If you are the proud owner of an Australian Shepherd puppy then you know there is not much cuter than the hilarious attempted bobbed tail wag of an Aussie. The word “attempted” is a key part of the previous phrase as it tells you everything you need to know about the famous Aussie wag. For most Aussie dogs, a tail wag is more of a full-blown booty shake wherein they vigorously shake their entire hindquarters. This classic Australian Shepherd dog temperament is just one of the many fun facts about Australian Shepherds, but it begs the question, where’s the tail?
The Australian Shepherd is one of several dog breeds that is known for being tailless. While other dogs like Boxers and French Bulldogs are also known for being tailless, the back end of an Australian Shepherd dog is somewhat iconic in the canine community. The tailless look of the breed makes them look like adorable little bears, and again when they get excited, it’s a real spectacle. But are Australian Shepherds naturally tailless? Below you will find everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the bobbed tail of this unique breed.
The Natural Bobbed Tail
Australian Shepherd dogs are one of only a few breeds that can boast the rare feature of a naturally bobbed tail. While not every Australian Shepherd dog is naturally tailless, about one in five Aussies are born without a tail. The natural occurring bobbed tail is hard to distinguish from a manufactured bob but read on to learn a little bit about the differences between the natural bobbed tail and those created by the practice of tail docking.
What Creates the natural bobbed tail?
The natural bobbed tail is a recessive gene within the Australian Shepherd dog breed genetic code. This genetic mutation curbs the tail, naturally creating a shortened tail that is only about one or two vertebrae in length.
The recessive gene responsible for the naturally occurring bobbed tail of an Australian Shepherd dog is the T gene mutation, also known as the C189G gene. This genetic trait exists within every Australian Shepherd pup, and those puppies who are born with a bobbed tail have one copy of this gene. While not every Aussie pup exhibits the C189G gene mutation, every Aussie possesses the ability to pass on the recessive gene.
When genetic code is being written for a new puppy, there are three possibilities for whether or not the bobbed tail will naturally occur. The options are as follows:
- Two copies of a normal tail gene will produce a genetically normal tail in the pup
- One copy of a normal gene and one copy of a C189G gene will produce a bobbed tail.
- Two copies of the C189G gene will likely result in a puppy that dies in the womb.
Although there are only three genetic outcomes for an Australian Shepherd puppy’s tail formation, it is interesting to note that only 20% of Aussies have a naturally occurring bobbed tail. Similarly, only about one in five dogs in the Aussie breed will be born with a merle coat. The merle coat is a similarly recessive gene, although the merle gene mutation does not carry the same dire effects.
What are other kinds of Aussie tails?
For those Australian Shepherd dogs born with a “normal” tail, the tail is commonly docked. We will get into tail docking in a little bit, but for now, it is important to know that the normal tail of an Australian Shepherd puppy is far from normal. The tail of an Australian Shepherd dog that is permitted to grow out past birth is often crooked and weak.
There are several variations of the Australian Shepherd dog tail, some of which are curved and some of which are straight, but if permitted to grow to its full length, every Aussie pup tail is completely covered in the same thick, matted fur that covers the rest of the dog.
Breeding for Bobbed Tailed Aussies
Breeding for the bobbed tail is a practice that is frowned upon due to the complicated nature of the potential outcomes. In most cases where a breeder is attempting to produce a litter of naturally bobbed tailed puppies, there will inevitably be more puppies that die during or shortly after birth than those that survive. The recessive gene that gives the breed a naturally occurring bobbed tail is not completely understood, and as such, breeding for a bobbed tail is widely regarded as unacceptable. This practice presents high risks of health problems. Read more on Common Australian Shepherd Health Problems: Everything You Need to Know.
Tail Docking: The heated debate
The medical benefits
For the Aussie breed, tail docking actually serves a positive medical purpose. While the surface level optics of tail docking appear to be cruel, there are several medical benefits for this standard procedure.
In Australian Shepherd dogs that have a full tail, there are several issues that can become rather complicated nuisances. The first involves the dog’s safety as the thick fur of the tail often gets caught in bushes and high brush, which could potentially leave the dog stuck or lead to a dislocated tail. Additionally, sanitation becomes a serious issue as fecal matter gets stuck in the matted fur of the tail, creating a terrible mess for the dog and their owner.
When the tail of an Australian Shepherd goes undocked, we face a potential medical threat to the life of the dog. The genetic makeup of the Aussie breed is such that the last third of the tail is brittle and delicate, making it prone to breaking or splitting, which would cause a lot more pain and trauma for the dog than the process of tail docking.
Additionally, when done correctly, tail docking is a painless procedure that leaves the puppy without any memory of the experience. There are those who have called for tail docking to be done only if a puppy is given anesthesia. Unfortunately, puppies are far too young for anesthesia without risking severe medical complications, and waiting until they were old enough to be given general anesthesia would result in a traumatic experience with a lot of pain that they would undoubtedly remember.
WARNING! If you have a squeamish instinct or do not want to read about how the actual method of tail docking is performed, then skip this section!
Tail docking is performed several days after the birth of a puppy before the nervous system is fully developed. Tail docking is a quick procedure that has two methods. The first method requires the tail to be cut with a pair of scissors just above the base of the tail in between the first and second vertebrae of the tail. The freshly cut area is quickly cauterized to seal the skin, and the entire procedure is over in less than 5 minutes.
The second method is thought to be less graphic with less pain, but it takes more time. Application of the second method requires that circulation be cut off between the first and second vertebrae resulting in blood loss and the ultimate rejection of the tail by the body’s own natural processes.
In both methods, the puppy is not old enough to register or feel pain, as their nervous system is still underdeveloped. The American Kennel Club recognizes tail docking as a safe and suitable method for creating a tail length that is both medically and aesthetically suitable for the dog.
In the case of the Australian Shepherd pup, tail docking is a procedure that benefits the life of the dog. A shorter tail prevents potential breaking later in life and ensures a cleaner and more sanitary lifestyle for the dog and its owner.
While not all Australian Shepherd dogs are born naturally bobbed tailed, the majority of Aussies sport the classic bobbed tail look. Whether you are anti-docking or indifferent, it is hard to ignore the medical benefits and reduction in memorable pain that come as a result of the procedure.
The classic tailless look of the Australian Shepherd breed is one that many owners gravitate towards. The adorable wiggly backend of an excited Aussie is hard to resist, but it very clearly comes at a cost. It is crucial that you take away from this article that no opinions have been expressed, but rather, the facts of this breed’s past and current history have been conveyed with truth and clarity. Dogs deserve unconditional love and the best chance at a happy and healthy life, and that is a stance that all people can get behind.