Dog parents have come to equate a wagging tail with happiness.
But there’s more to it than that.
Science tells us that a dog’s intentions depend on whether their tail wags to the left or to the right.
But what does it mean when it doesn’t wag at all?
Keep reading to discover:
- 11 reasons why your dog’s tail doesn’t wag.
- The medical and psychological factors involved.
- 3 practical tips to get their tail gleefully wagging again.
- And so much more…
Table of contents
- Why does my dog never wag his tail?
- 11 reasons why your dog never wags his tail
- How do I get my dog to wag his tail? 3 tips
- People also ask:
Why does my dog never wag his tail?
Your dog never wags their tail because of mental health issues. Or they have injuries such as limber tail and happy tail syndrome. Medical issues such as osteoarthritis, cancer of the tail, diseases of the lower back, and prostatic disease might also be the cause. Or your dog’s tail was docked.
11 reasons why your dog never wags his tail
Most people know someone suffering from osteoarthritis. But it’s usually their grandparent. Not their dog.
This condition is something our poor pooches can suffer from, though. So let’s break down what it really is.
Osteoarthritis is just like all fancy scientific or medical terms. Its name is practically its definition – only in a different language.
Osteo refers to osteon which means bone. Arth refers to arthron which means joint. And the suffix for countless disease names, itis, refers to inflammation.
So there you have it. It’s an inflammation of the bone and joints.
“How does it happen?”
Good question! And I have an answer for you.
The ends of the bones are covered in articular cartilage. And the synovial fluid or joint fluid acts as a lubricant. Together, these lessen friction between the joints.
But with age comes deterioration.
The articular cartilage degenerates. And the joints can no longer move smoothly. This damage results in pain.
It’s the same in your dog as in your granny.
But there are other risk factors aside from age. A study on the UK dog population lists some:
- Being insured.
- Being neutered.
- Higher bodyweight.
- Being older than eight years.
And as for breed, 11 of them had “significantly higher diagnosis.” These unfortunate pooches are:
- Bull Mastiff.
- Border Collie.
- Scottish Collie.
- German Pointer.
- Springer Spaniel.
- Golden Retriever.
- Labrador Retriever.
- Dogue de Bordeaux.
- Old English Sheepdog.
- German Shepherd Dog.
A dog’s quality of life can be severely impacted by osteoarthritis. And Dr. Patrick Mahaney says this can particularly affect their tail.
It can result in “changes in the tails’ carriage or wagging tendencies.” That’s because of the discomfort in the area around where it connects to the pelvis.
So if your doggo doesn’t wag their tail, they could be suffering from osteoarthritis.
Dogs are often seen as furry packages overflowing with energy and joy.
So for some fur parents – or anyone thinking of dogs – stress is not something they usually associate with them.
But dogs can become stressed. And it can cause a number of psychological responses such as biting and scratching themselves or signs such as an uncharacteristic non-wagging tail.
Among the other indicators of stress that VCA identifies is a change in posture.
As I mentioned earlier, a wagging tail is often interpreted as doggy happiness. But if there’s a stressor or two that’s bothering your fur baby, their tail will very likely be tucked.
And in that posture, they won’t be wagging it.
Depression is an emotional response. Just like stress is. But there are differences.
For instance, when the stressor is removed, the stress goes away soon after. It’s not as simple with depression, though.
This one is more persistent.
OVRS identifies grief, change, boredom, and work as triggers for depression.
“What do you mean by work?”
Oh! Not in the same way work is associated with depression in humans.
For us furless, two-legged creatures, we’re prone to work-related stress and depression. But our furry, four-legged babies get depressed when they can’t work.
Ironic, isn’t it?
But as you know, some dogs were bred specifically for work. They’re meant to perform tasks such as herding, sledding, hunting, or gathering.
It’s their instinct. And when they can’t fulfill it, depression sinks in.
And just as when they’re stressed, dogs who are depressed tuck their tails too. So as you’d expect, wagging it isn’t on the to-do list.
#4: Limber tail
Some birth certificates bear several names. Others even have numbers. Then the kid grows up to accumulate different nicknames. How many monikers does one need?
Well, for limber tail, the answer is simple. A lot. This condition goes by a handful of terms:
- Frozen tail.
- Sprung tail.
- Broken wag.
- Cold-water tail.
- Swimmer’s tail.
And then there’s its medical name, acute caudal myopathy. Plus, of course, its common name – limber tail.
“Okay. Impressive. But what’s it all about?”
I’m glad you asked!
It’s the result of a muscle sprain or strain in your dog’s tail. AAHA lists some of the causes:
- Climate changes.
- Exposure to cold weather.
- Prolonged crate confinement.
