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Shih Tzu Tails

Shih Tzu tail curls over back
Nikkinoo, 9 and 1/2 years old
Photo courtesy of Kimberley Kendall 

If you have a question regarding your Shih Tzu’s tail, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve complied the most frequently asked questions about tails – from shaving to wagging to tail set... curling and chewing issues and everything in between – and have answered these concerns for you. 

Chances are you will learn something new and this information will help you be prepared for issues that may arise. 

After all, these canine appendages used for both balance and communication are important to our dogs...and should be to you as well. 
Commonly Asked Tail Questions

Are Shih Tzu tails supposed to stand up?

Yes and no. Per AKC breed standard guidelines, a Shih Tzu’s tail ‘should’ be ”set on high, heavily plumed, carried in curve well over back”. Therefore, to meet the AKC’s expected appearance, the tail will be up and curled over the back. A Shih Tzu with a ‘perfect’ tail will have one that is held over the back without touching it…and it will remain high and curled over the back while the dog is walking or running and regardless of whether or not he is wagging the tail. 

With this said, not all Shih Tzu have tails that do this. And even for those that do, it is quite normal for a Shih Tzu to carry his tail up sometimes and down at other times.  
Are Shih Tzu dogs supposed to have curled tails? 

This is a common question since breed standards call for the tail to ‘curve well over back’. However, a curve should not be confused with a curl. Therefore, a Shih Tzu’s tail should not actually twist in a circled loop or be coiled (like a Pug dog’s tail) but rather simply have one curve to it as it hovers high over the back. 

As with the standing up question answered before this one, this is the preferred look for this breed and not all Shih Tzu will match this. Some will have straighter tails without much curvature and this is fine as long as you are not planning to show your dog in the ring or planning on breeding (see next question).
Can a Shih Tzu’s tail set be hereditary? 

Yes. The set of the tail, whether too high, too low or ‘just right’ is an inherited trait just like a dog’s bite set, size, color, etc. If a Shih Tzu has a tail that is much too short, too long or is not carried correctly, barring any sort of injury or surgery that was done, you can almost always find this ‘flaw’ in his bloodline. If a Shih Tzu does have a highly flawed tail set, this can definitely be passed on to potential litters and since the goal of producing puppies should be to maintain the integrity of the breed, that dog should be excluded from any breeding program. This said, if a Shih Tzu’s tail is so off that it is considered a fault, that puppy or dog will still make an amazing pet. 

Do Shih Tzu dogs have docked tails? I didn’t think so, but have seen two now with very short, bobbed tails. While there are quite a few breeds that do have docked tails (mostly in the US, since many other countries have banned this practice), you are correct that the Shih Tzu is not one of them. Docking a Shih Tzu’s tail has never been a custom or practice at any time during its development or in today’s modern world. However, there are circumstances in which a surgical docking may have been necessary such as severe injury or infection to the dog’s tail. 

Is it okay to shave a Shih Tzu’s tail?

This is a question that we are asked quite often. If you are planning on having your Shih Tzu shaved down to a close puppy cut, it is your own personal choice to have this include the tail. Carefully shaving the tail down to match the length of the coat for this hair style is perfectly fine to do. The only real risk would be for an inexperienced groomer to shave too close and nick the skin; a cut on the tail can take a long time to heal. 

There is a rather widespread myth that shaving a tail can throw off a dog’s balance and make it difficult for him to walk straight, etc.; however this is not true… in just about every case of that sort outcome it is a matter of some sort of tail injury (razor burn, cut, handled too rough, etc.) The ‘all body’ puppy cut, including a shaved tail, is a preferred look for many owners and puppies and dogs do not seem to mind less hair on the tail.  
Can I shave the hair right under my Shih Tzu’s tail? Feces gets stuck to it a lot and I have to wipe my Shih Tzu just about every day. 

Yes, absolutely. In fact, this sort of clipping is done quite often for hygiene reasons. When a dog is having healthy bowel movements, they will have the consistency of a thick somewhat moist paste and that sort of stool easily sticks to the fine hairs found under the tail base. As with any sort of clipping, you’ll want to be very careful. Since the anal glands are located in this area as well, do be vigilant or opt to have a trusted groomer perform this task. In addition, while the goal is to have the hair under the tail short, you will want to keep some length (1/4 inch at least) so that there is no bare skin showing.
Why does my Shih Tzu chew the very tip of her tail? It’s to the point now that just about all the hair is gone and the skin looks raw. 

Dogs in general tend to chew at their paws and their tails, simply because these are the most accessible parts of the body that can be reached. In most cases of a Shih Tzu obsessively chewing the end of his tail, the reason is an intense itch. Though, it should be mentioned that what once started off as an itching problem may turn into a habit.

In regard to itching, in most cases this can be traced back to some sort of allergy. All 3 main type of allergies: Food, contact and seasonal can cause itching all over the body and it is then that the tail and paws may be gnawed at in an attempt to find relief.

