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A dog holding the tail down is trying to tell you something. Perhaps he is fearful, perhaps he is stressed, or may be he isn't feeling well. Deprived from the ability to talk, it us our job as dog owners to investigate what may be going on and seeing the vet to rule out medical problems. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana shares several possible causes for a dog holding the tail down. 

Dog Tails are for Communication!

As a dog parent, watching your dog wag its tail is a great enjoyment. After all, a wagging tail is an undeniable sign of happiness and wellbeing.

Dogs use their tails to communicate with us, with other dogs, and with their surroundings. 

The position of their tails says a lot about their emotional status. However, when it comes to dog tail positions, there is much more than just emotional expression.

The way a dog uses or holds its tail can give valuable information about its physical well-being. Many health issues and injuries can affect the tail and influence its motion range and position.

Introducing Your Dog's Tail...

Your dog's tail is an extension of the backbone. It is the last section of the spine and based on its length, it can include as many as 23 bones. 

The tail also has plenty of muscles that work together with the bones and allow the tail to move and change positions.

Dogs’ tails come in many shapes and lengths – some are long, others are short; some are straight, others are curled, and finally, some are long-haired and feathery, and others are tapering or just short-haired.

Regardless of the shape and length, all tails serve the same purpose – to help the dog communicate with its environment.

It is a little-known fact that the default position of a tail is dangling down and loose. A low-carried and loose tail that is not tucked between the rear legs shows the dog is relaxed, calm, content, and cool. 

Basically, it indicates everything is perfect in the dog’s world!

The default position of a dog's tail is dangling down and loose.

The default position of a dog's tail is dangling down and loose.

Emotional Causes of Dogs Holding the Tail Down

As mentioned, one can conclude a whole lot about the dog’s mental status based on its tail position. A tail held down is almost always a sign something is amiss. Following are several emotional causes of low tail carriage in dogs. 


Holding the tail down and tucked between the back legs is a body language that denotes nervousness. A variety of feelings can trigger nervousness, including insecurity, weakness, anxiety, submissiveness, fright, or vulnerability.

These feelings can be imposed by another dog, animal, person, or an unusual, new situation. They can even be set by a new, unknown environment.


A tail held down may indicate a dog in a defense mode. It is a sign the dog feels frightened and also ready to protect itself if the situation escalates.

 In such cases, you need to be careful as dogs in defensive mode are prone to taking unreasonable actions, pretty much like a frightened person in despair.

A dog holding the tail down due to defensiveness is likely to exhibit other signs, such as growling, shivering, exposed teeth, and rigid ears.


Simple shyness and timidity are common causes of why a dog may keep the tail down.

 In addition to holding its tail down, a dog that is feeling meek and trying to blend into the environment is likely to keep its ear pushed back, flip out its tongue, periodically lick its lips and avoid eye contact with people and other dogs. '

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 Different dog breeds have different natural tail carriages. Italian Greyhounds, for instance, have a very low neutral tail position.

 Different dog breeds have different natural tail carriages. Italian Greyhounds, for instance, have a very low neutral tail position.

Physical Causes of Dogs Holding the Tail Down

Physical malaise can be expressed by holding the tail down. Regardless of the reasons behind the physical malaise, the end result is the same – the dog is simply not on top of its game.


Holding the tail down is the dog’s way of counteracting pain and discomfort. Basically, any medical issue that triggers pain can also cause a down-held positioning of the tail.

Belly aches caused by digestive issues are frequently accompanied by holding the tail down. Older dogs suffering from osteoarthritis are also prone to keeping their tails down due to the low-level, yet constantly present pain and discomfort.

Limber tail

The medical term for limber tail is acute caudal myopathy. The condition manifests with a loose and flaccid tail that is held down limply.

Limber tail in dogs can be caused by strenuous exercise (especially in unconditioned dogs), swimming in cold water or prolonged stay in a cold environment, and excessively long confinement. 

Virtually all dogs can develop limber tails, but the condition is most frequently reported in hunting dogs (Retrievers, Pointers, Hounds, Beagles, and Setters) at the beginning of the hunting season. Limber tail is more prevalent among young than adult dogs and males than females.

Luckily, the condition is non-progressive and self-limiting, which is why it often resolves on its own over the course of several days. In more severe cases, veterinary attention is advisable.

Here are a few limber dog tail remedies: information about limber tail in dogs

Anal Gland Issues

Anal gland issues are becoming a constantly rising problem in dogs. Perhaps it is due to the alterations in dog diets, but today, finding a dog without impacted or infected anal glands is rather rare.

When the anal glands are either impacted or inflamed, they are painful and pressuring the anus and the local tissues. Because of the proximity between the anal glands and the tail, issues affecting the one will affect the other. 

Therefore, dogs with anal gland issues often carry their tails down. Once the gland issue is managed, they can move and hold their tails normally.

Prostate Issues

Just like in people, prostate issues (enlargement and cancer) are present in dogs. They are not as common as in people, but they are frequent enough to deserve mentioning.

Older male dogs with prostate issues are likely to hold their tails down because of the pressure the prostate exerts on the surrounding tissues – mainly the rectum. 

The pressuring of the rectum causes unusual discomfort. As a response, the dog is reluctant to carry its tail up.

 Learn more about the prostate gland in dogs here: "I am your dog's prostate."


There are many reasons why a dog would hold the tail down. Some of them are emotional in nature, and others are physical.

 Also, some are benign, temporary, and self-limiting, while others are more serious, complications-triggering, and require veterinary attention.

If your dog suddenly starts holding the tail down or the holding down becomes more common than wagging, do not wait. 

Call your trusted vet and schedule an appointment. Hopefully, the vet will help you manage the condition, and your loving dog will be back to constantly wagging with its tail in no time.

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