If you’re just looking into Australian Shepherds, you’ve probably spent countless hours looking at all the cute pictures of the breed. And as you may have noticed, some Australian Shepherds will have tails while others don’t. So, do Aussies have tails or not?
Most Australian Shepherds have their tails surgically removed at an early age. But despite popular belief, the Aussies without tails are not always docked. In fact, 1 in 5 puppies are born without a tail. However, the majority of tail-less Aussies were born with a tail, though removed due to aesthetics, injury prevention, breed standard, or other reasons.
In the article, were not advocating whether you should opt to dock your Australian Shepherd’s tail. We’re simply just looking into the facts and informing you on the topic. So now that we know Aussies can have tails or be tail-less, let’s dive into why this is the case.
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Statistics of Bobtailed Australian Shepherds
Roughly one in five Australian Shepherds will have a natural bobtail. These dogs were born without a tail. However, many owners decide to cut their tails for aesthetic purposes or to comply with the “standard” of the breed. So, not all tail-less Aussies have a naturally bobbed tail.
For dogs with tails, the length can vary considerably depending on the dog and bloodline. However, for the Australian Shepherd, the number of vertebrae should vary by just one or two. Those with too few vertebrae in the tail may be considered a natural bobtail.
A normal Australian Shepherd’s tail will taper, with the vertebrae getting smaller as it reaches the end of the tail. But with a bobtailed Aussie, a lot of the end vertebrae will be missing. So without this tapering effect, this creates a blunt-like tail.
According to an ASHGI data survey in 2010, roughly 47% of all naturally bobtailed Aussies have tails a quarter length or longer. In addition, 10% of these bobtailed dogs had a kink in their tails (an unnatural curved tail).
Why Do Most Aussies Not Have Tails?
The vast majority of Australian Shepherds have their tails docked within three days post-birth. There are a lot of reasons for this process, but there are two main reasons:
- First, a lot of Australian Shepherds born with a tail have a blunt tail without any tapering. It doesn’t look aesthetic because it’s not a normal looking dog tail. In many cases, it looks as if the dog’s tail was cut halfway.
- The second most common reason is that there is a kink in the tail – or rather, a curve. These kinked tails are viewed as a malformed tail among Australian Shepherds. In other words, curved tails are not desired by dog owners.
The Bobtail Gene
As mentioned, roughly 20% of all Australian Shepherds are born naturally bobtailed. This gene that causes the genetic mutation is what’s called an “incomplete dominant gene.” It works similar to how Australian Shepherds come in merle colored coats.
Aussie puppies only need one copy of this gene to be born with a naturally bobbed tail, which explains why it’s not uncommon. However, puppies with two copies of this gene can be a fatal situation. They typically don’t make it.
The bobtail gene, otherwise known in the scientific world as the T gene mutation C189G, can determine whether a puppy is bobtailed, but doesn’t determine the length of the tails. Even bobtailed Aussies can vary in length of their stub tails.
In addition, the gene doesn’t determine whether the tail is straight or curved. All the other traits of the dog’s tail are controlled by other genes or the bloodline DNA.
Why Breeders Cut Tails Instead
Since knowledge of how Australian Shepherds are born without tails is available, one question come to mind. Why don’t breeders breed natural bobtailed Aussies instead of cutting them off?
Breeding specifically for the bobtails in Aussies is a complicated process. In fact, most of the time, it’ll likely result in dead puppies. And no one wants that, let alone breeders who’s livelihood relies on selling as many puppies as they can.
On top of dead puppies, there are a number of complications that may arise. One, for example, is spina bifida. This mutation is when the tail/anus area fails to properly develop. It’s truly a terrible sight to see and almost all the dogs with this mutation don’t make it.
If you want to learn more about spina bifida or other problems that come with breeding bobtails, you can read about it here. Just be warned if you try looking up images of this mutation.
Limited Gene Pool
Another big reason why breeders don’t specifically breed bobtailed Aussies is because of the potential negative effects on the gene pool. By doing so, you’d be limiting the variety of different genes in the pool. Less variety means more chance at mutation or diseases.
There are only so many Australian Shepherds in this country actively being bred. So if you have an even more selective process, it can mean producing a less robust or healthy Australian Shepherd.
And although it’s possible to breed for natural bobtail dogs, it’s impossible to breed for a specific length. Bobtail dogs do have stub tails and often times they’re not aesthetically desirable. Either they’re too long or have a kink. So, owners may opt to dock them anyway.
Lastly, by concentrating on breeding for natural bobtails, breeders may have to ignore important aspects of the Australian Shepherds. I would argue temperament, colors, work ethic (for herding) and health are all much more important.
Cutting the Australian Shepherd’s Tail
A common question among new owners, and rightfully so, is: does it hurt? Do the Australian Shepherds feel pain when getting their tails docked? There’s been a lot of debate on this topic in recent years, and it’s understandable why.
Before I discuss this matter, it’s important to understand and know the facts. Puppies get their tails cut 2 to 5 days after birth.