- Excessive exercise without proper conditioning.
But of all these, swimming is the most common. That explains one of the names, swimmer’s tail.
This may seem surprising to you if your dog is a handful at bathtime. And they give the tub a dirty look whenever the bathroom door is left ajar.
But some dogs are avid swimmers. This makes them more susceptible to limber tail. Most belong to the hunting breeds. They include:
They use their tails as rudders to help with balance and steering. So that’s a lot more effort exerted in the water than on the dry ground.
And limber tail commonly happens at the beginning of the hunting season.
That’s because, as I mentioned above, improper conditioning can be a factor. And it’s even worse if they’re swimming in cold water.
Thankfully, this can be resolved with a few simple things. Lots of rest, ice, or heat packs, and if needed, a veterinarian can prescribe something for the pain.
But until that tail recovers, you won’t see it wagging.
#5: Cancer of the tail
Of all the ailments our dogs can suffer from, cancer is the most disheartening.
Like humans, our canine companions can have various types. This includes cancer of the tail. And it can often lead to amputation.
“Does it have to be such an extreme measure?”
Unfortunately, yes. And AMC gives a very logical explanation.
Different kinds of masses can be found on the tail. Most often, they are:
- Infected sebaceous glands.
- Benign (non-cancerous) tumors.
But at other times, there are malignant or cancerous tail tumors. They can include:
- Mast cell tumors.
- Sebaceous tumors.
- Soft tissue sarcoma.
Any dog parent would be hesitant to have their pup’s tail amputated. But when there are tumors, it can get complicated.
Surgery is required.
And the mass may recur if too little of the tail tissue is removed.
But if too much skin around the mass is removed, it can affect the blood supply to the tail.
So the safest option is to amputate it. And it’s stating the painfully obvious. But no tail, no wagging.
There are cushioning disks between the vertebrae of the spine. They function as shock absorbers.
They’re called intervertebral disks. And sometimes, they can get infected. An example of such an infection is diskospondylitis.
It’s primarily a disease of the dogs. And it can either be a bacterial or fungal infection.
The bacteria or fungi can reach the vertebrae through:
- Direct contamination.
- Migrating foreign body.
- Hematogenous (blood-borne) spread.
Once infection sets in, the first clinical sign is pain. Stiffness and muscle weakness may also develop later on.
Paralysis can also result in more severe cases. Especially when untreated.
Fortunately, a study showed that dogs respond to appropriate treatment plans. Sometimes, surgery is required. But overall, the prognosis is favorable.
So it’s not the end of the line for your pooch’s tail. They’ll eventually get to wag it again.
#7: Cauda equina syndrome
Interesting fact: It’s a syndrome that affects your dog, but “cauda equina” is Latin for “horse’s tail.”
“Wait. What does it have to do with horses?”
It’s quite simple. The tail is an extension of the spinal cord. And at the lower level, the structure changes to resemble a horse’s tail.
Now back to what this means for your dog…
VCA says it’s a “condition caused by the narrowing of the spinal canal.” The result is a “compression of the spinal nerve roots (nerves that exit the spine).”
This narrowing may be caused by:
- Spinal tumor.
- Infection in the disc.
- Congenital malformation.
- Intervertebral disc herniation.
Dogs with cauda equina syndrome suffer from severe pain. Some even “literally fall to their knees when the tail is lifted sharply.”
Now that’s a truly devastating revelation about why your dog doesn’t wag their tail.
#8: Intervertebral disk disease
We came across intervertebral disks in reason #6.
To refresh your memory, they’re those “shock absorbers” between the vertebrae of the spine.
Infections like diskospondylitis aren’t the only issues that may happen. There’s also intervertebral disk disease (IDD).
According to PetMD, these disks may “bulge or burst into the spinal cord space.” They then “press on the nerves running through the spinal cord.” This can result in:
- Nerve damage.
Dogs with a predisposition to this condition include:
- Shih Tzu.
- Basset Hound.
- German Shepherd Dogs.
If you have one of these breeds, IDD could likely be why they’re not wagging their tail. And it’s an even greater possibility if they also seem to be in pain when they sit.
#9: Prostatic disease
The Merck Vet Manual tells us that prostate gland diseases are common in intact (not neutered) dogs. The most frequently diagnosed is benign prostatic hyperplasia.
But other prostatic diseases occur less often. And they’re seen in neutered dogs. They include:
- Prostatic abscesses.
- Prostatic adenocarcinoma.
- Prostatic and paraprostatic cysts.
- Bacterial prostatitis (acute or chronic).
Some of the clinical signs of these disorders are:
- Intermittent hematuria.
- Tenesmus during defecation.
