Thump. Thwack. Wiggle. Quiver.
The canine tail is a versatile appendage that does much more than wag the dog. Most often, we think of the tail in terms of body language, but in addition to communicating intent through movement, it also wafts a dog’s scent through an area, announcing its presence to other dogs; operates as a rudder in water, helping the dog to make quick, easy turns; aids in balance when the dog is crossing a narrow walkway or jumping, climbing or running; and even helps to keep the dog warm. Think of a furry Siberian Husky, wrapped in the warmth of its tail on a cold or wet day.
Depending on its length, the tail is made up of 5 to 23 vertebrae that form the end of the spinal column. It’s powered by the caudalis and sacrococcygeus muscles.
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a wagging tail, you might think that it’s a tough part of the canine anatomy, not easily damaged, but the truth is that it’s more prone to injury than you might think.
For one thing, the large number of blood vessels that feed it make it prone to bleeding. For another, the tail’s exposed position puts it in the way of heavy feet, slammed doors and thorny brush. Dogs with thin, delicate skin can wind up with a bloody pulp of a tail from bashing it against a wall, fence or door—a condition sometimes referred to as “happy tail.”