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I have always wondered why Shiba Inus have curled tails and rarely seem to wag them when compared to other dogs I’ve had before. That ended up being a fun and interesting lesson I would like to share with people.
Shiba Inu tails curl to preserve body heat, helping them stay warm in cold weather or harsh winter conditions. Similar to Siberian Huskies or Akitas, but with a tighter curl. The downside of this curl is movement, it makes it harder and even impossible for some to wag or even uncurl their tails.
Diving a bit deeper into that helped me understand what my dog’s, Faith’s, more subtle movements were trying to tell me. And I definitely missed a few cues and clues she was telling me.
Why The Curl?
They are an ancient mountain-climbing Japanese breed whose main job was to help hunt year-round, both in the heat of summer or the dead of winter.
Shiba Inu are dual-coated to help preserve and balance body heat, but their tail is a different story. It’s too far away from the core of their body to stay warm, so to keep it from freezing off they curl it back towards themselves to help warm it up and preserve additional body heat.
But, just because their tail is curled, that doesn’t mean they won’t display what they are thinking and feeling like other dog breeds.
The Core Tail Types
Believe it or not, there are three different types of tails a Shiba can have:
- Single curl – This is the most common tail type. It is also called a “Ring Tail” due to the ring-like shape the tail makes.
- Double curl – Similar to the Single Curl tail but the tip winds around another time, creating a second curl or ring.
- Sickle Tail – a half curl pointing towards their back. This is the least common tail type for pure breed Shiba Inus. It’s a sign of less restrictive tail muscles that allows the tail to relax and uncurl some, creating a half curl.
Fun Fact – All tail types are allowed in dog shows, but Sickle Tails are seen as the least desirable when compared to complete curls
A Closer Look At Sickle Tail
A permanent sickle tail can be caused by a few things:
- Weaker tail muscles and more control
- Poor genes
- Poor breeding practices
A sickle tail is completely harmless and doesn’t mean your pet is sick or injured, it’s actually quite common for curly-tailed dogs to unfurl their tail some while making a decision. While this tail type is quite rare in our modern Shiba Inu breed it was quite common in one of their ancestors, the Mino Shiba.
The Subtle Wag
Shiba Inus wag their tails just like other dog breeds, but it’s not easy so it’s more subtle and infrequent. Their tail’s natural curl is caused but tightened muscles, making it more difficult to move their tail from side to side.
Due to those tight muscles wagging will be minor and sometimes hard to notice, but even this is on a case-by-case basis. Each individual Shiba will have varying control of their tail muscles, the more control they have the easier it is to move and wag their tail freely.
Some Shiba Inus will be able to curl, uncurl, and wag freely without much difficulty. Others won’t be as lucky and may not even be able to uncurl their tails, even while sleeping.
The Five Core Tail Positions
Held High – A sign of confidence and excitement. I see this tail most often when playing, investigating something, or intensely focusing on something (usually a person, bug, or laser pointer). They will begin to closely follow and mess with whatever has their attention.
Neutral – Signals indifference or a lack of response. This will be slightly different from dog to dog but this is their tail’s natural resting place when nothing is grabbing their attention. Like if they were walking to get a drink of water, going to their dog bed, or just calmly following you around.
Dropped Low – This is a sign of discomfort, upset mood, or attempting to avoid conflict. I see this commonly when Faith knows she’s in trouble or something scares her, like a pot falling off the kitchen counter. She will also distance herself from whatever is upsetting her, typically diving under our bed or hiding under a table.
Held to the side (left or right) – Faith tends to move her tail to the side when she is confused or unsure about something, usually in the direction she is turning. More often than not she’ll freeze up and just stand still trying to make up her mind, when she does she’ll adjust her tail and start walking or running around. Her tail looks very similar to a question mark “?” when held aside, so I call it her “Thinking Tail”.
Flat or stretched out – Whenever faith lays down she uncurls her tail and lets it unravel beside her. I normally see this when she is laying down for several minutes or passed out.
How They Move Their Tail Matters
Slow Movement – Similar to a sideways or downward tail position, I see slow tail movements when my dog is trying to make up her mind. Right, when she’s about to get excited to see somebody, or right when she is going to dart away and hide. Slower movements show less comfort and confidence in the situation.
Fast Movement – Normally paired with a neutral or high-held tail position. This is your pet’s way of saying they are excited and want to share that feeling with you. I usually see this when Faith wants to meet somebody, is actively playing, or is harassing our cat around.
Summary Of Why Shiba Inus Have Curled Tails
Shiba Inus are a breed best suited to colder weather and climates, leading them to develop curled tails. The curl of their tails helps preserve precious body heat. It’s possible for Shibas to uncurl their tails, but because the curl itself is involuntary most will struggle to relax the muscles enough to let their tail go limp. It’s such a struggle that some Shibas can’t control it at all while others can only uncurl their tails when they’re asleep.
It’s possible for some Shiba Inus to have a double curl, where their tails are wound so tight it almost makes two loops. Another possibility is for your Shiba to have a sickle tail, but they’re incredibly rare.
Frequently Asked Question
What Causes Dog Tails To Curl?
Most dog breeds have straight tails, but some have curled tails, like Shiba Inus and Huskies. The reason Shiba Inus and Huskies have curled tails is to retain body heat. Those breeds have thicker double coats and were bred to handle colder environments.
Are Shiba Tails Always Curled?
While Shibas are known for their fluffy and curled tails, their typically uncurl as they fall asleep. The curl in their tail is involuntary and can be hard for them to move. Those with good control and uncurl them at any time, but most can’t, so they may only uncurl as they fall asleep.
What Does It Mean If A Shiba Inus Tail Is Down?
Shiba Inus drop their tail down when they’re upset, uncomfortable, feeling unwell, or attempting to avoid some kind of conflict. Depending on the situation they are either asking for help or want space to get away and destress.