The Labrador tail is one of the most distinguishing features of the breed as a whole. Often, it is called an ‘otter tail’, referring to its appearance. Today we look at what makes Lab tails so special and how to care for them. We’ll also help you to spot a Labrador Retriever by their tail alone!
Lab tails are thick and tapering, covered in the same dense hair as the rest of their bodies. Labrador tails are also practical, helping them to steer quickly through water in their original retrieving role! Some Labs may have shorter or thinner tails than average, which is considered a fault in show dogs. However, it won’t impact their ability as a working dog or loving companion!
What Does a Labrador Tail Look Like?
The traditional Labrador Retriever tail is thick and gradually tapers towards the tip. Unlike some other retriever breeds, such as the Golden Retriever, Labradors have little to no feathering on their tails. Instead, their entire tail is covered in dense fur, like the rest of their body. The ideal Labrador tail is medium length, “extending no longer than the hock” to be in accordance with the breed standard. However, some Labrador tails fall outside of this standard, being shorter, longer, or thinner than average.
Unlike some other breeds, a Lab’s tail doesn’t curl over their back. Instead, it follows their topline (the line from their neck to tail). Giving them the overall balanced appearance that we know of this breed!
Fun Facts About Labrador Tails
- The term “otter tail” comes from the rounded appearance of a Lab’s tail.
- Labradors can use their tails to help with swimming, as a powerful rudder.
- Labs communicate through their tail – like other dogs.
- Some Labrador tails curve upwards (although not over their back), and others may be dead straight.
Labrador Tail Types
There are no real different Labrador tail types. But, Labrador tails may look slightly different from one dog to the next, depending on what they were bred for. For instance, Labs bred for show are bred to fit the strict breed standard. This standard idealizes the otter tail shape, and states that the tail can be no longer than the Lab’s hock, but also not “extremely short”. It should also have no feathering, and follow the dog’s topline.
Dogs who are not specifically bred for appearance can differ a little more. So, you may find working Labs with thinner tails, shorter or longer tails than average, and even tails that curve upwards a little more than you expect. Of course, many theorize that the otter tail shape also helps Labs with their working ability. But, this doesn’t mean that every working Lab or companion Lab will have the same thick tapering tail. Some may have a thinner tail, or one that does not taper so gradually.
Lab Tail Colors
These variations can happen in Labs of any color. So, whether you’re looking at a black Lab tail, a chocolate Lab tail, or a yellow Lab tail, you could see the traditional otter tail, or something slightly different. No matter what the slight differences, it’s likely that tail will be wagging madly when your Lab sees you!
Labrador Tail Injuries
It is possible for your Labrador to injure their tail. The most common problem that affects Labrador tails is limber tail. Other than limber tail, this condition is also called water tail, swimmer tail, limp tail, and more. If your Lab has limber tail, their tail will hang lifelessly, or may jut out a little before hanging limp. This is a painful condition for dogs and will affect the movement of your Lab’s tail. But, fortunately, there are ways to help a Lab suffering from limber tail.
Potential risk factors for limber tail include swimming, high latitudes, and even genetic predisposition. If your Lab seems to be suffering with limber tail, you should take them to your veterinarian straight away. In the first 24 hours, anti-inflammatories can be given to shorten the length of the flare up. And, your vet will be able to give your Lab dog-safe pain relief, if nothing else. Other than that, they will most often prescribe plenty of rest to help your Lab’s tail recover. This could take anywhere from a few days to over a week.
What is Your Lab’s Tail Like?
Do you have a Labrador with the popular, classic otter tail? Or is your Lab’s tail slightly different to the average Labrador? Has your hard-working retriever ever suffered from limber tail? We would love to hear all about your Labrador’s tail in the comments!
Find Out More
References and Resources
- Shah, A. (et al), ‘Successful Management of Limber Tail Syndrome in Labrador Dog: First Case Report in India’, The Pharma Innovation (2021)
- Pugh, C. (et al), ‘Cumulative Incidence and Risk Factors for Limber Tail in the Dogslife Labrador Retriever Cohort’, The Veterinary Record (2016)
- ‘Official Standard for the Labrador Retriever’, American Kennel Club (1994)
- Tavares, S. (et al), ‘Labrador Retrievers are More Attracted to Water than Social Stimuli: A Pilot Study’, Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2015)
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website
Our black lab said she is mixed with mastiff but all I see is lab . But she always has the end of her tail curled . Normally bout even with her body , but when she’s excited she will raise the tail over her back . Is that a normal trait for a lab . ? She’s a beautiful dog I’m just wondering if that’s a true lab trait .
My beautiful, fox red lab was born with a corkscrew tail nearly 12 years ago now. All tail bones are there in a corkscrew fashion making his tail look short and stumpy and about half the length of an otter tail.
It wags twice as fast as any other dog I know and is definitely part of his smile when his eyes light up. It has never seemed to slow him down on land or on water and makes him so easy to spot in a crowd!
I’m distraught by a groomer, who was highly, recommended but, ruined my Labs, thick beautiful tail by shaving, trimming and then cut off the feathering near her tail by the too of her back legs. I was told it should grow back, that was like 6, months ago.I can’t believe a groomer doesn’t have a clue how to properly groom a Lab, even hair between pads were not cleaned up. I won’t go back but, I need to them instructions on Lab grooming.
My lab tail curls upward. Im expecting of the common otter tail. How i wish there’s remedy for this while still a puppy