I used to think it was a red herring akin to the old wives tail about dry noses and warm ears. Sure, I thought, sometimes a “down” tail truly means something. But most often it’s all in the eye of the beholder. As in––he who lends credence to things as frivolous as the carriage of a tail deserves the stress said observation evokes.

Is her nose warm, dry, moist, cool, chilly? Who the heck cares? Not if it doesn’t correlate with any significant physiologic change or disease state. So too for her normally curly tail. It’s just a curly tail that’s not curly today. What am I supposed to do with that information?

While I still stand by my statement (an uncurled tail that checks out as neurologically normal and non-painful is a highly non-specific sign), I’ve become far more attuned to the mysterious workings of the curl in a curly tail. Slumdog (my very strange little pug mix) has made sure of that.

When Slumdog is happy, his tail is upright. In this positive state it curls up over his back like a perfect Q.

In its less excited counterpart it droops depressingly, imparting the appearance of an unhappy mastiff in miniature.

It’s the only dog I’ve ever had with a curled tail, much less one with a tail capable of such extreme expressions from one second to the next. Now I truly understand why so many canine clients consider it crucial to communicate the workings of the tail as part of their dog’s detailed history.

And how could I blame them? Because now that I’ve seen how...

a) hunger

b) sleepiness

c) loud noises

d) the word “no,” and

e) all of the above

...affects the almighty caudal appendage, I’ve become a devotee of its strange and wonderful inner life.

Will this newfound ability to interpret a tail’s subtler signs make me a better veterinarian? Highly individualized as most are, I seriously doubt it. Still, there’s no question as to the expanded opportunity for daily amusement now that I’ve become a newly enlightened observer of all its entertaining expressions.