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.”

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41 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have the most beautiful Aussie in the world. She is a red/white and tan rescued Aussie, 15 years and 2 months old, with a fabulous tail. It’s just one of her gorgeous attributes.
    No one should dock that tail. It has saved her from coyotes, warned other smaller dogs, and invited her friends.
    I’ve had her for 13 of her 15 years and known her for 14. Her gorgeous tail has been a gift from God and so has she.

  2. I think aussies tail’s should be docked.
    It keeps them from infection, and getting hurt.
    I have two aussies myself, I think their little nubbers are so much cuter then a tail. their whole butt waggles with them. :]

  3. Here is a blog entry about tail docking (dated September 14, 2007) you may find interesting:

    http://terriermandotcom.blogspot.com/2006/03/nannying-idiots-continue-to-ignore.html

  4. I’m almost ambivalent when it comes to the issue of tail docking. I see the value of both sides; the docking for safety and/or cosmedic reasons and the natural tail in its full, bushy beauty 🙂
    My parents are always thankful when the dogs and I come to visit. Their coffee tables and the items on them are untouched by big, wagging tails 😉

  5. I am so used to the aussie without its tail,I dont think I would be used to it with one. I love that aussie wiggle that we have all come to love-and are used to seeing in and out of the show ring.
    I can totally understand the importance of docking-since life on the farm is tough and you really dont want the aussie getting hurt due to its tail being stomped on or full of burrs…but I do have a question: if this is such an issue,why dont they dock border collies-who do the same kind of work?

  6. I have 2 Aussies (docked w/ AKC papers) and I just had my first litter this summer. There is nothing to describe seeing all 6 puppies nursing in line with their little tails wagging. I am so glad I decided not to dock their tails… and now, at 5 weeks old, they do the full Aussie wiggle… little tails and all. They also run through the yard with their tails straight up, waving at full mast.

    They all have their sire’s thick full curly coat. (He’s got a showcoat on a working body… ) I’ve run him all day through burrs, tall grass and whatnot, and nothing gets past his outer coat… Everything combs out with a coarse comb.

  7. I would like to know how much of the tail should be left after docking a miniature australian shepherd.

  8. I have owned Aussies for over 20 yrs. Over the past couple of years my chiropractor that works on my dogs and I have comptemplated the chronic issues with subluxation of the pelvis as compensation for the lack of the tail for balance. She notices it most in docked breeds.I did own a dog years ago with a very bad dock (right to the pelvis). She could not jump horizontally well nor did she deficate easily. So the impact to the surronding muscles can greatly be affected. Out of curiousity last year I left 1 tail on pups out of 2 different litters. Both were dilute so not a showable color. I normally have the newborns adjusted shortly after having their tails docked. The ones without the docks did not require adjustments to their pelvis or tails. The docked pups all did.They were the first to walk with their heads up and not shuffle. I kept one of the pups myself and she can run backwards with a dog chasing her almost as fast as running forward. I do like the docked Aussies, but I think the tails are quite pretty and I have more performance people wanting tails on their dogs. As a breeder I don’t have a problem with people docking OR leaving the tails on. This day and age there are few working farms and most dogs are pets. So the chance of damage to the tail is minimal. I do trial and work my dogs and never have had them ever kicked from behind, but I suppose it could happen on a ranch working in tight quarters in chutes, trailers or holding pens.

  9. Hi Virgil,

    It depends on how short you want the tail. Generally speaking you should place the band between the second and third joint (vertebrae) which will yield about a two to three inch tail at maturity. The ASCA breed standard allows for a maximum tail length of up to four inches.

    Kind Regards,
    Jeanne Joy

  10. I love the docked tail, Aussies just aren’t wigglebutts with a tail! 😉 I always thought the unnaturally docked tails were docked originally to avoid the burrs, snags, getting caught on brush while out on the range herding. Like you said, to avoid infection, etc. And I know how hard it is to get burrs out, if there were burrs anywhere, our Duke would find them. He was so good though, if he could reach them on himself, he bit them and pulled them out. We also have a Border Collie and his tail is a PAIN to keep nice! But that’s country life for ya!

