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Animal Folktales: Why Dogs Sniff Tails

howl! A long time ago, when the world was young, there were no dogs. There were only wolves, running wild. It was the mother in the family who took the first wolf puppy, taught it how to be a part of the family, and called it a dog. She told the dog it would be able to do anything it wanted to — with one exception. A dog may not get up on his back legs and dance like people do. This was the dog’s only rule. The dog agreed.

Years passed and more and more dogs joined families, and did whatever they wanted except dance on their back legs like people do. But they started to wonder why they had to have one rule. Why couldn’t they have no rules?

The dogs all gathered together in the forest, away from all the people. Some of the dogs were growling because they were angry. Some of the younger dogs were whining, because they were afraid. Finally one dog stood up in front of all the others.

“I’m tired of having one rule,” he said. “I want to have no rules!” And he stood up on his back legs, his tail sweeping the ground behind him, and started to dance.

The other dogs laughed! “You look so silly! Is that your tail, or is that a broom?”

The dancing dog thought about it for a second, then reached behind him and pulled off his tail. “There!” He tossed the tail onto the ground and stood up to dance again.

This time, nobody laughed.

All the rest of the dogs hurried to take off their tails and toss them on the ground. Soon all the dogs were up on their back legs, dancing like people and having a wonderful time! But one little Chihuahua, all big eyes and big ears, stopped at the edge of the dance party and yelled for everyone to STOP!

“I… hear… PEOPLE!!”

All the dogs were scared! They didn’t want to get caught breaking the one rule that they had been given. So they quickly grabbed a tail, put it on, and ran home.

In the rush, every single dog grabbed the wrong tail. And to this day, no dog has the right tail on, which is why they sniff other dogs’ tails when they meet — to find the tail that should belong to them!


This is a folktale from the Iroquois people of North America, and one of my favorite ones to tell. If your family has any actors in it, you may want to have them enact the story as you tell it!