Tail Docking and Animal Rights

Have the bans on tail docking been instituted for the wellbeing of dogs including the Australian Shepherd? Or is it part of the political movement that funds mandatory spay/neuter bills such as AB 1634 (http://www.petpac.net/) in the California State Senate, and other proposed laws that take away your rights to own and enjoy animals.

If you are under the belief that ‘Animal Rights’ is about the welfare of animals, you need to wake up and smell the skunk. “Animal Rights” is not about “Animal Welfare.” Before you donate another penny to any organization with hidden agendas to subsidize legislation restricting your rights of responsible ownership visit this webpage: http://www.freewebs.com/animalrightsandyou/

also visit: http://www.saveourdogs.net/

Why Are Aussie’s Tails Docked?

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.”

Changing Character of a Breed

One of the interesting things about writing this blog is reading the comments from different breeders around the country. Their observations bring to light a unique perspective of the breed. Sandy Cornwell of Fairoaks mentioned that she felt the breed is becoming more like a retriever of some kind. Interestingly, I read a book several years ago profiling different breeds that compared the Aussie’s temperament to that of a Golden Retriever. That is quite a contrast from the character (strong herding and guardian instincts) described in the ASCA Breed Standard.

Tina Mistretta’s comment about Australian Shepherds fending off coyotes reflects a trait which was not considered unusual to early owners.* The late Cee Hambo from the 45 Ranch in California spoke often of how her dog, Bull (WTCH The Bull of Twin Oaks) tangled with coyotes to protect her livestock. This was the typical Aussie.

Aussies were expected to defend their master’s property from all intruders, yet gently watch over the family’s children. This type of versatility and adaptability has led them to become popular pets. As the world changes so do people’s expectations of the breed.

Breeders need to educate potential buyers that being a strong guardian doesn’t make the dog vicious any more than being an authoritative or aggressive stockdog does. However, ownership requires an added responsibility. Not everyone, especially the average pet owner, is equipped to deal with a protective Aussie. As a result, some breeders started breeding for Aussies with laidback, easygoing temperaments.

Even though the companion market has significant influence on the breed’s temperament, so does competition in venues such as the trial arena. Stockdog trials have also helped shape the character of many of the Aussies being bred for working today. It wasn’t until people started competing with the breed in Stockdog trials that you heard of someone mistaking them for Border Collies. That topic brought about ASCA’s Working Description for the breed.

Are the changes good or are they bad for the breed? Once again, I ask you to be the judge.

*It is worthy to note that herding breeds with strong guarding instincts such as Australian Shepherds that tended their flocks in the company of shepherds (humans) and are very different than LGD (Livestock Guarding Dogs) breeds that protect livestock without human companionship with low prey drive.

Dr. Weldon Heard

On July 26th we lost one of the most significant names in the foundation of Australian Shepherds, Weldon T. Heard DVM. He was 86 years old.

Dr. Heard was without a doubt a great man and one of the most influential breeders in Australian Shepherd history. Thousands of pedigrees today and the greatest percentage of the Aussies in the ASCA and AKC show ring trace their heritage to names such as Heard’s Blue Spice of Flintridge, Heard’s Salt of Flintridge, Heard’s Chili of Flintridge, Heard’s Cactus of Flintridge, The Herdsman of Flintridge, and Heard’s Savor, Champion Fieldmaster of Flintridge CD and Champion Wildhagen’s Dutchman of Flintridge CDX.

Anyone who had the pleasure of knowing him could tell you, he was a man with a sense of humor and always had an interesting story to share. In telling how his family ended up in the Northwest he said, “My great grandfather with his walking stick in one hand and his bullwhip in the other hand came to the end of their lane and shouted, “Gee over” to his lead oxen and they turned right onto the county road in Montague county Texas, north of Ft. Worth. It was April 10th, 1883. Their “train” consisted of 3 families in nine wagons powered with oxen, horses and mule teams. There were various other animals including steers for meat, two milk cows and four dogs, an old collie hearth dog, a liver and white English pointer and two blue bob-tailed shepherd stock dogs. One shepherd dog was Carlo, an eight year old neutered male. The other dog was Towser a short yearling unaltered, mischievous rascal. Grandpa didn’t believe in keeping “uncut” male dogs around his ranch. The second day on the road Grandpa with his sharp “Billy Barlow” jackknife qualified Towser for membership in the exclusive eunuch’s club and two days “R and R” in the wagon. Grandpa then yoked him to Carlo and soon they made only one shadow. Other than being tender-footed for a few days, this bob-tailed team of shepherd dogs worked in double harness for six dry, dusty months when the falling October snow and jaded hungry men and beasts caused the wagon master to call out “unhook em.” He said, “We’re two hundred miles from Jacksonville, but this looks like good ranch country.”

Weldon was born in 1922 in the tiny ranching community in northeastern California. He grew up and attended his first years of college in Ashland, Oregon, where his father, Noel W. Heard, operated a feed mill. During World War II, he served in the armed forces and in 1945 he married Betty Sue Reed, a marriage that flourished the rest of his life. They had four children and helped raise others. Animals were always a defining part of their lives. Breeding and showing horses, cattle, sheep and dogs have been a livelong passion of the Heard family.

In 1950, he graduated form Colorado State University (CSU) with a doctorate in veterinary medicine. After he graduated he started practicing around Denver, Colorado.

During the 1960s when he was in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, that he started raising the line of Aussies he is so well-known for. He had acquired Blue Mistingo from a client of his. She was by Fletcher Wood’s Dandy and out of Lighter’s Asta. He then gave her to a friend of his with the agreement that he was to receive the choice of puppies if she were ever bred.

Eventually, she was bred to Harper’s Old Smokey and Dr. Heard’s choice of the litter was the beautiful female he christened, ‘Blue Spice.’ He said, “She was beautiful, she was balanced and she was brilliant. She possessed all the qualities that made me think I had a near perfect dog.” That was the beginning of the Heard’s Flintridge line and a chapter in Dr. Heard’s life.

While Dr. Heard may no longer be with us, he left a legacy behind that shall not be soon forgotten.

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