  11. Oh, I was just reading through some of the comments and saw Paula’s asking about why Border Collie’s tails aren’t docked. Maybe one reason is because they originate in Scotland/England where they herded sheep in pastures, where there really wasn’t the same type of “scrub” as out west in the U.S. where the Aussie originated, so nothing really to get their tails snagged on, was not an issue? Just a thought! =)

  12. Our Aussie doesn’t have his tail. I don’t care for the cosmetics and I hope it’s not just tradition. We are more concerned about the dog’s well being and health. If it doesn’t have to be removed for health reasons, they should be left alone. It makes me feel like a finger being cut off.

  13. I personally wish my mini-aussie’s tail was not docked. I don’t really see it as necessary, especially in this day and age when these are mostly not working dogs. I asked the breeder about the docked tail, and she didn’t have a good answer. She said the one dog whose tail she didn’t dock was practically hairless and rat-like looking. But, that dog was a runt and apparently had other issues as well.

    There are examples of working dogs who keep their tails like Border Collies and Blue Heelers. I suspect the majority of work-related reasons for docking dog tails are really more cosmetic reasons.

  14. To me, docking a dog’s tail is similar to declawing a cat — it’s seems like cruelty. Our border collie’s tail had to be brushed, but that’s pretty standard animal care and we called her wiggle-butt long before we’d ever seen our first Aussie. I’m happy to see some European countries outlawing docking — it would be nice to see the US follow suit.

  15. Very Nice website. I just finished mine and i was looking for some ideas and you gave me a few. Did you develop the website alone?

    Cheers

  16. I had an Aussie with the most beautiful blue eyes and a full tail. She was a stunning dog and to me, a dog without a tail looks so unnatural.

    I am looking for another Aussie and I’m having problems finding one with a full tail.

  17. Docked tails keep the dog from getting infections? Really?? Where is the logic in that? What about the hundreds of breeds that do not have their tails docked? I’ve been in the dog community for over forty years and don’t remember there EVER being an epidemic of infections caused by long tails.

    Tails are docked for one reason, and one reason only – because some people thought it looked better and so it became the norm.

    God gave my Aussie his tail and we are going to keep it.

  18. Tail docking is the single most stupid debate in the entire history of dogs. We talk to adopters every year who think that this is some sort of big deal, who want an Aussie, but only one where the tail has not been altered “inhumanely”, well meaning people who fail to understand the exact nature of the docking procedure, or the fact that a tail docking in a 3 to 5 day old puppy is less invasive, traumatizing or dangerous than a surgical procedure that is performed routinely on millions of human male infants every year. The same people who have no issue with circumcision will decry loudly the docking of a puppy’s tail. It just goes to show that there is a lot of incorrect and misleading information being spread by the idiot fringe of the animal rights contingent, and it behooves all of us who rescue and breed to make sure that we provide the correct information to everyone that we come in contact with.

  19. Here, in Germany docking isn’t allowed – and I haven’t heard of many infections. This is obviously no reason for docking.
    I don’t know any aussie with an injured tail, too. And how many aussies are working in the scrub today?
    I do love the long tail of my aussie and have no difficulties to get burrs out though he has a full coat and we’re often i the wood. And he is a wigglebutt, too :-).

