“My dog has its tail between its legs and is acting weird. What’s wrong?”
You’d be surprised at just how often that exact question comes up.
Most pet owners will already know that dogs use their tails as a form of communication.
For instance, wagging usually indicates happiness– though it can also signal a certain degree of nervousness or apprehension if it is swaying a certain way.
With that in mind, what does it mean when your dog puts his tail between his legs and starts acting strangely? Should you be concerned?
The truth is that when a dog has his tail between his legs, it could be due to a large variety of reasons.
In the most likely scenario, the dog is- in one word- spooked.
So many things (from a chirping smoke detector, to the threat of imminent bathtime) can scare a dog that it’s really quite a common sight to see a pooch slinking into its crate, tail tucked like a furry land lobster.
In other cases, a poor pup that has its wagger down between its legs could be suffering from a medical condition such as a flea infestation, tail injuries (limber tail syndrome, for instance), or pyoderma.
In this article, we’re going to cover all of the potential reasons that could be causing your dog to act abnormally and stick his tail between his legs.
We’ll also talk about what you can and should do in each instance so that any issue is resolved as quickly as possible. Let’s get this tail started! (sorry, not sorry)
- Why Is My Dog’s Tail Down All Of A Sudden, And What Can I Do About It?
- Potential Cause Number 1: Limber Tail Syndrome
- Potential Cause Number 2: Dog Tail Fracture
- Potential Cause Number 3: Happy Tail Syndrome
- Potential Cause Number 4: Anal Gland Problems
- Potential Cause Number 5: Pyoderma
- Potential Cause Number 6: Fleas
- Final Thoughts
When attempting to figure out why your dog has its tail between its legs and is acting weirdly, it’s important firstly to understand the nuances of canine behavior.
In the large majority of cases, a dog will keep its tail between its legs because it’s scared of something in its present surroundings– whether that be a loud noise, another dog, or even its owner (especially if you’re in the middle of throwing a fit)!
With that said, if this behavior occurs out of fear then it usually only lasts briefly and the pooch is back to its usual happy self.
However if your dog is putting his tail between his legs frequently and there’s nothing obvious around that could scare him, then this could indicate the presence of a more serious medical condition.
6 of the most common tail-related conditions that could be the cause of your dog’s peculiar behavior include:
- Limber Tail Syndrome
- Dog Tail Fracture
- Happy Tail Syndrome
- Anal Gland Issues
In the remainder of this post, I’m going to be covering all 6 of these potential issues in detail. This will include a deep look at the symptoms to look out for so that you’ll be better equipped to rule each one out.
The hope is that after reading this article you’ll be able to correctly identify the reason your dog keeps sticking his tail between his legs and acting strangely, as well as gain knowledge preliminarily in what to do in each situation.
However keep in mind that this information is not intended to be medical advice, and that the best thing to do afterwards is still to make an appointment with your vet so they can put your furry friend on the road to recovery with the right treatment.
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Was your dog recently exposed to frigid water or extremely cold weather before suddenly displaying signs of tail-tucking and strange behavior?
Or has it been placed on an extensive workload on the farm or on hunts in the past few days?
Recent stressful conditions could be a big clue in identifying the reason as to why your dog is keeping its tail tucked between its legs seemingly out of nowhere.
The tail is usually a significant part of a dog’s daily movements, and especially vigorous bouts of exercise or activity has the potential to result in physical trauma such as sprains or strains.
One effect of trauma to the tail is acute caudal myopathy– otherwise known as Limber Tail Syndrome. Limber tail syndrome is a condition that affects the muscles of the tail for the base onwards.
According to veterinary experts the damage to the vertebrae, muscles, and surrounding ligaments is normally associated with overuse of the tail, and the subsequent inflammation renders the appendage temporarily immobile.
If your dog’s behavior has changed in the past 24 hours following heavy exertion, it could be due to acute caudal myopathy.
Keeping its tail between its legs can very likely be a dog’s sign to its owner that something is wrong. Try to observe whether your dog is acting like they’re in pain as well.
There are a handful of signs that may or may not present themselves in dogs with limber tail syndrome, including:
- A tail that is limp and hanging
- A tail that is horizontal for 2-3 inches from the base which then hangs vertically down between the legs
- Difficulty with defecation
- Refusal to drink or eat, or experiences some kind of change with its appetite
- Yelping when the tail is lifted or when trying to raise it up
- Hesitation and reluctance to sit
- A tail that is constantly between the legs, no matter the situation
- Swelling at the base of the tail
- Whimpering frequently for no clear reason
You may be wondering: Just what kind of activity leads to Limber Tail Syndrome?
