German Shepherd Tail Types: Exploring the Differences

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The tail of a German Shepherd is an important means of communication. From tail positions to lengths, shapes and movements, a German Shepherd’s tail conveys a lot about their mood, health and personality.

In this complete guide, we will cover everything you need to know about German Shepherd tail types, what they mean, and how to ensure your dog’s tail is healthy.

Overview of Common German Shepherd Tail Types

There are a few common tail types seen in German Shepherds:

  • Long, hanging tails – This is the ideal tail type according to the German Shepherd breed standard. The tail hangs down naturally and has a slight curve at the end.
  • Short tails – Some German Shepherds may have naturally short tails that do not reach their hocks. This is usually genetically inherited.
  • Curly tails – Though uncommon, some German Shepherds have tails that curl over their backs or are very tightly curled. This is considered a fault.
  • Bushy tails – Long-coated German Shepherds will have a furry, plumed tail. Short-coated dogs have a more sleek, tapered tail.
  • Docked tails – Tail docking is banned in many countries now, but some German Shepherds may have shortened tails due to previous docking traditions.

The breed standard specifies that German Shepherds should have long, hanging tails that reach their hocks and have a slight curve at the tip. Short, curled over, or docked tails are faults, though the dog can still make a wonderful pet!

What Tail Length is Normal for a German Shepherd?

On average, a German Shepherd’s tail is between 18-22 inches long. The ideal length is approximately equal to the height of the dog at its shoulders.

So for a 24 inch tall German Shepherd, the tail should extend around 24 inches. Of course, there is natural variation in tail length. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Male GSD tail length – 20-22 inches
  • Female GSD tail length – 18-21 inches

Puppies may have shorter or longer tails while they are growing. You cannot accurately judge if their tail is within standard until they mature around 18-36 months old.

If your German Shepherd’s tail deviates far from the breed standard length, it may indicate:

  • Genetic fault – Short tails or curl tails can be inherited. Dogs with these traits should not be bred.
  • Injury – In some cases, tail trauma or repeated injuries can stunt tail growth.
  • Docked tail – Your German Shepherd may have an artificially shortened tail from past docking practices.

As long as your dog is happy and healthy, a shorter than normal tail is not a major concern. But you should inform your vet of any significant anomalies.

German Shepherd Tail Positions and What They Mean

A German Shepherd uses their tail to communicate their emotional state. Learning to read your dog’s tail signals provides great insight into how they are feeling.

Here are some of the most common German Shepherd tail positions and what they mean:

High, Upright Tail

  • What it means – Alert, attentive, excited, curious
  • Looks like – Tail raised high over the back, sometimes with a slight curve at the tip

A high, upright tail indicates your German Shepherd is stimulated and paying close attention to something. It can signal excitement, caution or assertion.

Low, Hanging Tail

  • What it means – Relaxed, calm, unconcerned
  • Looks like – Tail hangs down naturally, not tucked between hind legs

A low, loose tail is a sign your dog is relaxed and content. As long as the tail is not tucked between the legs, a low tail is normal for a mellow or resting German Shepherd.

Slow, Loose Wag

  • What it means – Happy, friendly
  • Looks like – Wide sweeping motions, loosely held

A gently swaying, loose tail accompanied by a relaxed body often signals a happy, friendly dog. It’s one of the best tail indicators your German Shepherd feels safe and content.

Rapid, Tight Wag

  • What it means – Alert, excited, anxious, asserting dominance
  • Looks like – Small, tight movements, usually high over back

Fast wagging confined to the tip of the tail indicates heightened emotion, like excitement, anxiety or insistence on being listened to. It can also signify aggression in some contexts.

Tucked Between Hind Legs

  • What it means – Fearful, timid, insecure
  • Looks like – Tail curled under and between back legs

A tail tucked tightly against their belly is a sure sign your German Shepherd is frightened or acting submissive. It’s an attempt to appear small and non-threatening.

These are just a sampling of the various tail positions used by German Shepherds to communicate. Over time, you will learn your own dog’s unique tail language.

Do German Shepherds Have Curly Tails?

The German Shepherd Dog breed standard explicitly states that a curled tail is a fault. German Shepherds are not meant to have curly tails.

However, some German Shepherds are born with curled tails or develop a curl later in life. Reasons include:

  • Genetic mutation – Some lines can carry genes for curled tails which may be expressed randomly.
  • Injury – Damage to tail vertebrae or muscles can cause permanent curling.
  • Degenerative myelopathy – This spinal disease can initially cause a tight curl of the tail as muscles stiffen.
  • Mixed breeding – Crossing German Shepherds with certain other breeds can result in curled tails.

