Why Does Your Labrador Have a Curly Tail?

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Labradors are known for being versatile dogs and great companions. However, they have a distinctive look that is hard to miss. But why does your Labrador have a curly tail?

Labradors can have curly tails due to genetic variations. This can come about through Labradors breeding with other dogs with curly tails as a standard breed characteristic. It doesn’t pose medical issues but may be a sign that your Labrador is a mixed breed.

I’ll take you through what the standard Labrador tail looks like and how to spot deviations. We’ll also look at possible reasons for a curly tail. You'll also learn the signs that a medical issue needs to be taken care of quickly.

In this article

Standards for Labrador Tails

For a Labrador to be considered part of certain breed classifications, dogs must meet specific established standards. These standards include the dog’s size, coat length, coloring, stance, and more.

In the United States, the biggest and most well-known standard-setter is the American Kennel Club (AKC). There is an extensive list of characteristics a dog must have, and cannot have to qualify as a particular breed. Docked tails or tails that curl over to touch the body do not meet the AKC standards for a Labrador's tail.

The standards give further details on what the tail should look like. The tail should also taper to the tip and be similar in appearance to an otter tail in that it should be a continuation of the dog’s thick coat.

Labradors will usually have tails that are straight and thick. So, neither the tail nor its tip should be able to curl around to come in contact with the back.

labrador playing with a ball

Do Purebred Labradors Have Curly Tails?

There are several faults, also known as disqualifying points, that will exclude a dog from qualifying as a Labrador. If a dog does not qualify, it will not be able to compete in AKC-sanctioned events as a Labrador

Purebred Labradors’ tails are not curly. Therefore, Labrador tails should not be docked or their natural length altered; otherwise, this is a disqualification. Curly tails or naturally short or thin tails are merely considered faults.

These features include a Labrador with too short a tail, a long, thin tail, or a tail that curls over the back. A curly tail will not disqualify your dog from being a Labrador, it may just lose points in a show.

Such variations are just genetic differences and do not necessarily mean it is not a purebred Labrador.

Why Does a Dog’s Tail Curl Over Its Back?

A dog’s tail curls over its back by specific processes occurring with the bones in the tail. The dog’s vertebrae have gradually fused to produce a curly tail. Another reason is that the bones are wedge-shaped and naturally form a curve.

Curly tails are commonly the result of hemivertebrae. Therefore, many dog breeds will have the curved tail as a standard for their species.

overweight labrador laying on the grass

Genetic Reasons for Curly Tails

Curly tails will be a result of genetics. There’s nothing to worry about if a dog has a curly tail.

However, if the tail continues to curl to a more extreme extent over the dog’s life, you should monitor it. If the dog exhibits pain with its tail, this could signify that the process causing hemivertebrae is ongoing.

The AKC standards count a curly tail as a flaw. So this could be a sign that your Labrador may have traces of another breed’s genetics.

Crossbreeding can be a cause of a curly tail. If the breeder has guaranteed that you have a purebred Labrador, but it has a tail that does not meet the breed standards. In that case, you might want to contact the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) to enquire about testing.

The OFA maintains databases to track health concerns of dog breeds. This database will also require input from breeders and parent clubs of dog breeds. If you suspect the breeder may have lied, a genetic test can determine your Labrador’s genetic history.

I actually used this test on my dog. Check out this article to see my journey with the test and the timeline of when I received my results.

What To Do if Your Labrador Has a Curly Tail

You can also obtain certificates of pedigree to understand the history of a dog. AKC provides certification for up to 4 generations. This certification only measures pedigree and so will not list health conditions or medical problems.

Curly tails or tails that hang over the back are listed variations of a Labrador per the AKC. This means that it is more an aesthetic preference for the dog breed standard than tracking health risks for dogs.

Straightening a curly tail is impossible without unnecessary surgery. Attempting this can cause severe issues with the tail should it not go as planned.

Legal Actions

If you have purchased your Labrador because you thought it was purebred or full-blooded, you may have a cause for action. It would likely be a breach of contract as the agreement was that the seller was supposed to supply a purebred dog breed as agreed upon.

You should keep all copies of any correspondence of the advertisement or seller communication, you should keep it. If the Labrador is described in terms such as purebred, then the agreement is not for a dog with other breeds mixed into it.

It is essential to ask a breeder or seller questions and get written evidence of what the dog’s breed is, what its lineage is, and family history. If the contract was oral, it might be harder to win legally due to a lack of proof.

labrador retriever

Limber Tail

Dogs can have a condition called Limber Tail which can mean the tail is limp or drooping. This condition will indicate that although the tail may be upright, the tip is drooping down .

Limber tail is often the result of muscle sprain from activities like swimming. Other causes can be prolonged crate confinement and excessive exercise. Generally, the sprain will fix itself after a few days, but it is time to visit the vet if you notice no improvement after a week.

Limber tail will likely cause your dog pain, and so anti-inflammatories can help. Always consult with your vet to determine an appropriate course of action, but medication to help reduce swelling has been shown to speed up recovery.


A curly tail on a Labrador is likely nothing to worry about health-wise. However, if a seller promised you that you were purchasing a purebred Labrador, a curly tail could be a sign that you’ve been lied to, and the Labrador is not as pure as it was marketed.