  20. Dear Lynn and other pro-tail aussie fanciers,

    After 20 years of breeding, showing, and training aussies, I have decided to no longer dock my puppies’ tails. My reasons primarily come from watching my puppies experience pain during the procedure and for days afterwards; hunching their hindquarters and whimpering. I was especially interested to read the comment from the person who has had to adjust her puppies who have had their tails docked. This only lends more credence to the information given by the AVMA that dogs suffer with psycholgical and physiological damage as adults when their tails have been docked. The AVMA also states that puppies do experience pain; however, the pain is “difficult to quantify.” How much pain should we be allowed to inflict on our dogs for the pure vanityty of “cute wiggle butts” or what we’re accustomed to. Psychological research proves that even artwork that is first not appreciated as beautiful, becomes pleasing to the beholder over time. If we can become accustomed to the pleasing affect of a dog without a tail, over time the same would happen to our sense of beauty regarding an aussie with a tail.
    I’ve also never been impressed with people who say that burrs in their dog’s tails are annoying. If you’re annoyed with having to brush your dog’s tail, then maybe having a dog is too much responsibility. How about shaving the dogs tails or whole body as a compromise!
    I have never heard of, or seen, a dog injure its tail while working cattle and 99% of people who own an aussie do not work them. It seems somewhat dull for us to justify a comprehensive amputation practice for so many dogs when so few dogs are truly effected.
    I was always disgusted by this practice, but ashamedly, gave in due to the peer pressure of the ASCA standard. My last two litters have been left as God created them. This is simply an outdated, cosmetic tradition that is cruel. Maybe it will take one courageous breeder at a time to end this inhumane practice, and believe me it does take courage when your breeder friends are not so friendly anymore.
    Breed Standards should be holy when they reflect and maintain the best interest of the breed. When they don’t, it is up to us as the stewards of our beloved canine friends to step in and exult a better way.
    I currently have a gorgeous litter of puppies with tails if you are interested. laurabelveal@earthlink.net

  21. Is docking painful for puppies at 3 to 5 days old? I understand after certain age (not sure when’s the starting period), it’s like amputation.

  22. My Aussie is quite the smiling wiggle butt even with his full tail. I can see no reason to dock an animal just because I want it to look a certain way (this goes for ears as well). Dogs have tails for a reason, it’s not like they are just there for show. If you don’t want a tail wagging creature, don’t buy a dog or find one that has a naturally short tail. This seems to be just another way that humans have to interfere with the natural world to better suit their own vision of how it “should” be. And the excuse of “but its always been done this way” is no good. For generations in America, Slavery was “the way it was done” and that was not right either.
    That said, if an animal is in REAL danger of hurting itself due to its work or lifestyle, then take what measures are necessary to ensure their safety.
    I can not condone cutting on my animal just so other people can look at it and say “oh yes, that’s what an Aussie should look like!” How selfish. I can say I fully support Germany’s stance on not allowing docking. Huzzah!

  23. my ausstraillian shepard collie mix had a mass on her tail she is 13 years old i miss her beautiful tail, but they had to take it the mass was to deep. has anyone else had an issue with their dogs like that?

  24. Everyone is wrong, It became a standard because the NATURAL BOB TAIL GENE is VERY strong in many of the breed lines. Like Manx cats. My last litter of 7, had 5 TOTAL NBTs, never touched those tails. ASCA Reg. Papers USED to have you PUT down where it was a NBT or NBT/Dock or Docked. As to double on it, can cause problems. I know, I had a pup with the NBT going too far back………. No anus at all.

  25. in have a 5 year old red and white aussie with her natural tail i have seen no problems in fact i think it looks perfect

  26. Hurrah for Germany! Let’s move into this century America and ban mutilating animals just for OUR vanity.

  27. I LOVE the look of the Aussie Wiggle-butt. And if we are such a fan of this trait why don’t more people breed for it instead of docking? If I ever do breed I would keep the tails on all of the puppies, regardless of length. I think the breed standard needs to change to allow for he showing of Aussies with tails of any length. This could be the first step before banning docking. Personally I love the Aussie temperament, intelligence, and personality more than the wiggle-butt so lets promote the use and talents of the dog before we promote the look.

  28. Just wanted to thank everyone for their comments on this topic. They all really helped in my decision to not dock my current litter of Aussie’s tails. They are 1 week old today and I am just adoring their wagging tails as they nurse. Thank you again!

  29. I have 2 Aussie puppies and their tails were docked when I purchased them from the breeder. I love my puppies regardless, but it seems like an unnecessary cruelty. I had 2 border collies and they had full tails, beautiful and wonderful dogs. The burrs were a problem, but the dogs were wonderful. Tails or no tails – both are a wonderful breed of dogs. I think people should leave the animals as God intended. If He didn’t want them to have tails, they would have been born without them.

