People often ask, “Why is the Australian Shepherd’s tail docked? Some of the reasons are tradition, identification, cosmetic, and function.
Tail docking has most likely occurred since ancient times. It has been written that the Romans docked tails because they believed, though erroneously, that the muscles in the dog’s tail were a cause of rabies.
In the late 1790s, a tax law was introduced on dogs to help fund the French wars. Working dogs were the exemption and were docked to signify their status. This practice was also in place in Great Britain.
Woods Natural History, published in London in 1865, lends insight into the historical practice of tail docking. “The tail of the Sheep-dog is naturally long and bushy, but is generally removed in early youth, on account of the now obsolete laws, which refused to acknowledge any Dog as a Sheep-dog, or to exempt it from tax, unless it were deprived of its tail. This law, however often defeated its own object, for many persons who liked the sport of coursing, and cared little for appearances, used to cut off the tails of their greyhounds, and evade the tax by describing them as Sheep-dogs.”
As dogs assisted man in the field, herding or hunting, their tails could be a magnate for foxtails and a host of other burrs and stickers, which could cause trauma to the tail. Consequently, tail docking was implemented to avoid injury and infection. This is one of the reasons natural bobtails were valued and bred for.
As dog shows became fashionable in the mid 1800’s with the establishment of the Kennel Club, tails of some breeds were docked as an identifying characteristic. Even today, in breeds with congenital bobtails, the tail is sometimes shortened to enhance a more symmetrical appearance, creating a classic silhouette for the show ring.
Why is the Aussie’s tail docked? The clearest answer I can give is that it is probably tradition and that it is stated in the breed standard that: “An identifying characteristic is the natural or docked bobtail.”