Dogs are notorious for showing how they are physically or mentally feeling through subtle and unobvious signs. These pets are masters of disguise at the best of times, which is why it’s often hard to know if or when your dog is struggling. Most of the time, even if they are in discomfort or something isn’t right, they will still wag their tails and smile at you whenever they want attention.
There are several reasons why your dog might be holding their tail to one side. This could be due to them being in heat, swollen anal glands, or an injury. It may also be emotive, as a dog’s tail is usually the biggest indicator of its emotions.
When a dog holds their tail to one side, this might seem slightly disconcerting. Turns out the dog’s tail is one of the main forms of communication with their owner – they will wag their tails in times of joy, but when the tail is tucked or over to one side, this can be a sign of something else.
If you’re concerned about the position of your dog’s tail, you’ve come to the right place. Here is everything you need to know about why your dog is holding their tail to one side.
If you have a female dog who isn’t spayed and seems to hold her tail to one side, this might be a sign that she is at the start of her heat season. This is because she will wrap her tail around her swollen vulva as a form of protection.
Keep on reading to find out more.
During this time, she will produce a bloody discharge and her vulva will swell in size. In most cases, the female dog will clean herself constantly to prevent any blood from leaking throughout the day.
However, finding blood stains on furniture and clothing is highly likely. Because she is not yet ready to mate with a male, the dog will move her tail to wrap around her vulva as a sign that she doesn’t want to mate just yet.
However, when the second stage of the heat cycle comes (known as the estrus stage), her body will be completely ready to mate and breed. The way she expresses her desire to breed is by holding her tail to one side, exposing her swollen vulva.
The vulva won’t be as bloody anymore, but she might still produce discharge. As well as the positional change of the tail, she will become more receptive to the advances of male dogs and become flirtatious, such as mounting the male she wants to mate with. If she doesn’t want to mate with a particular male, her tail will move to protect her vulva again.
So, if you have a female dog who is holding her tail to one side, this is probably a sign that she is in her heat cycle. This is totally normal, and the only way to stop it is to spay her to stop her heat cycles from occurring.
Swollen Anal Glands
Located just below the anus of a dog are the dog’s anal glands. When a dog goes for a poop, healthy anal glands will be squeezed and thus excrete a scent individual to dogs. This scent often isn’t picked up by humans (though it can also have a very distinct fishy smell). If you’ve ever wondered why dogs are obsessed with smelling the poop of other dogs, now you know.
However, in some cases these glands can get swollen and won’t burst in the way they should. In the event of this happening, which can be frequent in some dogs, they will find other ways to squeeze their glands and protect themselves. They will often wipe their anuses on the ground, which is pretty disgusting but often hilarious to watch, in an attempt to scratch and release the scent from the glands.
Unless your dog has a tail that cannot cover their anus (such as a Pug or a dog with a docked tail), they will often hold their tail in a different position to protect their glands from becoming infected. This is because swollen anal glands can actually be very uncomfortable and potentially painful for dogs, so they will use their tails as a shield.
The best way to cure swollen anal glands is to take your dog to the vet or groomer when you notice they are holding their tail unusually.
The vet will empty their glands, thus relieving them from a lot of pain. For dogs who experience this often, they will have to be taken to the veterinarian for regular emptying sessions. Your vet might also recommend specific medications or a new fiber-based diet to improve the consistency of your dog’s stool.
In the same way that limping is a sign of a leg injury, when a dog holds their tail to one side, this might be a sign of a tail injury. For dogs with fairly long tails, it’s common for them to get their tails trapped in doors, because they almost aren’t quite aware of the length of their whole body.
If your dog has trapped their tail in a door (such as a car door if you accidentally shut it on them), they will show their discomfort by holding their tail to one side. In severe cases, their tail might be angled differently, which can be a sign of a fracture. It’s best to keep an eye on their tail and take your dog to the vets to ensure nothing bad has happened.
Dogs can also injure their tails from playing with other dogs and humans, or after participating in a fight with another dog. Their tails are generally fairly sturdy, but in the event that the play has been particularly rough, an injury can occur.