  30. Leave the tails on…please. I currently own a border collie and an aussie. Unfortunately the breeder had docked my aussie’s tail before I got her. If I had a choice I would have left it on. Yes, she has a wiggle butt but I love my BC’s gorgeous full tail – it is her crowning glory. Docking just seems to be very unnecessary and in my opinion should only be done if the tail is deformed or causing pain to the dog. Same thing for boxers – tails docked and ears clipped. We need to stop being so vain and concern ourselves with bigger world problems. Keep the tails!!

  31. I like it when folks get together and share views. Great site,
    continue the good work!

  32. I just adopted a mini Aussie rescue dog. Her tail has been bobbed. She is so sweet and beautiful, but I wish I could have seen her tail. I would have left it on for sure.

  33. In Australia docking is banned by the RSPCA and the Aust National Kennel Club. Yet go to any of our confirmation shows and 90% or more of the aussies displayed have a full bob….
    even the Breed Standard here is so confusing that it actually states:

    “Docked: Docked tail is straight, not to exceed four inches in length.
    Undocked: Set on following the line of the croup. Of moderate length, not kinked. In overall balance with the rest of the dog. Moderately feathered
    Bobbed: May be naturally bobbed. Is straight, not to exceed four inches in length.”

    Actually our breed standard should read something like “the Australian shepherd should have a tail that is straight and to be of any length (including full bob, half, three quarter or full) – No docked tails permitted.”

    Interestingly I have breed 10 litters of aussies (52 pups in total) and breeding with many of the same show lines – we have produced only 3 short bob tail and the rest are 18 full tails and 31 with half or three quarter tails (of these we have banded 4 pups born with broken tails) this is less than 3% being born a full bob.

    I have to question that the show breeders here seem intent on following the tradition and have created the judges expectation for full bob….

    Glad to see there are many in USA who are questioning the docking of the dogs.

  34. the bobtail on an aussie is needed on a working ranch. border collies and other herding dogs will hold there tails down between there legs. Not an aussie it’s up high and moving always …wagging it. Yes a full tail is beautiful but not if your aussie is doing what it was meant to do…herd/work not sit on the couch . With the tail moving always it get bit buy the cattle cause they get annoyed buy it the cattle,even the sheep will bit it. Or when the aussie is bring the herd in and that tail is up high and wagging and that gate slams shout on that tail …imagine the pain of a broken tail and having to have it removed as an adult. On a ranch we do not have time to brush that beautiful tail out daily …so the need for a wash and go coat is very important not that full show coat never works on a ranch ,not a real working ranch where you have 100 head to drive in. The aussie for us is the best herder…. and we count on all 6 of them they come in and sleep on our beds at night and come and go from the house but a must for us to have to run the ranch. Tails would never work. Other herding breeds just never could control our bulls…and it just take one aussie to do that. I can see keeping the tail foursome but forus it would never work .to many injuries and the tail is a magnet…

  35. First time I saw your book on the web as an e book I couldn’t pit it down. I have been living with an Aussie for over 25 years (2 Aussies in sucesson). Your comments and observations couldn’t be closer to the truth. I include my Aussie in many conversations throughout out the day and evening as we take walks or prepare food or any other occupation. The result of the exposure is that she seems to get much of the meaning of the words in such and accurate way that I know she is understanding the substance of what I am saying and what I mean when i am using hand signals. She may only have the supposed intelligence of a 5 year old human child, but for me it makes her a wonderful companion 24 hours a day beginning in early AM as she uses here sense to know the time and when it is time to start the day (maybe helped by signals from her bladder or maybe it is just her reaction to changing morning light. She is a creature of wonderful habits. All it takes is respect and unfailing love.

  36. Wow makes this tough All good info thanks, especially as first time and only I might ad. I do believe that most of ours will go off to working ranches. I have seven adorable pups, was hard for all concerned.