The condition is more common in sporting or working dogs (which makes sense because dogs use their tails while working), so rest assured that your couch-bound pup is unlikely to develop the affliction.
However, do be warned that many owners have anecdotally reported that a heavy day of swimming at the beach has resulted in limp tails for their pet pooches on a few occasions- hence the condition’s other name, “Swimmer’s Tail”!
Nevertheless, the breeds that are usually chosen for sport or work are still more likely to experience limber tails overall. These breeds include:
- English Setters
- English Pointers
Rest is best when it comes to healing a limber tail.
While Limber Tail Syndrome is a condition that can mostly be treated in the comfort of your own home, it’s still highly recommended that you take your pet to the vet first when you suspect any related symptoms.
The reason why this is so important is because the symptoms of Limber Tail Syndrome can potentially be seen in other more serious conditions as well.
Therefore, a formal diagnosis of Limber Tail Syndrome will exclude these other complications and help to put your mind at ease.
Once the diagnosis has been confirmed, your vet will likely prescribe some type of anti-inflammatory medication for your dog in order to help it to manage the pain.
Other than providing medication, keeping your dog from engaging in any strenuous activity for a few weeks will be hugely beneficial.
It has been shown that in most cases of “Swimmer’s Tail”, a minimum of two weeks is usually required before recovery is observed.
Finally, a warm compress pressed onto the base of the tail periodically throughout the day can be very soothing for your pooch. Doing this will help to reduce inflammation and swelling by bringing blood flow to the area.
While the tail is undoubtedly swollen and painful in its current state, the dog should be able to return to its normal activities once healed.
Unfortunately, having a limber tail once does increase the chances of the dog contracting it again. Therefore, it definitely pays to exercise restraint when it comes to your pup’s, well, exercise.
Here are a few things to watch out for:
- Avoid allowing your dog to swim in icy or even cold water
- Make sure that your dog is in good physical shape- without pushing it too hard all at once
- Avoid leaving or allowing your dog to stay in a small crate for extended periods of time
If your dog appears to be in serious pain and has their tail between their legs, the cause could potentially be a fractured or dislocated tail.
Dogs can fracture their tails easily. The longer the tail, the higher risk of injury. There are many common, everyday situations in which the nerve endings, small vertebrae, and joints can be damaged and a tail fracture to result.
Generally, a dog can fracture its tail when:
- It has been hit by a car or another vehicle
- Something falls on the dog’s tail, or it is stepped on by a clumsy foot
- The dog falls from a high place
- The dog’s tail is crushed or compressed by something heavy, such as a chair
If your dog has fractured their tail, they may display behavioral changes that include keeping its tails position firmly between its legs.
If you suspect that your dog has a fractured tail, here are some additional symptoms you should look for:
- Your dog doesn’t wag his tail normally
- The skin of the tail is bleeding in some areas
- The way your dog walks has changed or varies
- The dog’s stance or body language (or ‘gait’) has changed or varies
- The tail has a bad odor
- Your dog is losing hair on or around his tail
- The dog is whimpering or crying often
Although having a longer tail or more active lifestyle may increase the risk of injury, there are no definite breeds that are more prone to tail fractures.
A lot of these injuries are the result of a one-off incident and are not from everyday activities.
The length of time it takes your dog to recover depends on how severe the initial injury is.
However, as you might imagine, fractures are one injury that you definitely want treated by a professional vet.
Don’t let your poor pup walk around with a broken tail, in other words!
This is especially the case if the break is anywhere but at the tip of the tail, as if the appendage isn’t reset properly and immobilized it can result in a permanent kink.
There could also be other areas that need healing which only a vet will be qualified to assess. In any case, you (and your dog) will want those vet-only prescription pain medications to help to minimize the pain.
In a worst case scenario of heavy damage, part of the tail may need to be amputated. Fractures near the tail base will also likely be accompanied by nerve damage, which will require the administration of steroids in order to achieve a satisfactory recovery.
Make sure your dog is allowed to rest in a clean area with plenty of food once it has come home from the vet. Unless there are further complications, it should be able to recover in a few months at most.
Make sure that the pooch avoids any strenuous activity until their behavior and mood returns to normal. After that and upon a full recovery, they should be able to move about more freely once more!
Does your dog wag its tail a lot?
Some dogs are just so full of joy and happiness that they wag their tails so much and so forcefully that they can injure themselves in the process!
