs may not show much or any irritation.

Here are some of the common symptoms associated with fleas on dogs:

  • Itching and licking of the skin
  • Rubbing and chewing of the skin
  • Scabbing and redness
  • Skin sores
  • An allergic reaction is known as Flea Allergic Dermatitis (FAD)
  • Hair loss
  • The dog will put its tail between its legs as a sign of stress from the biting
  • Changes in behavior
  • Visible evidence of fleas

Breeds That Are More Susceptible To Fleas

No specific breeds of dogs are more prone to fleas than others.

Fleas don’t only target dogs. They will go after almost any mammal if the environmental conditions are suitable.

However, there are specific causes and risk factors for dogs contracting fleas.

Squirrels, rodents, and cats can carry fleas and drop them on the ground.

The fleas can then hop off the ground and onto your dog.

Fleas will also drop flea eggs in a home, which can then lead to an infestation of the entire house.

What Should You Do?

To effectively eliminate fleas, dog owners should carefully follow the advice of their vet.

Many owners will approach a flea infestation casually, allowing the outbreak to grow and making elimination far more challenging.

But to end the issue.

Treatment of the canine carrying the fleas will be the primary concern.

Your veterinarian will likely prescribe a specially made flea shampoo, which should be used regularly to wash your dog.

Flea shampoo is one of the most effective methods of quickly getting rid of these pesky insects.

Furthermore, insect growth regulators (IGR) provide consistent protection against fleas.

IGRs don’t need to be applied as often as flea shampoos and other anti-flea medications. IGRs work by inhibiting fleas from reproducing and continuing their infestation.

Other treatments involve treating your pet with medicines that will sterilize all existing fleas. This one takes some time but can be more effective in the long run.

You can make a big difference in how often flea infestations occur and their severity.

In most cases of dog injuries, the owner can’t do much other than follow the veterinarian’s instructions.

With fleas, dog owners can regularly apply preventative measures.

5. Impacted or Infected Anal Glands

Another common cause of dogs putting their tail between their legs might be impacted or infected anal glands. If this is the issue causing your dog to put their tail between its legs, you will probably see other strange behaviors, too. Examples include scooting across the carpet, licking the anal glands, and suddenly sitting down for no reason

Bring your dog to the vet as soon as possible if you suspect impacted or infected anal glands. It is a painful problem, so you don’t want to put off treatment. Also, if there is an infection, it could end up in a dangerous situation. 

Certain circumstances can make your pet more likely to develop anal gland impaction or infection. These include: 

  • Anal gland duct obstruction
  • Incorrect muscle tone in the anal sphincter
  • Constant yeast or bacteria infections
  • Food allergies and hypersensitivities
  • Diarrhea caused by conditions such as illnesses or diet change
  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Dermatitis in that area of the body 

6. Happy Tail Syndrome

Most people would consider that when a dog is wagging its tail, the dog is happy. Seems completely logical, right?

But there’s more to this.

This is one of the reasons that happy tail syndrome can be so problematic; owners have trouble recognizing when it’s a problem.

The happy tail syndrome can cause significant injuries to your dog’s tail.

All dogs wag their tails, but some dogs are so big and powerful that over-wagging can cause injury.

Large dogs with extended tails are more at risk of the happy tail syndrome.

The injuries from this syndrome will usually appear at the top of the tail because the skin isn’t as thick in that region.

Due to the damaged region and the dog’s urge to continue waging its tail, the condition can be challenging to treat and heal.

Signs And Symptoms

An injured tip of the tail and a dog’s tail between his legs imply that your furry friend may suffer from the not-so-happy, happy tail syndrome.

Most tail injuries and syndromes will create superficial wounds that aren’t apparent to the naked eye.

More profound internal tail injuries will clear their presence by limiting or dramatically changing the movement of the tail.

Who knew that a dog’s tail between its legs could result from being too happy? Craziness…

Breeds That Are More Susceptible To A Happy Tail Syndrome

The breeds more susceptible to the happy tail syndrome are dogs with short hair, long tails, and forceful rear ends that can wag their tails powerfully.

The most common breeds associated with the happy tail syndrome include:

  • Great Danes
  • Pitbulls
  • Greyhounds
  • Labradors

These dogs are most commonly associated with happy tail syndrome because they all have long tails and powerful behinds that can flip and toss their tails so much that it can cause severe damage.

That said, any dog with short hair and strength that can wag its tail powerfully is at risk of the syndrome.

What Can You Do As A Responsible Dog Owner?

The happy tail syndrome can turn from a minor issue to a severe problem if the tail tip isn’t allowed to heal.

In this case, resting a dog’s tail between the legs is good.

You want to look out for infection as it is a critical concern. Thankfully, you can make a big difference in healing their furry friend’s tail.

A great example is in this video:

When you notice that your dog has an injury to its tail, keeping it clean and covered is critical.

To effectively bandage your dog’s happy tail, follow these tips:

  • Cleaning – Be sure that the wounded area of the tail is clean before proceeding to step two.
  • Ointment or medication application – Your veterinarian will prescribe some type of antibiotic ointment or medication. Spread some of the creams on and around the wound to help lower the risk of infection.
  • Apply bandages – After you have put on the ointment, apply a piece of gauze or wrapping on the injury. Ensure the dressing is large enough to cover the entire wounded area.
  • Change the bandages – For the most efficient healing, you must change the wrapping of the injury daily until it is fully healed.

What Should You Do When Your Dog Has Their Tail Between Their Legs and Acting Weird?

Suppose you think your dog has Limber Tail Syndrome, a fractured tail, or any of the conditions listed above. In that case, you must bring your canine companion to a veterinarian as soon as possible. 

Get your dog’s medical attention soon. If there are signs of pain, this is especially important. Don’t take a chance with your canine companion’s health. 

Final Thoughts

A canine tail movement is a social tool used primarily for communication.

Dogs that don’t wag their tails, or if there is a noticeable change to the movement of the tail, you can expect that there is a problem you should ignore.

As we’ve seen here, there are several potential reasons your dog is putting their tail between its legs. If your dog is showing this behavior frequently, it’s even more important to bring your pet to the veterinarian for an examination. 

Even if you think emotional issues are causing the behavior, these also may need medical attention.

Most canine tail conditions are superficial and will quickly heal with proper treatment and management.

When these minor conditions are left untreated, they can lead to infections and more severe complications.

When you see the first sign of something different about your dog’s tail, you should seek a professional opinion.

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