  37. Still unclear to me. Are ALL Australian Shepherds born with full bush tails or not? Or is it a toss of genetics whether they have full or stubby tails?
    Saying they’re ‘Docked’ to me sounds like an human post-natal intervention. Is there a way we can determine if our adopted ‘Puppy Mill’ 3 times a loser in 3 different homes, ’til he came to us, has had a surgical docking?
    n.b. I discovered there are many, many AMISH (allegedly religious) farm as Puppy Mills, in Lancaster County, PA & in other Amish enclaves–OHIO, ILLINOIS, & Midwest too. We live in Mennonite country (less traditional Anabaptist ideology) & found they too breed pure breed dogs, primarily in their barns & not as many litters as the Amish. Still, bad news for unsuspecting folks who THINK, they’re getting an expensive pure bred dog at a real discount. What a terrible shock!
    Personally, our BEST BEHAVED, SMARTEST, LOVING K-9 family member ever, was an Armenian mixed-breed ‘MUTT’, we brought home, after going to Armenia on a medical mission for 3 months. He lived to 18 wonderful happy years old. Chalk one up for the ‘Wonderful Mutts’ in the world.

  38. Aussies can be born with natural bob (short) tails or longer tails of various lengths. It is a toss up of genetics as to what each puppy will be born with. It can be difficult to see if a longer haired dog has a natural bob tail or has been docked, depending on the quality of the docking. Usually there is more natural hair growth on the natural bob and no bare skin.

    The Amish are notorious for raising dogs in the barn in mass numbers. Very sad, but until legislation is enacted that makes sense, this will continue happening. Instead of targeting them, they end up hurting many responsible breeders. This is where people really need to learn how to research quality breeders and purchase from them, but most people don’t know how to. They just see a cute puppy picture and think “oh, how adorable!” without any knowledge of what is going on behind the scenes.

    Glad you had such a long and wonderful time with your Armenian mutt. Some do make awesome dogs!

  39. Dee Hess,
    There is a DNA test for the Natural Bob Tail Gene…. this is common test in Australia and Europe but USA don’t seem to bother as they can dock their pups legally hence with our imported dogs it is difficult to gauge how the NBT gene works because the breeders don’t test them….

    Pups with one gene of the NBT are termed as “Carrier” will have a tail that is NOT full length (i.e. bob, quarter, half)
    and pups born with no copies of the gene are termed as “Clear” will have a full length tail. Hence :

    – if both parents are tailed dogs ‘Clear” then ALL pups are tailed.

    – if one parent is tailed “Clear” and one parent is “Carrier” then you will get a mix of tailed pups and NBT pups.

    – If both parents are “Carrier” – you will still get some puppies who will have full tails (as the pup gets one gene from each parent) hence if the pup gets the ‘Clear” from each they then have a tail – if the pup gets “Clear” from one parent and “NBT” from the other parent then that pup will have a shorter tail.

    However a big thing to note is that a pup who gets a copy of the NBT from each parent is then known as “Affected” this pup will not survive – either the pup will die in embryo or it will be born deformed and die shortly after birth.

    Therefore: any litter from a NBT to a NBT is likely to be a smaller litter – and if you do the maths it will likely be 25% smaller litter.

  40. Thank you Anne for your informative note. I did not realize that there was a test for the NBT. Is that in all breeds or just the Aussie? Is it a simple blood test or something else? I can see where that could cause problems for breeding down the road, but I believe it is usually noted on the pedigree if the dog is NBT or docked. But you wouldn’t know if a full tailed individual that is docked is from “Carrier” to “Carrier” or “Clear” parents.

  41. The test is a swab test…. hence just saliva swab….and I believe is available for some different breeds….

    There is no mention on our pedigree as to whether the dog is NBT or not… hence there is no way of knowing back in the lines… nor have I seen this comment made on pedigrees for dogs imported from the States.

    If your pedigree does have a notation for NBT or docked… that may also be stated for a dog with a half tail that is docked (even tho they would actually show as NBT via the swab test).


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