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Why Do Australian Shepherds Have Docked Tails? The Truth

  • Veterinarian Approved!

If you have an Australian Shepherd with a docked tail, you may wonder the reason behind this practice. While not all Aussies have a shortened tail, it’s safe to say that the vast majority of them are. So why is this the breed standard, and does a docked tail serve any benefit?

Nowadays, the primary reason for tail-docking is to adhere to certain cosmetic breed standards and to prevent tail injuries. A long time ago, however, tail-docking was carried out because it was thought to enhance working performance and improve hygiene.

In this article, we will discuss the history of tail docking in our Australian Shepherd friends, and help you better understand this tradition going forward!

What Is Tail Docking?

Before we dive into the most common reasons behind tail docking in Aussies, you should first understand what tail docking is in the first place. If you ever see a dog with a short or stubby tail, it is very possible that they underwent tail docking when they were a small puppy. 

This practice is meant to shorten the tail to achieve a signature look, and will often be performed by the breeder before you welcome the pup into your life. Tail docking does not remove the tail on a dog, but rather shortens it to fit a breed standard. 

Tail docking is generally performed in puppies from 3 to 5 days of age. It is believed that because a puppy’s nervous system is not fully developed, that they will not experience as much pain during the procedure itself. 

While this understanding is still highly debated, it is why tail docking in young puppies is performed without general anesthesia. The veterinarian will quickly cut off the desired amount of the tail with surgical scissors, or occlude a portion of the tail to block blood supply over a period of a few days. 

Tail docking can be performed in older dogs but will be treated as a standard surgical procedure. Dogs will need to be properly anesthetized, as well as offered surgical aftercare including pain medication and antibiotics. 

Tail docking is a bit controversial due to arguments on pain threshold, so you may have to search for a clinic that will perform the procedure. Once a puppy’s tail has been successfully docked, they should not experience tail growth as they age. 

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Why Do Australian Shepherds Have Their Tails Docked?

Now it’s time to dive into the details of why tail cropping exists. While there are many possible reasons, the main one is due to cosmetic purposes. 

There is a long history behind tail docking in dogs, dating back to ancient Romans times. It’s believed that the Romans associated long dog tails with an ability to catch rabies, leading them to trim the top of the canine tail to offer them protection. 

This belief soon faded but moved aside for another common belief that a shortened tail helps a dog run faster. With how often dogs were used to assist during hunting, they believed this procedure offered them extra speed.

We know now that none of the above is true, so why do Aussies still have their tails cropped? The most common reasons behind this procedure today are maintaining a breed standard or preventing tail injuries in the future.

When working dogs assist their owners in the field, their tail is often a magnet for foxtails and burrs that can cause them harm. Tail docking is sometimes implemented to prevent future tail injuries in our canine friends, as these risks could make them less efficient helpers. 

However, many Australian Shepherds with cropped tails are family dogs that do not assist their owners in any type of work. In situations like this, tail docking is often just a cosmetic procedure that adheres to breed tradition. 

The Aussie is known to have a signature look, leading many breeders to dock their puppy’s tails before they find their future homes. A docked tail has become an identifying feature for Aussies, which is why it continues to this day. 

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Are Aussies Born With A Naturally Docked Tail?

Most Australian Shepherds will have their tails docked in their first week of life, but some will not require it. 1 in 5 Aussies are born with a natural bobtail, meaning they have only one or two vertebrae in the tail. 

This trait creates a stubby tail that is typically a few inches long, making it challenging to distinguish from surgically docked tails. If you do not have an adequate history from your breeder, you may never know if your dog is a natural bobtail or not!

This genetic mutation is a result of a recessive gene known as the C189G gene and can be passed down in any Aussie. You may think that a naturally short tail is a hot commodity in the breeding world, but it is actually the exact opposite. 

An Aussie with a natural bobtail should never be bred to another bobtail, as this can lead to devastating effects to their future litters. 

The Dangers Of Breeding Bobtail Aussies

As we mentioned above, a natural bobtail Aussie comes with their own set of risks. Two copies of this recessive gene can lead to serious negative impacts on their future litters, ranging from birth defects to reabsorption in the womb. 

If a bobtail Aussie breeds with another bobtail, there is a high chance that their litter will face a threat of spina bifida or other spinal defects. Some of these puppies are born with defects so severe that they require euthanasia, making this an Aussie breeder’s worst fear. 

Many believe that you should never breed a bobtail Aussie in general, as there is always a risk of producing puppies with serious complications. If you plan to breed your pup in the future, we suggest only purchasing an Aussie with a natural tail or surgically docked tail. 

Pros Of Tail Docking In Australian Shepherds

With tail docking being practiced around the world, there have to be a few pros to this cosmetic procedure. The positives mainly affect working dogs that are more at risk to tail injury, but they should still be noted!

Sanitary reasons: Due to the Australian Shepherd’s long fur, their tails can become extremely matted if they are not taken care of. Their tails can also collect plant material, waste, and any other objects they come in contact with. 

Preventing tail injury: If a dog has an enthusiastic tail, they can fall victim to a condition called “happy tail”. This is an injury that is caused by their tail hitting hard surfaces leading to tail wounds that often require treatment. 

Both of these potential issues can be avoided with tail docking.

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Cons Of Tail Docking In Australian Shepherds

As we mentioned before, tail docking is highly controversial in the dog-loving world.

Ranging from chronic pain to incontinence, tail docking comes with its own set of risks. 

It is painful: Though many breeders state that puppies do not feel the tail docking, this cannot be true based on scientific evidence. Puppies do still have a developed nervous system, meaning it is impossible for them not to experience some form of discomfort. 

Socialization: Dogs use their tail as a major form of communication with other dogs. Docking their tails removes their ability to properly socialize, making meeting new dogs more challenging for some. 

Chronic pain: Some Aussies with docked tails can develop chronic pain from the procedure. This long-lasting pain can be due to nerve sensitivity or secondary nerve spinal tumors but can result in serious pain around their tail. 

Incontinence: This is certainly rarer, but some Australian Shepherds can experience incontinence as a result of tail docking. This results in a dog being unable to hold their bladder properly, which can deeply impact their family down the line. 

AVMA opposes it: Tail docking is of course allowed, but the AVMA considers it an unnecessary procedure due to potential pain and unclear benefits. If the AVMA opposes anything pet-related, it should be considered as a major con. 

Back to more Australian Shepherd articles

Australian Shepherd Tail Docking Length

Australian shepherds that have their tails docked generally have them cut down to around 4 inches.

Should You Dock Your Aussies Tail?: Do You Have To?

The choice of docking your Australian Shepherd’s tail is entirely up to you. And it is certainly not something you have to do.

If you have a working dog that will face the risk of tail injury each day, you may be considering the potential benefits. 

I would not personally dock my dog’s tail, as the list of cons far outweighs the pros in my opinion. Cosmetic procedures are controversial for good reason, as many of the negatives of having a tail can be easily addressed. 

Daily grooming of your Australian Shepherd can prevent painful knots, and keep their tail as sanitary as possible. Tail injuries do happen, but they are not as common as you may think. 

If you are struggling with the idea of tail docking, we strongly suggest speaking with your veterinarian about what is best for your furry friend. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, tail docking in Australian Shepherds has been around for quite some time. Be sure to review the information that we discussed above, and you can better understand this practice going forward!

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