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Dog Word of the Day: Gay Tail

Today's dog term is "gay tail." With a vast array of dog breeds populating the planet, there are many different dogs blessed with different types of tails. Tail carriage refers to the way dogs carry their tails and tail set refers to the placement of the tail. The way a tail is carried may therefore be a matter of anatomy or temperament or even both. Knowing the typical way dogs tend to carry their tails can help us understand them better. For instance, certain dog breeds like the Italian greyhound or whippet tend to carry their tails low naturally, and sometimes these dogs may give the impression of acting fearful when it's just their normal clamped-down posture.

A Matter of Height

beagle tail

No, just in case you were wondering, a gay tail has nothing to do with your dog's sexual preferences. Instead, as the term may imply (we're talking happiness here!), a gay tail is a tail that is carried high, but in this case, it's carried very high, often arching upwards.

According to The Kennel Club, a gay tail is a tail that's carried higher than what the breed standard approves. The American Kennel Club instead describes it as "a tail that is carried above the horizontal level of the back."

This may sound like a fault, but it really depends on which dog breed you're talking about. In certain breeds, a gay tail may actually be desirable and it may even be mentioned in the standard. In other breeds it may be frowned upon and sometimes even considered a serious fault.

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Undesirable Gay Tails

In many dog breeds, the gay tail is not appreciated much perhaps for the simple fact that it raises above the dog's topline, the flat line of the dog's back. In certain dog breeds, the presence of gay tail or high tailset, therefore disrupts the flow of the outline from the head to the tip of the tail.

In some other breeds, it may simply be though a matter of the tail not adhering to the dog's original function. Breeds where a gay tail is undesirable include the American pitbull terrier (gay tail is considered a serious fault, not to be confused with challenge tail), Doberman pinscher (fault: gay tail or terrier tail) Italian greyhound (serious fault: gay tail) and Dogo Argentino (serious fault: gay tail.)

"Breeds in which tail carriage may be too high can present a problem. Tails carried over the back or "gay tails" can totally ruin the outline of these dogs." D. Caroline Coile

wirefox terrier tail

Desirable Gay Tails

In what dog breeds is a gay tail desirable? In several small working terrier breeds it's a welcomed trait. The Lakeland terrier breed standard mentions that the tail must be set high on the back, and when carried, a slight curve towards the head is desirable; however, a tail that's tightly curled over the back is considered a fault.

The Yorkshire terrier standard mentions " tail carried slightly higher than the level of the back."

The wire fox terrier standard instead mentions that the "tail should be set on rather high and carried gaily but not curled." Consider though that the tails in these breeds are usually docked to a medium length which helps attain this position.

Another breed where a high tail carriage is desirable is the beagle. The standard asks for a tail that is "set moderately high; carried gaily, but not turned forward over the back"

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Did you know? In several small working terriers the tail functioned as a "handle" should the dog need to be extracted from a hole in an emergency situation. According to the New Zealand Kennel Club in the wire fox terrier "a tee-quarters dock is about right - since it affords the only safe grip when handling working Terriers." This explains why at some dog shows handlers are sometimes seen lifting certain terrier dogs up partially by the tail.

Unethical Cosmetic Surgery

collie tail

An eagerness for fame and making money in the show ring can sometimes reach certain unethical levels. There are stories of handlers resorting to surgery to fix a gay tail so to be able to compete and possibly win in the show ring.

Caroline Coile in her book "Show me, A Dog Showing Primer" talks about unscrupulous peoplewho purposely have the ligament of their dog's tail cut so that the tail is carried according to standard.

If the gay tail is due to the dog's conformation, cutting it won't prevent the dog from passing down the "gay tail" to his offspring, which may lead to more problems if the goal is producing "show quality" puppies.

Caroline Coile though points out that dogs undergoing this procedure are easily spotted because the tails end up being perpetually carried like "a limp rope."

collie tail carriage

Clicker Training Tail Carriage

Did you know? In some cases, a "gay tail" may just be a matter of habit rather than anatomy. These are basically dogs who have normal conformation for the breed, but in the show ring they carry their tails too high.

Some people have succeeded in training their dogs to carry their tail low using a clicker. World-known trainer and author Karen Pryor, mentions clicker training as a method to train dogs to carry their tails in a certain way on her Clicker Training website.

A dog can be clicker trained to hold the tail in a certain position when asked to stand, but things can get a tad bit complicated when a dog carries a tail high and curled over the back during trotting.

However, for those willing to try, Karen Pryor offers a guide on how to shape "lower your tail" and "raise your tail" making the dog conscious about his tail movement! The power of clicker training!


  • Show me, A Dog Showing Primer, by D. Caroline Coile, Barron's Educational Series; 2 edition (January 1, 2009)

Photo credits:

  • Elias ´t Beuke Jagerken, Simona Nováková, owner - Own work, public domain

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