- Caudal abdominal discomfort.
- Recurrent urinary tract infections.
The third one is the most notable. If you’ll recall from reason #7, “cauda” is Latin for tail. The term “caudal” refers to the tail or the area around it.
Your dog with a prostatic disease could have “caudal abdominal discomfort.” And that could be why they’re not happily wagging their tail.
#10: Happy tail syndrome
There’s nothing happy about this.
No, wait. There is.
Well, at first anyway.
It does seem rather amusing, doesn’t it? But VetStreet says it can be serious.
Consider especially the larger breeds.
They take up more space. Their longer tails wag in wider arcs. And the more excited they get, the faster the wagging.
You might have been unlucky enough to be too close to such wagging. It probably gave you an idea of what villains in an Indiana Jones film feel when Indy strikes them with his whip.
Now, if their tail just hits their fur parent, it’s fine. For the dog, that is. Not for the fur parent. Or for another unfortunate doggo like this one:
But imagine what happens when it hits an unfriendly surface. A brick wall. A barbed-wire fence. A thorny bush.
Happy tail can turn to injured tail in a split second. And it will take much longer than that to get it all happy and wagging again.
For the time being, you might find them licking the base of their tail.
When such injuries keep recurring, some people advocate for a…
#11: Docked tail
It’s a bit of a touchy topic.
It’s certainly not unusual to have a dog’s tail docked. But while some are fine with this procedure, others oppose it.
You’ll find both dog parents and veterinarians on either side of the fence.
I’ve touched on two instances where it can be necessary. These are when dogs have cancer of the tail. And when dogs frequently get injured through happy tail syndrome.
But for the most part, the purpose of docking is cosmetic. In other words, it’s not essential.
AVMA tells us a bit of its history.
The ancient Romans docked their dogs’ tails. They did so because they believed that it would prevent them from contracting rabies.
Later, it was thought that the tail helped a dog in a chase. And poor people were not allowed to take part in hunts. So dogs of underprivileged fur parents had to get their tails docked.
As years went by, the purpose of docking evolved to prevent injury in working dogs.
It looks like people knew better as time went on, right?
In the mid-1950s, docking was formalized. The reason? To “increase beauty.” Pedigree dog shows in the United States were the brains behind this.
And to this day, tail docking is primarily done for cosmetic purposes.
For a more detailed look at docking, this article Do Corgis Have Tails? The Surprising Truth + 3 Reasons Why… is a must-read.
How do I get my dog to wag his tail? 3 tips
#1: Treat their mental health issues
Most dogs naturally love attention. And no doubt, you shower your pooch with a lot of it. But dogs that are stressed or depressed need even more.
Dr. Leslie Sinn is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. And she names a simple treatment for these mental health issues: An extra dose of TLC.
But for more severe cases, board-certified veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Kelly Ballantyne, recommends pharmaceuticals.
Your doggo might also need a combination of both. But if you’re able to resolve their blues, they’ll get right back to happily wagging their tail for you.
#2: Treat their medical issues
It’s important to check in with your dog’s vet if there are changes in their behavior. That includes not wagging their tail.
If the cause of this turns out to be a medical condition, they can be treated for it.
All the diseases we’ve looked at in this article have one thing in common – pain. If the right treatment plan relieves your dog of this, you’ll have them wagging that tail once again.
#3: Train them
Yes, you can train your dog to wag their tail on cue.
But before you do this, make sure they’re cleared of any medical condition. Once the vet gives you the green light, you can proceed with training.
Choose a command to go with. “Wag” might be the obvious option here.
Next, wait till your dog naturally wags their tail. Then excessively praise them for it. But if you don’t want to wait, you could use something to initiate it.
Think of an object that gets your dog excited. For instance, their squeaky ball. Or perhaps an ice cube on a hot day.
Whatever it is, use it to get them to wag their tail. Then turn on the praises when they do. Add a couple of treats too.
As with nearly anything you train them to do, they’ll eventually get this one. And you could also introduce a hand signal along with the verbal cue.
In time, you can use either to get that tail wagging.
People also ask:
What does it mean if a dog doesn’t wag its tail?
If a dog doesn’t wag their tail, they’re likely to experience mental health issues like stress or depression. They might also be suffering from diseases that affect their tail and/or the areas around it. Injury or cosmetic surgery are also possible reasons.
Can dogs be happy without wagging their tails?
Dogs can be happy without wagging their tails. That’s if the reason for not wagging it is unrelated to mental health.
Think of a human cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy. They can be cheered up by flowers and chocolates. It’s much in the same way.
The key problem remains. But it’s still possible to be happy. Your dog is just unable to show it by tail-wagging because of the pain and discomfort.