The German Shepherd’s signature sabre-like tail is just one of the many attributes that makes them so special and appealing. It is big, bushy, long and sometimes curly. But it is there for more than just looks. It helps them balance, move around, and communicate with other animals and people. You can tell a lot about a GSD just from the position of their tail. From the happy wag to the embarrassed tail between the legs, it is a great way to tell how your dog is feeling. So what are the different German Shepherd tail types and what do they all mean?
German Shepherd Tail Types:
Similar to German Shepherd coat types, there can be three German Shepherd tail types depending on the length of their coat. A Short Coat GSD has a tail with hairs that are around 1 inch long. A Medium Coat GSD has a tail with hairs that are around 1-2 inches long. And a Long Coat GSD has a tail with hairs that are around 2 inches or more.
Standard German Shepherd Tail:
The standard German Shepherd tail type is big, fluffy and long. It can be anywhere from 10-22 inches depending on the specific dog and their genetics.
According to show standards, the length should at least make it to the hock joint or ankle of the dog. It is bushy and has a sable-shape with a slow curve that is similar to the sword.
Fun Fact: The German Shepherd’s tailpiece is a continuation of the spine and has somewhere between 18-23 vertebrae.
It should start right around the croup or rump and ideally shouldn’t be too high or low. This type of tail should not exceed the top of the back.
Can A German Shepherd Have A Curly Tail?
Yes, a purebred German Shepherd can have a curly tail. Though it is considered a fault according to the breed standards, it is not uncommon for a GSD to have a tailpiece that curls more than the standard sabre-shape.
If the German Shepherd is purebred, the curly tail could be the result of domestication over thousands of years. This is known as juvenilization or neoteny.
As dogs were domesticated over the years, more resources became available which meant less competition. Because aggression was decreased, certain physical features became neotenized resulting in floppy ears and curly tails.
There is also the slight chance that the German Shepherd isn’t purebred. It could have a hint of DNA from another dog breed such as an Akita. It could also have some Shiloh Shepherd which have some Malamute DNA in their bloodlines.
A DNA test is the only way to rule out the latter. If the GSD is 100% purebred, then the curly tailpiece is most likely the result of domestication.
German Shepherd Tail Position Meanings:
You can tell a lot about a German Shepherd’s mood or how he’s feeling based on tail position. For example, scientists have found that dogs wagging their tailpiece to the right are happy or excited and dogs wagging their tailpiece to the left are anxious or nervous.
Additionally, they have more recently found that other dogs can recognize their tail wag and can tell what type of mood they are in just based on the tail wag alone.
Aside from their right and left tail wag, there are several other positions to look for. Here are some common positions and what they mean.
- Between the legs: This means the GSD is afraid or scared. They could also be ashamed because they did something wrong and got into trouble. For example, if they peed in the house or rummaged through the trash while their owner was out.
- Down: This means they are feeling sad or unhappy, especially if their head is down as well. They may also submitting to you as the pack leader.
- Pointing straight up: The GSD is most likely mad or upset and possibly aggressive. The higher up the tail, the more assertive they are. They may be close to reacting to whatever they feel threatened by.
- Relaxed and out: This means that they are happy and content with their surroundings. This is a good sign that the dog is feeling at home and loves the people he is with.
- Straight out: This is a sign that the German Shepherd is apprehensive or worried about something close by. It could be a stranger on a walk, a friend they don’t recognize or a sound in the distance that concerns them.
- Wagging broad and fast: This means the GSD is happy and excited to see you. He may be full of energy and ready to play. This dog shows us the definition of happy tail wagging after finally recognizing his owner who had lost a significant amount of weight.
- Wagging slowly: This means that the German Shepherd is assessing the situation and is unsure yet whether or not things are safe. For example, if you have a friend over and the dog is meeting him or her for the first time, he may wag his tail softly because he isn’t sure whether or not to assert his dominance or submit to the new person.
If a dog is holding its tailpiece in any of the positions that could signal he is aggressive, anxious or nervous around someone, grab on to his leash until he calms down.
German Shepherd Tail Problems:
There are three major tail problems that can affect the German Shepherd. One of them is almost solely associated with GSDs.
If you’ve ever been away from your dog for a long time and returned, you know just how happy a dog can be. Unfortunately for some dogs that are happy all the time, they can develop what is known as “happy tail.”
It is basically an injury that develops over time from a GSD repeatedly slapping its tailpiece against hard objects such as furniture or walls. The repeated blows can cause the wound to worsen over time.