Advocates will tell you that docking an Australian Shepherds’ tail in this early phase isn’t painful or even uncomfortable. They argue that puppies haven’t developed a nervous system yet. In other words, they can’t feel pain yet.
People have started to argue that puppies actually do develop at least a basic nervous system post birth. In fact, some suggest that puppies and adults have a similar sensitivity to pain. This latest take on tail docking is quite alarming considering how common this practice is.
How They Cut an Aussie’s Tail
Tail docking is the surgical removal of a puppy’s tail, for various reasons – including injury-prevention and cosmetic purposes. There are two popular methods of docking a dog’s tail.
The most popular method is by cutting the tail off with a pair of scissors. Yes, a good old-fashion pair of scissors. This means cutting through tendons, cartilage, muscles and potentially several nerves. In addition, this process is carried out without any anesthesia or pain killers.
Another method is by using a tight rubber band to cut off the blood supply to the tail. When this is sustained for long enough, the tail will eventually drop off. However, this is a far less common practice, especially with modern vets.
Proof of Pain?
The debate on whether these puppies feel pain has been ongoing with no definitive conclusion. The fact is, most puppies produce shrieks and other intense vocalizations as soon as the tail is cut. These cries continues as the professional is patching up the wound of the tail.
Sure, the sound of pain can be subjective, but it’s certainly not a sound of joy. In my opinion, the dog is definitely feeling discomfort at the very least.
The counter argument is that there are a lot of puppies that get their tails docked while asleep. And yet, they don’t even wake up. Could it be that puppies are over-dramatic while awake?
But whether they actually feel pain or not, they’re not likely to remember their tails being docked at such an early age. In the end, those who practice tail docking believe this process won’t be a traumatic one since they won’t even know it.
Why Do Australian Shepherds Need to Cut their Tails?
Australian Shepherd puppies may or may not feel pain during the process. But regardless of this popular argument, there are several reasons why they do this. It’s not only about aesthetics or cosmetics. Here are the top three reasons why.
1. Injury Prevention
When it comes to Aussies, this is the most important reason. These dogs were bred to be skilled herders in the western region of the United States. Unfortunately, the terrain and environment in this region is not ideal for most working dogs.
There are plenty of weeds, tall grasses, shrubs and other potentially dangerous hazards in this part of the country. All of which, can potentially hurt the dog’s tail. All it takes is for their tail to clip something while running full speed. And trust me, they run fast.
Tail injuries can be very painful for the Australian Shepherd. Not only can it cause a lot of pain, but it’s relatively difficult to treat. By docking the tail, it removes the possibility of such an injury, especially at work.
2. Good Hygiene
Although this may not be the best reason, it’s still an important reason among owners. Dog breeds with a thick coat, such as the Australian Shepherd, are prone to collecting debris on their fluffy tail.
In addition, it’s common for feces (dog poop) to get caught on the tail due to its proximity to the anus. So, by docking the tail, it reduces this insanitary mishap and increases dog hygiene.
However, would it be so bad to spend a few more minutes a day wiping the tail and anus area of your dog? It really doesn’t take much effort to keep them clean in this area.
3. The Australian Shepherd “Standard”
Because Aussies were originally bred for a role where this process made more sense, this has become the standard for the breed. In fact, it’s mentioned in the AKC breed standard. The standard clearly states “he has a docked or natural bobbed tail.”
Going back to the first point, it was used as a preventive measure. Fair enough. But how many Australian Shepherds in the world are still herding livestock? If you just want a great companion family dog and you live in a more favorable environment, these points aren’t as valid.
Breeding Tail-less Aussies
It’s important to know that two naturally bobtailed Aussies should not be bred with one another. All the professional breeders will know this, so this is mainly for the amateur breeders.
This is especially true if the dogs have short bobtails. Doing so can come with a lot of potential health problems and in some cases, death. Some problems include spina bifida and other lower spinal cord mutations.
Roughly 2% of all dogs producing natural bobtailed puppies needed to be put down. However, this survey includes all breeding dogs, including non-bobtails. With that said, the percentage of breeding two natural bobtails together is certainly much higher.
Note: If you’re looking for an Aussie with a tail, consider looking into one of the many Australian Shepherd mixes here. Many of them do have natural tails.
Should I Get My Aussies Tail Docked?
First of all – if you’ve brought your Australian Shepherd home and he or she has a tail, do not dock their tails. This procedure should be done early on. It would be most likely be too painful and traumatizing for an older Australian Shepherd.
But if you have not picked out your puppy yet and have the option with your breeder, than you may want to consider skipping this procedure. Sure, there is a slight chance that a working Aussie can get injured with a tail, but it’s not too high.
On the other hand, if you’re bringing home an Australian Shepherd to be a family companion, there is no need for the tail to be docked. They will be the same dog with or without a tail, though tails may help the dog communicate with expressing his or her emotions.
Full disclosure: our Australian Shepherd’s tail is docked. However, our family was not informed on the procedure of docking, including the pros and cons. Had we known this information, then we may have chosen to opt out of docking the tail.
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