It’s not likely that their tails will be fractured after playing with your dog, so just keep an eye on the position of their tail for the next few days. If your dog’s tail has moved to the side after a fight with another dog, you might want to take them to the vets to assess the severity of the injury.
Expression of emotion
We all know that when a dog wags their tail, it’s a sign of joy, excitement, and that they want attention. So, it only makes sense that when a dog’s tail has moved to one side or doesn’t seem to be moving much at all, this might be a sign that your dog’s emotional needs aren’t being met. This means that if you’ve made it through this article and you’re thinking about taking your pup to the vets, fear not – they might simply be feeling sad!
Sometimes, there’s no reason why your dog’s tail is held to one side. They might simply be having a quiet day. In most cases, however, when a dog is holding their tail to one side or wrapped around their bottom, this might be a sign of unease.
Dogs generally show their confidence by exposing their anus or vulva, which isn’t exactly the most graceful of expressions. This is because it tells other dogs that they want to get to know them by sniffing their private parts. So, when a dog’s tail has moved to the side or is wrapped beneath them, this is usually a sign that they feel anxious, stressed, or simply don’t want other dogs near them.
There are several ways to treat anxiety in dogs. Veterinarians might prescribe medication (or even suggest herbal medications like CBD oil for dogs) or a lifestyle change that will work to tackle whatever is causing the anxiety.
Some reasons for an anxious dog include separation anxiety (when they are separated from their owner for too long), nerves around meeting strangers (both human and animal), and environment-specific anxiety (like, ironically, going to the vets).
How dogs communicate with their tail
As we have established that dogs use their tails as a communication device with their owners and other dogs, it’s important to understand what each tail position means.
- Neutral, normal position – You will know the normal position of your dog’s tail. Depending on their breed, their tails might be docked or might naturally stand upright. When your dog’s tail is in a neutral position, they are content.
- Upright wagging tail – This can mean one of two things. Your dog might be excited and playful, or they might become aggressive. Keep an eye out for other behavioral indicators of aggression such as snarling and growling.
- Upright tail – When your dog’s tail is upright and not wagging, this is a sign of your dog’s confidence. The general rule of thumb is that the higher the tail, the more dominant they are trying to be, which can lead to aggression.
- No wagging – If your dog’s tail is in neutral position without wagging, this means they aren’t interested in getting to know a stranger – whether this is a dog or human.
- Tucked between legs – This is a sign that your dog is frightened and doesn’t want to be attacked. They will often cower or lower their bottom half when they are scared.
- Tail pointing downwards – This is a sign that your dog isn’t anxious, but they are feeling submissive and apprehensive.
- Horizontal tail – When the tail points straight outwards, this is often a sign of your dog getting used to new surroundings. They are curious, and neither happy nor afraid.
- Fast wag – The faster the wag, the more excited your dog is! This usually happens when they meet a new dog that they like, when you say “walkies”, or when you’re about to give them food.
- Wide wag strokes – Your dog is happy overall, but not excited.
- Slow wag strokes – Your dog is feeling somewhat anxious and uneasy.
Alternatively, they might simply be feeling unenthusiastic.
- Shaky tail – The dog is feeling on edge, tense, and possibly afraid. This is usually accompanied by full-body trembling.
- No wag – Your dog might have a tail injury, as even the smallest of wagging strokes act as a communication device.
Generally speaking, unless you have a clear reason why your dog’s tail is moved to one side (like if you know the tail was trapped in a door), then it’s safe to assume that your dog is simply going through a period of anxiety.
We recommend keeping an eye on your dog’s overall behavior and how they feel if you touch the tail, as this could indicate any potential injuries or nervousness about why they have positioned their tail to the side.
If your dog is obsessively licking between their legs or the underside of their tail, this could be a sign that they are in heat (if they are female), as this is how they clean the blood-like discharge from their vulva. If you have a male or spayed female dog, this might be a sign of swollen anal glands, which will need to be assessed by a vet.