Golden Retriever Tail Curl – Is Your Golden Truly A Golden?

Golden retrievers are well-known for their beautiful, plumed tails.

But some golden owners may notice that their dog seems to have a tail that curls over back, while most other goldens’ tails don’t do this.

Much like golden retriever splooting may be worrisome to owners, so too can a curled tail.

But is this a sign that a golden retriever isn’t a purebred?

We’ll answer that in this guide, along with explaining when and why a golden’s tail will naturally curl up and when a curled tail is considered a flaw.

Do Golden Retrievers Naturally Have Curled Tails?

A curled tail is not considered normal in the Golden Retriever breed, as a purebred golden’s tail should be straight and long.

The breed standard for goldens, as outlined by organizations like the American Kennel Club, describes golden retrievers’ tails as straight or just slightly curved, but “never tightly curled over towards the back”.

Now for golden retriever puppies on the other hand, it’s not uncommon at all for their little tails to initially curve over towards their backs with the tip pointing down.

But your golden puppy’s tail should stop doing this by the time they are a full-grown adult dog, and likely even when they’re in their late puppy stages.

If you notice that your adult golden’s tail still curls over towards its back more than just slightly, and it stays like this most of the time, there’s a chance you don’t have a purebred golden.  

But it could also be a sign of something else.

Reasons A Golden Retriever May Have A Curled Tail

  • Genetics: It’s rare in purebreds, but some golden retrievers are born with a naturally curled tail due to genetic factors passed down from their parents or ancestors.
  • Crossbreeding: If your golden retriever is crossbred with another dog breed that naturally has a curled tail, such as a chow, their future puppies may inherit this trait.
  • Past Injury: Past injuries or trauma to the tail or tail base can cause a golden’s tail to curl permanently.  These injuries may affect the muscles and structure of their tail, leaving it with a curled appearance.
  • Congenital Malformation: A congenital malformation or abnormality in the tail bone or spine can lead your golden retriever’s tail being more curled than it should be.
  • Muscle Contractions or Spasms: Occasionally, muscle contractions or spasms in the tail area can cause the tail to curl temporarily. This might be due to muscle tension or certain health conditions.

Does My Golden Retriever’s Curled Tail Indicate A Flaw?

By definition, yes.

A curled tail is also referred to as a “gay tail” (or happy tail), which is technically considered a flaw when it comes to breeding or showing goldens.

A gay tail is when your dog’s tail points up and over the height of their back, usually happening when your dog is engaged or on alert.

But if your golden’s tail stays curled up and over like this all or most of the time, this is not natural.

That said, if it only happens when your dog is excited or engaged in some way, this shouldn’t be considered a flaw.

And tail curl or no tail curl, you still have one of the best all-around dogs on the planet, so don’t let it bother you.

When It’s Considered Normal For Golden Retrievers To Curl Their Tails

While your adult golden’s tail should be straight or slightly curved most of the time, you’ll notice there are situations where your dog’s tail will tightly curl over towards their back naturally.

This pretty much always happens when your dog is either alert, excited, curious, or wants to play – and may be accompanied by your golden retriever pawing at you.

If your golden is asserting dominance, they’ll often assume what can be lovingly referred to as a “power stance” where they raise their hackle and widen their stance so that they look as big and intimidating as possible to potential threats such as:

  • Pesky squirrels that may have entered too far into their territory.  Must chase, catch and destroy!
  • Another dog strolling by their yard on a walk around the neighborhood.  Must protect this house!
  • The mail person or a delivery driver bringing a mystery package up the driveway.  Must assess the threat…wait is that the rattle of milk bones I hear?!

Field Goldens Vs Show Goldens

There are two different types of golden retrievers, and one of them is known for having a more slightly curled tail than the other.

Field goldens, which are more athletic and traditionally bred for activities like hunting, are known for having more of a curl to their tails than do show goldens.

The curl in field goldens should still be slight, but doesn’t indicate an issue in most cases.

Why Goldens Naturally Curl Their Tails When Hunting Or Hiking

If your golden is a gun dog and hunts with you, or you simply take them hiking out in the wilderness often, you’ll notice that their tails often curl up while doing so.

Their excitement while taking part in either activity contributes to this, but this tail action has actually been programmed into their brains from generations past.

As many goldens were bred as hunting dogs, the tail was used to communicate with their handlers and with other dogs, especially to signal when they’ve found something.

The tail also serves as a way for goldens to maintain their balance and agility when running and jumping through rough terrain, which is another reason they’ll curl their tails up and over while out in the wilderness.

Final Thoughts

If your golden’s tail tends to curl sharply over their back even when they’re not excited or on alert, this isn’t considered normal.

That said, there are plenty of situations when a golden’s tail will naturally curl up and over their backs.

Either way, it’s generally not something to worry about from a health perspective.