While a curled tail is incorrect for a purebred German Shepherd according to the breed standard, it does not necessarily impact the dog’s health or temperament as a pet. But dogs with this trait should not be bred.

Can German Shepherd Tails Become Sore or Injured?

Yes, German Shepherds can injure their tails or develop painful conditions. Some common tail problems include:

  • Happy tail – Excessive wagging can split the tip of the tail open, causing bleeding and pain.
  • Infections – Bacteria can enter wounds or hair follicles on the tail leading to abscesses or cellulitis.
  • Calluses – Thick, pressure-induced calluses may form from lying on hard surfaces.
  • Allergic dermatitis – Food or environmental allergies can cause itchy, scaly skin on the tail.
  • Limber tail – Also called “cold tail,” this causes temporary tail pain and limpness from overwork or exposure to cold.
  • Fractures – Tail fractures can happen from trauma like being shut in doors or hit by objects.
  • Anal furunculosis – This inflammatory disease causes painful sores and scabbing around the tail base.

Any signs of injury, swelling, bleeding, discomfort, or altered posture of the tail warrants an immediate veterinary visit. Most tail problems can be managed with rest, medication, or simple treatments.

Why Do German Shepherds Chase Their Tails?

It’s natural for German Shepherds to occasionally chase their tails, especially as puppies. But excessive, obsessive tail chasing in adult dogs can signal potential issues such as:

  • Boredom – Lack of physical and mental stimulation may cause a dog to endlessly chase its tail seeking activity.
  • Stress – Anxiety, fearfulness, or compulsive disorders can manifest as tail chasing.
  • Pain – Discomfort in the tail area from injury or infection can incite tail biting and chasing.
  • Pests – Fleas, mites or intestinal parasites can cause irritation that a dog tries to address by chasing its tail.
  • Attention seeking – Some dogs learn that tail chasing gets a reaction from their owner, reinforcing the behavior.

If your German Shepherd starts displaying frequent tail chasing behavior, consult your veterinarian to rule out any medical causes. Then use more exercise, environmental enrichment with toys, and training to try curbing the behavior.

5 Tips for Keeping Your German Shepherd’s Tail Healthy

Here are some tips for maintaining your German Shepherd’s tail health:

  • Brush regularly – Regular brushing keeps the tail coat free of tangles and debris.
  • Check for injury – Look for any wounds, swelling or signs of pain. Treat any injury immediately.
  • Wag-proof your home – Use soft surfaces and safely position furniture to reduce happy tail injuries from exuberant wagging.
  • Prevent fleas & mites – Use prescription flea/tick prevention to avoid parasitic infestations that could lead to allergic dermatitis.
  • Exercise outdoors – Avoid having your dog out in freezing weather for long to reduce risk of limber tail syndrome.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should a German Shepherd’s tail be?

On average, a German Shepherd’s tail should extend 18-22 inches from the base. The ideal length is about equal to the dog’s height at the shoulder.

Is it normal for a German Shepherd to have a curled tail?

No, a curled tail is considered a breed fault according to the German Shepherd standard. However, some dogs inherit genes for curled tails or develop them later in life due to injury or illness. These dogs can still make very loving pets.

What does it mean if my German Shepherd tucks his tail?

A tucked tail pressed tightly against the belly signals fear, lack of confidence, or submission. It is the dog’s attempt to appear small and non-threatening. Check for any environmental stressors that could be frightening your dog.

Why does my German Shepherd chase her tail?

Occasional tail chasing is normal, but excessive chasing can indicate boredom, stress, attention-seeking, or a medical issue. Rule out health problems, then use more exercise, enrichment and training to curb the obsessive behavior.

How can I prevent injury to my German Shepherd’s tail?

Regularly brush and inspect the tail to catch any injuries early. Wag-proof your home with soft surfaces. Maintain flea control. Exercise outdoors in moderate temperatures to avoid limber tail syndrome.


A German Shepherd’s tail is a major form of canine communication and an important aspect of the breed. Learning to interpret your dog’s varied tail positions provides great insight into their state of mind and health.

While the ideal tail is long and hangs low with a slight curve, variations exist even within breed standards. Focus on keeping your German Shepherd’s tail healthy and happy, regardless of its exact shape.

With proper socialization, training and environmental management, the natural tail carriage and motion of your unique German Shepherd will give you a window into your dog’s inner world.

I hope this complete guide covers everything you want to know about German Shepherd tail types. Let that magnificent plumed rudder guide you towards a great relationship with your German Shepherd!

By Andrew Garf

Andrew Garf has loved dogs, especially German Shepherds, since he was 10 years old. Though he also loves burgers, training dogs is his real passion. That's why he created the website TrainYourGSD.com - to help dog owners learn how to properly train, care for, and bond with their German Shepherd dogs.