Docking Tails

Freshly docked tails.

Why do Aussies have docked tails in the first place?

1. To avoid tail damage – This is the most important reason for docking a tail. Australian Shepherds were raised in the rough Western areas of the United States, which, if you have never visited, have tough weeds, tall grasses, and plenty of other hazards. Working in this condition will easily lead to torn and bleeding tails, which, of course are very painful and hard to treat. It is not unheard of for a cow or horse to step on a working dog’s tail and maim it as well. If the tail is docked, it eliminates the risk of injury. It also lessens chances of matting.

2. For reasons of hygiene – Dogs with thick hair have a good chance of getting feces on themselves and caught in the tail. Docking can greatly reduce the hygiene problems.

3. To maintain breed standards – Should the docking of tails be eliminated, hundreds of otherwise good breeding animals wouuld be removed from gene pools and this could be a huge downfall for the breed.

There are numerous other minor reasons, but these are the BIG THREE. 🙂

How is Docking done?

There are two methods of docking. The majority of breeders used the technique known as “banding”, in which a ligature, normally an orthodontic band, was placed over the end of the puppies tail at 24-96 hours old. This effectively cuts off the blood supply to the end of the tail, which comes away within 3 days.

Most vet salso cut the tail with surgical scissors, known as hemostats. There is generally no need for stitches, but on occasions these can be used, especially with the larger breeds.

Does it hurt?

An xray showing the bones of a young puppy. Credit here. 

Docking is carried out when puppies are tiny. Their eyes are not yet open and long experience indicates that carried out correctly, the procedure causes little or no pain or discomfort. Indeed, some puppies which are docked whilst they are asleep, do not even wake up. Why is this? Puppies are born without a fully formed skeleton and there is a lot of soft tissue for a good long while. This means you should take care of your puppy when exercising it, but it also makes docking less traumatic when done during the proper window (a few days after birth).

After docking, puppies will immediately return to their dam to feed, and there is no evidence that development or weight gain is in any way arrested by the docking procedure.

Nor does a dog which has been docked as a puppy have any problems with balance or communication.

If, however, tail damage occurs during adulthood and docking has to be carried out for therapeutic reasons, normally under anesthetic, a dog can be seriously distressed and the healing process can be painful and protracted.

Can I get an Aussie with a tail?

Back when I was still looking into Aussies (early 90’s) there was an ad in Dog World under Australian Shepherd breeders there was an ad for Basque Shepherds. I believe this was a movement of Aussies to be bred with tails. I haven’t heard much about them lately, however, but there is a resurgence of leaving tails on. I

However, most breeders dock no matter what. But what if you ask before they are docked? Well, even if the dog had a mismark making it non-show quality, or some other problem making it ineligible to be exhibited, the breeder still does not know what that dogs’ personality will be like. Perhaps he or she will dock the tail, and then as it grows, the owner decides they don’t like the temperament of the puppy. Then the breeder is stuck.

There are breeders who will not dock, but you should be prepared to put in some real effort if you want an Aussie with a tail. If you want a dog that looks like an Aussie with a tail, try out American Farm Shepherds or English Shepherds. You can also import dogs from Europe, where docking has been banned.