Imagine that you were a dog, for a second, and that you whacked your tail against the leg of a kitchen chair- Oh, I dunno– a few hundred times in the span of ten minutes. It would hurt, right?
This canine-specific phenomenon is called Happy Tail Syndrome. It can be hard to identify at first- because, well, all dogs wag their tails- but it usually starts at the top of the tail where the skin is thinner.
In serious cases, Happy Tail Syndrome can result in bleeding ulcers and exposed nerves that result from repeated strikes to the exact same area of the wagger.
Perhaps the worst thing about this condition is that it can be extremely difficult to heal from with some dogs. This is simply because they Just. Cannot. Stop. Wagging. Their. Tail!
If your dog has their tail between their legs and the tip of the tail is injured, the cause might actually be too much happiness!
To fix this: Make your dog more sad, please.
When your dog’s tail has finally ceased its endless swinging, take a peek to see if there are any signs of redness, hair loss, swelling, or bleeding- especially in one or two concentrated areas.
Another possible clear sign of Happy Tail Syndrome is if your pet yelps or tucks his tail rapidly when he wags it against something hard.
You can probably picture the breeds that are more likely to experience happy tail syndrome.
They’ll usually be large, with a forceful tail wag that might move their entire body at the same time. These dogs will have short-to-medium length hair and long tails with a lot of power.
The breeds that most commonly experience happy tail syndrome include:
- Great Danes
Even though the most common are those that have long tails and strong muscles, any dog with short hair and a powerful tail wag could realistically develop Happy Tail Syndrome.
To keep the problem from getting any worse, the most vital thing to do is to make sure the tail is allowed to heal.
Therefore, this is a situation where the tail being tucked between the legs of your dog is actually helping- believe it or not!
Make sure you are regularly checking the injury for signs of infection. If you see any, call your vet right away for advice.
You can also try the following tips to keep the wound from getting infected:
- Clean the wound thoroughly using mild soap and water. Make sure that there is no loose hair or debris in the wound area.
- Apply antibiotic ointment. Use an antibiotic cream like Neosporin from the pet store or from your vet to keep the area free of infection.
- Cover the wound. Once cleaned and the ointment applied, place a piece of gauze large enough to cover the entire wound. It may have to be double-layered for “Happy Tail” injuries due to the constant danger of reaggravation.
- Keep bandages fresh and change them daily until the tail is healed.
Keep in mind that in severe cases you may have to look into surgical shortening of your pooch’s tail.
While this may result in a cosmetic difference that you are not partial to, a shorter tail does mean less likelihood of recurring injuries for a constantly ecstatic canine.
Other than holding its tail firmly between its legs, have you also noticed other such luminary behaviors from your dog such as sitting down abruptly, constant biting and licking of its rear end, and scooting on your favorite rug?
If so, the reason for your dog’s sudden insistence on holding its tail down could be due to impacted or infected anal glands.
Other signs of infected or impacted anal sacs can include:
- A foul, often fishy smell
- White substances leaking out of your dog’s bum
- Dark spots or patches around your dog’s anal region
The anal glands of a canine (located at approximately the 4 and 8 o’clock areas below the anus- see image above) are responsible for producing white or cloudy-brownish secretions that are designed to be a form of chemical communication.
These substances are usually released automatically when a dog has a bowel movement, but under certain circumstances the functioning of these organs can become impaired.
When this happens and the liquid is unable to be expelled naturally, the glands become increasingly full and can become impacted as a result.
Prolonged impaction can then lead to infection, which tends to be extremely painful for a poor affected pooch (as you might imagine!)
This pain can subsequently cause a dog to hold its tail down as much as possible in order to protect the area.
Anal gland issues are most likely to affect smaller dogs, and are more unlikely to be a problem for larger breeds.
- Toy poodles
- Basset hounds
- Cocker Spaniels
There are usually two options you can decide from when your dog has anal gland issues:
- Take your pup to the vet (or a qualified groomer- more on this later) to have its glands manually expressed; or
- Manually express the glands by yourself at home.
If you’re not the type that’s usually OK with dog poop and various bodily fluids, then I’d highly recommend that you go with the first option!
Here’s a helpful video that shows how you can express a dog’s anal glands at home if that’s the road you decide to go down:
However, to save yourself the trouble and the mess, it’s definitely easier to take your pet to the vet to have the procedure carried out professionally.
Regardless, it’s probably a good idea anyway to have a vet check out your pup if it’s holding its tail between its legs so that any potential signs of inflammation, infection, or even glandular tumors can be established.
Following that, the vet will then be able to prescribe the best treatment possible, whether that involves manual expression of the glands, administration of antibiotics, or even completely removing the glands via surgery.