It can become very painful for your dog should be addressed as soon as possible to avoid further damage to the tail. Usually, a bandage will be wrapped around the tail to allow healing but antibiotics or medication may be necessary.
In the worst case scenario, part of the tail may have to be amputated to avoid chronic pain and a continued infection.
Hot spots, also called moist dermatitis, are infected areas on the body or tail that result in bald spots or hair loss.
They usually begin from allergies such as insect bites. Once the area becomes inflamed, the dog will attempt to lick and chew the infected area. This causes them to lose the hair surrounding that area.
They can start off small and progressively get bigger and bigger the more the dog licks and chews the area.
To treat at home, you can carefully clip the fur surrounding the infected area and then clean with a gentle and safe solution. A follow up with the local vet can help determine what allergy is causing the reaction.
Often times a short-acting corticosteroid, like prednisone, is given through injection for treatment.
Limber Tail Syndrome:
Limber tail syndrome is a muscle disorder that causes most of the tailpiece to go limp. It is most common in sporting dogs but can be found in working dogs as well.
It goes by several different names including broken tail, cold water tail, and swimmer’s tail. The majority of the time it is caused from a dog swimming in water that is too cold. However, occasionally it can happen to a dog from water that is too warm.
At the moment there is no known cause, but one theory is that the cold water causes the area surrounding the spinal cord to shrink limiting mobility in the tail.
A GSD with this syndrome will have a tailpiece that is horizontal for approximately 4 inches and then goes straight down. It is painful around the base of the tail.
Aside from that it isn’t extremely harmful. It can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and dogs usually recover within a couple of days of rest.
Masses or Tumors:
Certain types of masses can grow on the body or tail. They can include several different kinds of growths from harmless cysts to life-threatening tumors.
The first of these possibilities is an abscess. It usually forms when a wound becomes infected. The result is a soft, warm lump that is swollen and painful to the touch. Occasionally they will rupture and drain leaving a red bump that is raised above the skin.
They can be treated with a warm compress to improve the blood flow but they must be drained by a vet to completely heal.
The second possibility is a cyst. A sebaceous cyst is pretty common in dogs. It is a small benign growth that is painless and non life-threatening.
This fluid filled sac is filled with sebum which is an oily secretion that keeps dogs skin moist and waterproof. This type of growth normally looks like a small volcano on the surface of the skin.
Often times it will resolve on its own but it could also wall off or rupture. If it ruptures above the skin, the area should be cleaned and disinfected several times a day. If it ruptures below the skin, a vet should be seen to assess the situation.
Last but not least, the growth could be a tumor. It could be either benign or malignant depending on the cause.
Certain parasites can cause issues with the tail, specifically heart worms, hook worms, round worms, tape worms, and whip worms.
Similar to hot spots, you may notice bald spots or hair loss around the base of the tail. The worms can irritate and inflame the area around the anus causing the dog to lick or chew his rear end area or tailpiece.
Aside from vaccinations, there are several things you can do to help avoid those pesky parasites.
Perianal fistula, also known as anal furunculosis, is a nasty medical condition that is common in German Shepherds. It is characterized by tunnel-like lesions, sometimes puss filled, surrounding the anal area.
It is very discomforting for a GSD and causes a lot of pain around the anal region, especially when they are defecating. Along with the pain of going potty, they may have chronic diarrhea.
There are several symptoms including carrying his tail real low, a foul odor, blood in the stools, struggling to defecate, crying out during potty, and excessive biting and licking of the tail.
The exact cause is unknown but the theory is that it starts with the oil and sweat glands being inflamed and then progresses from there. This condition is serious and painful and a vet should be seen immediately to diagnose the issue.
They will most likely perform a physical and rectal exam to determine the cause. They will most likely do a biopsy of the cells surrounding the anal area.
Unfortunately, 8 out of 10 times, this condition recurs so treatment is absolutely necessary. There are several treatments including antibiotics, diet enhancements, and oral medications like cyclosporine and ketoconazole.
Treatment usually lasts around 2 months with a major chance for recurrence in most dogs.
The German Shepherd definitely has one of the coolest tail types of any dog breed. The sabre-like sword shape only adds to the appeal of their already beautiful and majestic look. You can learn a lot from their tail as far as health and communication. Learn how to read their mood using body language and your bond will grow stronger. If you notice any of the aforementioned tail problems, make sure to contact your local vet!
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