Tails more likely serve as a communication tool in dogs, and do not play a significant role in the canine’s agile movements, according to a new study.
Previous studies have shown that tails play crucial roles in helping a variety of animals control their movements such as in lizards where they influence body orientation, and in squirrels where recent research suggests they help in stabilising body rotation.
In cheetahs, for example, tail movement has been found to be critical during their agile movements, with the inertia from the tails sometimes allowing for nearly 180° rapid turns during prey chases.
Earlier research found that tails overall can have impacts of increasing the resistance to body rotation in mammals when they fall, or during other activities, by upwards of 35 per cent.
However, the new yet-to-be peer-reviewed study, posted on Saturday in the bioRxiv pre-print server, found that the impact of tail movement in dogs during jumping and running has “little to no effect.”
Instead, researchers, including those from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany, say tail use in dogs may have evolved for more specific purposes such as communication and pest control.
In the study, scientists built a mathematical model to assess what happens when canines twist their torsos, and when they move their legs and tails when they jump.
The dogs in the model were represented by 17 segments comprising the head, neck, upper torso, lower torso, upper limb, lower limb and paw for each limb, and tail.
The findings suggest that the tail has almost no impact on the trajectory of dogs when they leap into the air.
“Given the incredibly low angular movement, the tail is imposing on the center of mass in a range of canid species we believe at this point, that the dog tail is primarily adapted for communication with the length growing at an incredibly small rate,” scientists wrote in the study.
They say dogs may be utilising their tails for different behavioral communication with research showing they respond more positively to tail wagging as a social cue for friendliness.
“Another explanation could be the use in pest control with tails acting to ward off flies or other animals,” researchers wrote.
Citing some of the limitations of the study, scientists said morphological data is not widely present for some of the rare and endangered dog species.
Further studies of tail movements in smaller dog species can confirm the new findings.