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Why does my dog walk with his tail down?

Oh, how much easier life would be if your dog could talk to you! Then, he could tell you exactly when he is hungry, when he needs to go outside, and when he is hurting or sick. However, he can’t talk to you — not with his voice anyway.

He can communicate with you, though, through his body language. It’s just that it’s up to you to decipher his codes. Exactly why does your dog walk with his tail down? Let’s talk about it.

Why does my dog walk with his tail down?

Trying to decipher what your dog is trying to say with his tail when he turns it down can be a chore. Just be patient and observant, and you’ll be fine. Here are some clues.

Is it an indicator that he feels withdrawn and timid?

A turned-down tail is one way that your dog may convey his timidity and shyness. If he feels withdrawn and unsociable, this is an indicator.

This is the behavior you see when a dog quietly gets a drink of water and with its tail hung, trapses back to his bed in the corner. These dogs usually hang their heads, as well.

Is he trying to show you that he feels vulnerable and anxious?

Even more so, if your dog is feeling anxious and vulnerable, weak and exposed, he will hang his tail. This is one of the easiest signals to understand. 

You may notice him try to hang his tail and hide behind you if there is a stranger around. These dogs also normally hang their heads, besides, dropping their tails.

Could it be that he’s trying to let you know he’s not feeling well?

This one is a bit more complicated. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell when your dog isn’t feeling well, so even if your dog is hanging his tail because he is feeling poorly, you may not catch on.

The secret here is to look for other signs of physical malaise, such as lethargy, GI distress, excess itching, biting, or head-shaking, swelling, limping, or yelping.

Is he trying to tell you that he feels calm and content?

Your dog could just be telling you he is fine. When he is jolly and eating well, your dog shouldn’t have a care in the world. Sometimes, when a dog’s tail hangs down, it is only because it is not tensed up.

If you see no issues other than a hanging tail, be careful not to go looking for trouble where there is none. Your dog may just be chillin’.

Why is my dog suddenly walking with his tail down?

Your dog was himself until, suddenly, he began walking with his tail down. You’ve ruled out anxiety, and you’ve ruled out defensive mode. What other reason could your dog have for suddenly walking around with his tail down? The most likely culprit is a condition called “limber tail.”

What is limber tail?

Limber tail comes on suddenly leaving its victim unable to wag his tail, as it will be limp. This condition is also known as “broken wag,” “limp tail,” “swimmers tail,” “cold water tail,” and “rudder tail.”

Sometimes, the tail can extend from the dog’s body a few inches horizontally and then drop off vertically.

Which dogs are likely to be stricken with limber tail?

There are dog breeds that are more prone to limber tail than are others. Hunting and sporting dogs are especially subject to the condition.

The most common breeds affected by limber tail are beagles, English setters, English pointers, labs, golden retrievers, foxhounds, and flatcoats.

What are the symptoms of limber tail?

Besides the obvious symptoms (dog unable to wag his tail, limp tail), there are a few other symptoms to look for when considering limber tail. The two most common symptoms are swelling and pain.

It is thought that the swelling and pain cause the other symptoms, which are lethargy, whimpering, whining, or licking or chewing on the tail.

What are the causes of limber tail?

The answer isn’t clear, that is, to the question of what happens physically that causes the tail to suddenly hang down. However, there are obvious clues that tell us it is clearly a muscle injury and not one or more broken bones in the tail.

While some things, like changes in the weather, sudden exposure to extreme cold (shock), a crate that is over or under-sized, or excessive time spent in a crate are thought to be among the causes of limber tail, most cases of it occur after hunting, chasing, and other forms of extreme exertion.

Thus, overexertion is actually thought to be the primary cause of limber tail in which the coccygeal muscles close to the base of the tail, it’s thought, have simply been overexerted and damaged.

Of all the forms of exercise, swimming is the one after which limber tail or “swimmers tail” occurs most often. This may be due to the fact that dogs often get a double dose of “cause” when they swim.

What I mean to say is that not only do dogs use all their muscles, including the coccygeal muscles, when they swim, but they also usually swim in water that’s fairly frigid.

How is limber tail correctly diagnosed?

If you have cause to suspect that your dog is plagued with limber tail, he needs to see a veterinarian, who will examine him and see what else, if anything, needs to be done. The “what else” could include x-rays to rule out broken bones (there are between 6 and 23 bones [or vertebrae] in a dog’s tail) or blood tests.

Blood tests may be run if your vet suspects your dog has limber tail. These tests would search for an enzyme called CK (creatine kinase). The presence of this enzyme in the bloodstream usually points to damaged muscles.

Many times, however, vets are not even familiar with limber tail, and they mistakenly think it is a more serious condition.

Why does my dog walk with his tail between his legs?

Dogs usually put their tails between their legs when they are fearful or anxious. One example that comes immediately to mind is a new puppy that you left at home for the first time while you went to work.

When you got home, you didn’t have any more dress shoes, but he had plenty of new toys lying around the house. What else did you notice? When he saw your appalled reaction, he put his tail between his legs in angst, not knowing what you would do next.

However, there could also be physical reasons why your dog may walk with his tail between his legs. He could be suffering and in pain. One condition, we just discussed, which is limber tail. Other physical conditions having to do with the tail are tail fracture, pyoderma, and happy tail syndrome.

Is his tail fractured?

Dogs with longer tails certainly get them fractured more easily and more often, but all dogs’ tails can be fractured. A dog’s tail can be fractured if stepped on, if in a fall, if caught in a fan or something, even while playing with you or another dog, or many other ways.

If his tail is fractured, you may notice him bleeding, walking funny, licking and chewing on his tail (which may smell foul), losing hair on his tail, and whining or whimpering. Some dogs even display incontinence with a fractured tail.

What is “happy tail syndrome,” and does he have it?

Happy tail syndrome is akin to limber tail syndrome in that it is a condition with a cause that seems to come from overexertion. It’s called happy tail syndrome because it generally strikes big dogs that are “very happy.”

In happy tail syndrome, large, short-haired dogs, like Pit Bulls, Labs, Great Danes, and Greyhounds, wag their large, strong tails so much that it strains the coccygeal muscles severely, leaving the long tail to hang between the legs.

What should I do about my dog walking with his tail down?

Is he just anxious, or does he have a serious medical condition? What can you do at home? Start here.

Home Remedies

A good warm pack on the base of the tail may be the ticket to get you as far as soothing the affected muscles, and lots of rest and recuperation are the boarding pass to healing.

Professional Advice

For any hanging tail that lasts too long, see a veterinary professional for advice. Besides, you may need medications that only he can prescribe to get your dog back on his game, like anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, or pain ointments.

Most times, limber tail syndrome goes away on its own, but happy tail syndrome is usually a more complex condition needing more complex treatment an at least one visit with a vet.


Be careful of his tail when walking through the house or playing with him, and don’t overexert him.