One of the most unmistakable characteristics a rabbit has is its white tail. From a far off distance, it is possible to pick out that little white speck on the horizon, but following it to and fro is another story entirely, both for your eyes and that of your dog. You see, this seemingly defenseless little creature actually possesses some intelligent design in that little white tail. Although it may contrast with the scenery around it as well as the coat pattern of the rabbit itself, the white tail on the rump of a rabbit has a purpose indeed.
At one time, the rabbit's white tail was thought to be a necessary part of the mating process. Much like birds that use color to attract a mate, the white of a rabbit's tail was thought to be appealing during the mating rituals they perform. As rabbits were studied and mating rituals and processes were observed, it was determined that tail played no significant role in cavorting. Rabbit mating instead favors the strong and fast members of the gene pool regardless of their tails, so when the significance of a tail in mating was dismissed, another reason for that spot of white had to be found.
Being able to fixate on a bright, white tail in stark contrast with the world around it may make a rabbit seem like an easy target, but that is not entirely the case. Emerging research suggests that the reason for a bright, white tail that is in stark contrast to the rest of the rabbit's body is to distract and confuse predators, which includes your rabbit dogs. As rabbits run erratically and zigzag from side to side, they often take time to pause abruptly, halting all movement temporarily before darting off in an unexpected direction. While this behavior may seem to the untrained eye like a fear reaction, it is actually a behavior that works hand-in-hand with that white tail to keep rabbits alive.
As a dog pursues a moving rabbit, it is easy to hone in on that white tail. At times the rabbit may blend in with foliage around him, but the white tail is easier to follow...or is it? It would seem so, but thanks to the multi-directional movements of a rabbit, honing in on their white tails as a focal point actually becomes more foe than friend. That white tail, so obvious and easy to see, requires a readjustment of sight each time it stops moving and starts again, making it very difficult to focus on the tail when it can only be seen in brief glimpses.
Think about trying to follow a plane through the sky on a cloudy day. Each time it vanishes behind the clouds and reappears again, you have to adjust your vision to keep following it as you were only able to see it in glimpses. The same holds true with rabbits and the way your rabbit dogs are able to give pursuit. It is not always as easy and seamless of a process as we might like due to the trickery of the rabbit's tail.
While the concept of a tail playing tricks on your eyes and those of your dogs can be a frustrating concept, the good news is that with time and practice your dogs will learn to compensate for the deceitful derriere of a rabbit. This is why an experienced dog is so valuable to many hunters, because they can predict changes in course as or even before they happen. Although the tail of a rabbit was intended to aid in the survival of the species, the ability of a dog to learn is not something that can be trumped on a long enough time line. A young dog may struggle at first to follow that fluff of white, but sooner than later he will get it right and bring you rabbit hunting success aplenty.