If your dog is tucking its tail between its legs and slinking about in a way that suggests that it might be in pain, you may want to stop it in its tracks and look for any scrapes or cuts on the tail area.
If there indeed are areas where the skin is broken, there is a likelihood of an infection taking place.
Skin infections caused by bacteria, fungus, or parasites are known collectively as Pyoderma.
Luckily pyoderma is very frequently seen in dogs, and is one of the more common reasons for which canines are brought into a vet’s office.
Pyoderma is easily identified by professionally qualified vets. In terms of appearance, there will normally be lesions on the skin called papules (or pustules).
The papules are normally red on the outside with a pus-filled center– bearing a certain resemblance to human acne.
A dog suffering from Pyoderma will typically experience the following symptoms:
- Dry patches of skin
- Hair loss in or around the infected area
- Circle-shaped crust
- Consistently putting his tail between his legs (if that’s the affected area)
Dogs that have skin folds or excess skin are at a higher risk of developing Pyoderma. Some of the more common breeds that can have this trait are:
- Cocker Spaniels
If your vet suspects Pyoderma to be the cause of your dog’s behavior, they will most likely prescribe a general round of antibiotics that lasts at least two weeks (and usually no more than six).
If the Pyoderma is resistant, your vet will most likely take a culture of the lesion to have it analyzed by their lab.
This will allow them to prescribe a more targeted antibiotic designed for specific strains of bacteria.
Severe cases may be resistant to the antibiotic treatment, but most will resolve with the prescribed oral medications as well as with an antibiotic balm or cream applied to the dog’s skin.
Regular baths with a medicated shampoo is also highly recommended for the duration, regardless of whether or not the infection is resistant.
If your dog has its tail between its legs and is looking a bit miserable and itchy (but not in pain), they unfortunately may have a flea infestation.
Fleas, as I’m sure you already know, are small brown parasites that drink the blood from animals. They have powerful hind legs that allow them to quickly jump from one animal to another.
Flea infestations can happen year-round in warm areas since they prefer warmer temperatures. Vice versa, if you live in a cooler climate you may only see fleas in the summer.
Reactions to fleas can range from minor irritation to painful suffering.
There are a lot of symptoms to look out for, but when a dog has fleas they will typically experience the following symptoms:
- Itchiness of the skin causing excessive licking, rubbing, or gnawing
- Redness and scabbing
- Skin sores
- Hair loss
- Behavioral changes
- Visible flea dirt (you may also see the fleas in your dog’s coat or jumping off of him)
Additionally, a dog with fleas will be prone to putting his tail between his legs. This will be due to the stress of having fleas, as well as the constant need to relieve the itch.
Fleas aren’t picky. They’ll go for nearly any mammal as long as the surroundings are flea-friendly!
So instead of focusing on your dog’s breed, you should look at the environment that they are frequently in.
Fleas may seem like a minor problem, but if they aren’t dealt with properly they can turn into a significant issue pretty rapidly!
Your first step should be to treat the dog carrying the fleas by getting rid of any existing parasites.
To help you do so, your vet may prescribe a flea shampoo which you can use to wash your dog (just make sure you don’t get it into your pup’s eyes!)
There are other methods such as Insect Growth Regulators (IGRs) that can end infestations by keeping the fleas from reproducing.
Once the dog has been treated successfully, you can prevent fleas from happening again by keeping your dog’s environment clean and regularly using a preventative medication or shampoo.
For instance, there may be situations where that Frontline topical treatment doesn’t work as well as you expected it to. In those scenarios, here are 8 great alternatives that you can try instead!
If you’ve found this page because your dog has its tail between its legs and is acting weirdly, hopefully you’ve been able to learn something helpful from this post today!
As we’ve laid out in this article, there are a variety of reasons as to why a dog is sticking his tail between his legs and acting strange.
While it could be fear/anxiety-related, it may be a sign of one of the 6 conditions as follows (especially if it is occurring on a regular basis):
- Limber Tail Syndrome
- Tail fractures
- Happy Tail Syndrome
- Anal gland issues
- Flea infestation
Regardless, if you’re noticing your dog behaving strangely and frequently putting his tail between his legs, you should contact your vet or schedule an appointment as soon as possible.
This will be the best way to diagnose the issue and get your furry friend on the path to feeling better.
For more insight into canine behavior and tips on how to handle a myriad of abnormal issues in dogs (such as if they have diarrhea and keep licking their bum), be sure to check out our most recent articles!
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.