The German Shepherd is one of the most iconic and recognizable dog breeds. Known for their athleticism, intelligence, and loyalty, German Shepherds are a popular choice for police, military, service, and family dogs.
One of the most distinguishing features of the German Shepherd is its long, bushy tail. When people imagine a German Shepherd, they often picture a dog with a large plumed tail held straight out from its body. But what if your German Shepherd’s tail curls up and over its back? Is this normal? Or is there something wrong?
What Causes a Curly Tail in German Shepherds?
A curly tail in German Shepherds is caused by one of two things:
- Genetics – A curly tail can be inherited. The genes that influence tail shape and carriage can cause the tail to curve upward if passed down from the parents. This is considered an undesirable trait in the show ring, but it’s simply cosmetic.
- Injury – In some cases, a curly tail is the result of an injury at birth or improper development in the womb. If the tail bones or muscles are damaged, it can cause deformities like kinks and curls as the tail grows.
Is a Curly Tail Considered a Defect?
While a tightly curled tail is frowned upon for show and breeding dogs, it is not considered an actual defect or flaw. The American Kennel Club breed standard states:
“Tail bushy, with the last vertebra extended at least to the hock joint. It is set smoothly into the croup and low rather than high. At rest, the tail hangs in a slight curve like a saber. A slight hook-sometimes carried to one side-is faulty only to the extent that it mars general appearance.”
So a slight curve or hook is permitted. Only extreme curling is considered a disqualification from the show ring.
For companions and working dogs, a curly tail causes no problems and is perfectly normal and healthy. It does not impair movement or communication.
Can Purebred German Shepherds Have Curly Tails?
Absolutely! A curly tail does not mean your German Shepherd is not a purebred. Even dogs from long lines of champions can sometimes be born with curled tails due to recessive genes being expressed.
While backyard breeders or puppy mills often produce dogs with more flaws due to irresponsible breeding practices, any German Shepherd can end up with a curled tail. It’s simply a matter of genetic luck in some litters.
Can Curly Tails Be Fixed?
Some owners consider surgically correcting a curled tail for cosmetic purposes. However, this is controversial and generally avoided.
Tail docking procedures like:
- Cutting tendons
- Breaking and resetting tail bones
- Using splints or braces
Are painful and often ineffective. At best, the dog is left with scar tissue and reduced tail mobility. At worst, infections, chronic pain, and other complications can occur.
For most veterinarians, medically altering a naturally curled tail is considered unethical and an unnecessary risk to the dog’s health and wellbeing. It is best to leave the tail alone.
Do Curly Tails Cause Health Problems?
There are a few misconceptions about curly tails causing medical issues or injuries. However, research does not back these up:
- Broken tails – Curly tails are no more prone to fractures or breaks than straight tails. Proper conditioning and avoiding trauma can prevent tail injuries in any dog.
- Skin infections – All tails can suffer from abrasions, rashes, and bacterial infections. Keeping the tail area clean and dry is important, but curling does not inherently increase infection risks.
- Anal gland impaction – Impaction and infections of the anal glands are not correlated to tail shape. Any dog can experience anal gland issues.
So while a tightly coiled tail looks different, it generally does not lead to increased health problems compared to a straight tail. Proper care and vet visits for any dog are important to monitor their wellbeing.
Common Tail Problems in German Shepherds
There are a few tail conditions that German Shepherds are prone to, regardless of tail shape:
- Limber tail – Also called “cold water tail” or “swimmer’s tail,” this is caused by overexertion of the tail muscles. It results in temporary paralysis and pain.
- Anal furunculosis – A hereditary autoimmune disease causing painful ulcers around the anus and tail base. It requires lifelong management.
- Lacerations – Active, driven dogs like German Shepherds can cut their tails on sharp objects. Keeping nails trimmed helps prevent self-inflicted wounds.
- Fractures – High-energy play or work can cause trauma like hematomas or broken tails. Letting a limp tail rest helps it heal.
Careful breeding, conditioning, and handling can help prevent tail injuries in any dog. But accidents and genetics make tail problems possible in any breed.
Reading Your German Shepherd’s Tail
A key form of communication for dogs is body language. Tail position and motion give important clues about your German Shepherd’s mood and mindset.
Curly vs. Straight
Curly tails may have slightly different “neutral” carriage positions, but overall the signs and signals are the same:
|Straight Tail||Curly Tail||Meaning|
|Held horizontally behind dog||Curled up over back||Relaxed, neutral|
|Raised up vertically||Held above back||Alert and attentive|
|Wagging side to side||Wagging side to side||Friendly, excited|
Tail Motion Meanings
Some key tail motions and what they communicate:
- Slow, wide wag – Happy but cautious
- Rapid, frantic wag – Highly stimulated/stressed
- Stiff, quivering – Aggressive, threatened
- Tucked under body – Fearful, anxious
- Extended straight – Confident, assertive
- Wagging in circles – Extremely excited
Reading all of your German Shepherd’s body language together gives you the clearest insights into their mood and needs. But the tail is an important piece of the puzzle.
Frequently Asked Questions
Many new German Shepherd owners have questions about curled tails. Here are some common queries:
Are curly tails genetic?
Yes, curly tails are usually an inherited trait passed down from the parents. Certain genes influence tail shape.
Do curly tails mean my dog isn’t purebred?
No, even purebred German Shepherds can have curled tails pop up due to recessive genes. Curly tails happen in any lines.
Can I surgically fix my dog’s curly tail?
This is controversial and usually avoided, as the risks outweigh benefits. Medically altering natural tail shape can cause pain and complications.
Is my dog’s curled tail prone to health issues?
No, there is no evidence that curly tails inherently cause problems. With proper care, curled tails are just as healthy as straight tails.
How can I prevent my dog’s curly tail passing on to puppies?
Avoid breeding dogs with curly tails, as they will likely pass the genes on. Screen potential mates carefully for conformational flaws.
Will a curly tail affect my dog’s communication?
No, curled tails convey the same signals through position and motion. You can understand their language regardless of tail shape.
While a curled tail is considered a fault for show dogs, it’s a harmless natural variation in pet German Shepherds. Curly tails are caused by inherited genes and don’t lead to health issues. They can still communicate properly through motion and posture.
There’s no medical need to surgically alter a tail’s natural curl. Responsible breeding practices can reduce but not eliminate the chances of curly tails in litters. Ultimately, a curled tail doesn’t impair your German Shepherd as a loving companion and lively dog.
So if your German Shepherd’s tail curls around in a loop or tightly over their back, there’s no cause for concern. It’s just another of your dog’s unique traits to appreciate as part of the breed’s diverse spectrum. A curly tail signals your dog’s moods as clearly as any other, and it adds character to their one-of-a-kind look.