Cricket’s tail was docked in puppyhood and the bit that’s left is about two inches long, maybe less, but she uses what she has to her fullest ability. If she has a poopy issue left over after a walk and I manage to catch her and carry her into the bathroom, she uses her stub of a tail to protect that poop from being removed. Slam! Tail down. If she’s angry and barking at intruders, she lifts her tail and shakes it like a fist. If she’s excited, her tail spins around in a tiny circle, like a propeller lifting her off the floor.
Cricket’s groomer, the one we like, decided to give Cricket a puffy poodle tail one time, like a cotton ball attached to her butt. It made it very difficult to understand Cricket for a few days, until I took out the scissors and trimmed it down so she could speak clearly again.
Cricket is very bright and she can think and express opposing ideas at the same time. She can be waving her tail in great excitement, and barking as if the world is about to end. She can wag her tail, but rest her head on her paws like she’s bored. She wants to make sure that she has expressed every dimension of how she’s feeling instead of just a simple, Hello, or I hate you.
The only time Cricket’s tail and head and whole body are in full agreement is when Grandma comes back after being a way – for one minute, ten minutes, ten hours. Cricket’s little stub is wagging in circles and she’s crying and jumping and licking. She tries to jump into Grandma’s arms and fly herself across the room. I’m sure she’s had minor tail strains from these greetings, because the whirling little stub gets an amazing work out.
I read an article that said a docked tail can limit a dog’s ability to communicate; that dogs who approach a dog with a docked tail will be more circumspect, because they have a harder time reading the docked tail for signs of aggression or submission. I wonder if this has been an issue for Cricket. Maybe she senses the other dog’s apprehension and interprets that as aggression, and so she’s aggressive right back. Would her life have been completely different, and better, if they’d never docked her tail?
I wonder if, having a full tail to swing around, Cricket wouldn’t have to bark so much to get her point across. Maybe she feels like she has to scream because part of her voice has been muted and dampened.
Is there such a thing as a tail prosthetic?
To be fair, I think her little tail is cute and at this point I wouldn’t recognize her as Cricket with any other tail. This is who she is and its an integral part of her identity. But who would she have been otherwise?
I know a Golden retriever with a long, bushy tail, and she uses it not just to express happiness or outrage, but to bar her little poodle brother from passing by. She can swing that thing like a bat and knock all the chotchkes off the coffee table, or she can carefully tuck her tail out of the way, to be polite and demure. But Cricket doesn’t have those options.
Butterfly makes more simple sentences with her tail. Her tail goes down when she’s resting or concerned. When she’s excited and happy her tail swings full out – she makes circles in the air to announce her happiness. She waves her tail as a way of saying, Yes, I want a treat, Yes, I want to go outside, Yes, I’m the cutest puppy in the world! When she’s a bit more sedate and formal, her tail sits up on her back like a plume and you can tell she is proud. She walks her girliest walk at these times, with her hips swinging gently from side to side. She’s not inviting interaction so much as walking the cat walk, to be admired from afar.
I’d like to have a long fluffy tail, like a Golden Retriever. I would love to wave my tail back and forth and be giddy and free in telling people that I’m happy to see them. I’ve never been good at unrestrained expression; I tend towards understatement and reserve. But there’s something so wonderful about a dog waving her tail when she sees you. I’d love to be that person. I’d love to feel so secure in myself that I could tell people how much I care about them.
I wonder if we’d lose our capacity for denial with a tail so earnest and open and easy to read. Because I think these tails, this earnestness in dogs, is a big part of what we love about dogs. Even the angriest dog, because he’s honest about his anger, is easier to love than a human who masks what he’s really feeling.
I remember hearing about all kinds of human body modification surgeries that were becoming popular over the past few years – pointy ears were the most obvious, or the ear lobe expanders. I wonder if anyone has come up with a way of adding a tail, to be more like a dog. You’d probably have to take classes (from a dog?) in how to express yourself with your tail, and, knowing humans, we’d probably add a lot of complicated nonsense to get in the way of what we are trying to say. But it’s an interesting idea. On the down side, you’d have much more trouble finding clothes that fit, or a comfortable place to sit down.