With over 300 breeds of dogs populating the world, it's not surprising seeing dogs with different tail sets, and dog breeds with curly tails deserve a place of honor. These kinks in a dog's tail are quite fascinating to discover, considering that curly tails are only limited to a few dogs breeds. What causes those tails to be curly and what are some of the advantages and disadvantages associated with curly tails in dogs? Do they affect dog-to-dog communication? And what about health? Let's discover more about dog breeds with curly tails and the impact these tails have on their health and personality.
A Matter of Domestication
Domestication of the dog, along with more mellow temperaments, has brought along physical changes that have been studied in depth by geneticist Dmitry K. Belyaev.
In his farm fox experiment lasting 26 years of his life, Dmitry started selectively breeding a species that is taxonomically close to the dog: the silver fox. As he selectively bred the tamest foxes, generation after generation, he stumbled upon striking changes in the foxes' morphology and general appearance.
According to American Scientist, as a result of domestication, the ears become floppy, coat colors started lacking pigmentation, hairs turned wavy and many breeds of dogs and pigs started carrying their tails curled up in a circle or semicircle.
As the dog species grew closer to humans, bodily features that were used for perception and dog to-dog communication were reduced, observes James Serpell in the book "The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behaviour and Interactions with People." Several dogs therefore started developing floppy ears, hair over the eyes and tightly, curled tails.
Did you know? Wolves never have a sickle-shaped tail or a tightly curled tail, nor do they have floppy ears, explains Adam Miklosi in the book "Dog Body, Dog Mind: Exploring Canine Consciousness and Total Well-Being."
The Effects on Communication
Tails are known to be used by dogs for the purpose intraspecies communication (that is, communication between animals of the same species.)
Dogs will lower their tails, heighten their tails, relax their tails, stiffen their tails and wag their tails to communicate a variety of emotions in their encounters with other dogs.
According to a study on dog communication, evidence was found that longer tails in dogs were more effective in conveying a variety of cues compared to shorter tails.
The presence of a tail permanently carried over the back can potentially affect communication. The erect tail of a friendly dog may therefore risk being misinterpreted as a challenge, points out Michael Fox in the book "Dog Body, Dog Mind: Exploring Canine Consciousness and Total Well-Being."
Dog Breeds With Curly Tails
There are several dog breeds with curly tails, ranging from tails that are carried over the back to tails that are curled tightly in a pig-tail fashion. In these breeds, curved, curled tails or tails carried over the back, are desired traits often mentioned in their breed standard.
Some dog breeds have tails that aren't permanently carried over the back, but only in certain circumstances. For instance, the Siberian husky is known for carrying the tail over the back mostly when attentive, while in contrast, the Alaskan malamute carries the tail over the back when not working.
Then, there are several brachycephalic dog breeds with curled or corkscrew features which vary in appearance according to American Kennel Club breed standard. We therefore have pugs with tails curled as tightly as possible over the hip and with a double curl being as close to perfection, Boston terriers with short andfine tails tapering either into a straight or screw tail and bulldogs with the tail being either straight or screwed.
Other dog breeds with curled tails include the basenji (tail lies well curled over to either side) and several other dog breeds such as Chihuahuas (carried sickle or in a loop over the back) and Havanese with its curled-over tail being a hallmark of the breed, according to the American Kennel Club.
Effects of Curly Tail on Health
Did you know? Dog breeds with corkscrew tails are predisposed to problems with normal defecation. Their spiraled tail bones push against their bums almost shutting their vents closed which may lead to flat ribbon-shaped stools and constipation, explains Amy Shojai in the book "The First-Aid Companion for Dogs & Cats."
Dogs with corkscrew-tails (pugs, bulldogs and Boston terriers) are also predisposed to a condition known as hemivertebrae, a genetically inherited bone malformation affecting the vertebrae of the dog's spine. According to a study, this spinal deformity is ultimately responsible for the kink in the tail.
Symptom-wise, owners may witness neurological issues such as rear leg weakness, muscle atrophy, paralysis, incontinence and incoordination. Affected dogs may also display back pain which may manifest as the inability to get up or lie down or the dog not being able to properly attend to his rear end grooming.
Due to the genetic component of this malformation, it's imperative to point out the importance of careful breeding and removal from breeding programs of specimens affected.
- The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behaviour and Interactions with People, by James Serpell, Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (January 26, 1996)
- Behavioural Responses of Canis familiaris to Different Tail Lengths of a Remotely-Controlled Life-Size Dog Replica S. D. A. Leaver and T. E. Reimchen Behaviour Vol. 145, No. 3 (Mar., 2008), pp. 377-390
- Dog Body, Dog Mind: Exploring Canine Consciousness and Total Well-Being Kindle Edition by Dr. Michael W. Fox, Lyons Press; 1 edition (July 1, 2007)
- American Scientist, Early Canid Domestication: The Farm-Fox Experiment
- Irish Veterinary Journal, 2005; 58(12): 688–690 Nasca classification of hemivertebra in five dogs, Omer Besalti et al.