Fleas are another possible cause (it only takes 1 flea bite to cause severe itching if a Shih Tzu is allergic to the flea saliva). With so many possible culprits as the allergen, it is best to have the veterinarian run an ELISA test (blood test for allergies) or an intradermal skin test.
Shih Tzu tail lset
Mumu, 1 year old
Photo courtesy of Molly
If a dog has been cleared of all possible health related issues and it is clear that he is biting at his tail due to habit and nothing else, it is then that you can approach this from a behavior standpoint. One of the best methods is to incorporate an apple bitter spray (as we suggest for chewing on other objects such as the legs of furniture). Use a quality spray that is safe to ingest and contains natural ingredients that will not irritate or burn any tender skin on the tail.  

If the skin is red, swollen or otherwise looks very raw, you’ll want to have the vet take a look since the constant chewing may have led to an infection. In some cases, the tail will need to be dabbed with an antibiotic gel and then bandaged to allow it to heal. This is often done each day with a fresh wrapping for 2 weeks.
My Shih Tzu is suddenly not moving his tail, what could be wrong? 

We’ve received questions like this from owners who have noticed this anywhere from just a few hours to several weeks. Owners will wonder if the tail was somehow injured and in some instances this will not just be a matter of not moving the tail, but that the tail is drooping down or held low as well. 

If this has just happened and there are no other signs that anything is wrong you may want to give this just a bit of time since just being excessively tired can cause a dog to not wag his tail.  

The reasons why a Shih Tzu may hold his tail funny or not move his tail include:

Being depressed - Mild to moderate depression can cause a dog (even one with a natural high tail set) to hold the tail low; a Shih Tzu may be physically showing how sad he is. There are actually many causes of canine depression including moving to a new house, the loss of another pet, the loss of a family member, a sudden increase in time that the dog is left home alone, a decrease in exercise (a sullen mood can develop after approximately 2 weeks of inactivity) and even SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

Being scared - Feeling frightened is a frequent cause of acute tail problems. With a high tail set, this breed cannot really ‘tuck the tail between the legs’ so, if a Shih Tzu is afraid he may hold it lower than normal. It may curve over too far and touch the back or it may droop low off of the body. 

Injury - Any sort of trauma to any part of the tail can cause a dog to carry it at an odd angle. He or she may also not wish to move it (due to pain) or may not be able to move it (due to internal damage). A person accidentally stepping on the tail is by far the most common reason for tail trauma, however there is a wide range of possible causes. Anything from rough play with another dog to being handled incorrectly to thumping it repeatedly on a hard surface to having it caught in something (car door, snagged on gate, etc.). See ahead for tail trauma treatment. 

Anal gland issues – Every dog has a pair of anal glands, also referred to as scent glands, with one located on each side of the anal opening. These hold a liquid that is secreted in very small amounts each time that a dog has a bowel movement and also any time that the dog comes into contact with another dog. Sometimes these glands can become filled with too much fluid (engorged) or the fluid can develop into a thick paste-like substance (impacted). If either of these issues develop, it can cause a Shih Tzu to feel very uncomfortable and in turn, hold his tail funny, have trouble wagging it or resist moving it. 

Back problems – Less common but still a possibility is an issue with the back. The tail is actually an extension of the spine and therefore something such as a ruptured disk will often radiate pain down to the tail. In many cases a Shih Tzu with back pain will sit at an odd angle, having trouble walking, may limp, will not be able to exercise as normal and will show other signs of discomfort; however even without these other symptoms having the back checked out when the tail appears injured will be done by most veterinarians. 

Age related issues - As dogs age, there may be problems with posture. This can be due to arthritis, though most older dogs also have weaken tendons and decreased muscle that can cause the tail to not be held as high as their younger counterparts. 
I think that my Shih Tzu has an injured tail. Is this something that can heal at home or should I bring her to the vet? 

Signs of tail injury include swelling of the tail (most often seen with injury to the middle section), drooping and/or immobility. As we touched on above, the tail is an extension of the spine. 
The tail contains mobile vertebrae that are connected to muscles via tendons. There are also paired nerves and blood vessels. So as you can imagine, the tail is not just ‘there’ and is an important part of the body used for both communication and for balance. 

While a bruised tail can heal at home, we do recommend that tail injuries be examined by the veterinarian, since you’ll want to know if the tail is bruised, broken or dislocated. In addition, depending on what caused the injury to the tail, it’s best to have a full checkup to examine the back, rib cage and so forth.

Tails that are injured can be very painful and most vets will prescribe some sort of pain medication to help a Shih Tzu during the healing process. If broken or dislocated, the tail may need to be set; and this is often done with the dog under anesthesia. You’ll be advised to look for any signs of discoloration of the tip, since this can point to blocked blood flow and is considered an emergency issue.
Shih Tzu tail lies flat
It's not uncommon for a Shih Tzu to relax his/her tail when resting and for the tail to lie flat when the dog is lying down.
Cooper, 3 and 1/2 months old
Photo courtesy of The LaPenna Family
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