Why Do Aussies Not Have Tails?

Aussie short tail

One of the more popular dog breeds is the Australian Shepherd, also known as an Aussie. Whether you are looking for help around the ranch, looking into having a show dog or having an intelligent, fun-loving companion, a great option is the Aussie. One of their defining characteristics is their short or almost non-existent tail.

Aussies actually have tails, they are just very short, sometimes four inches or less. There are two main reasons why Aussies have short tails, either they are bred for the look or the individual dog has a genetic disposition for a short tail.

For a bit of history on the breed, Aussies actually have very little to do with Australia. They initially came from a region in Spain. Then, Spanish ranchers took their dogs to Australia eventually making their way to the United States. American ranchers gave them their now well-known name. But how did Aussies get their characteristically short tail? Keep reading to learn why Aussies have short tails.

Are Australian Shepherds Born Without Tails?

One of the Aussie’s most noticeable traits is its bobbed tail. This tail is much shorter than tails on other breeds. In some instances there is not a tail at all, as it is possible for Aussies to be born without tails. Thanks to registration statistics, we know that there is a one in five chance an Australian Shepherd is born with a bobbed tail.

All dog tails are actually vertebrae linked together. Usually, the vertebrae link together form longer tails. Most tails form to a point at the end of the tail as the vertebrae shrink in size. Occasionally, as with the Aussies, there are a fewer number of linked vertebrae, resulting in shorter tails. 

Why are Aussie Tails So Short?

Genetics are to blame or to thank, depending on preference, for the Australian Shepherds short tail. Initially, ranchers bred Aussies with smaller tails to get the bobbed look. The ranchers claimed the bobbed-tail was safer for dogs working on the ranch, which makes sense, but this breed does have a genetic disposition for shorter tails.  

The gene responsible for the bobbed-tail in Aussies is dominant. Interestingly, this gene does not determine the shape of the tail, it can still differ in length, and be crooked or angled. Aussie puppies inheriting the gene are natural Bob-Tails. According to a breed survey 10% of Aussies have kinked tails while almost half of Australian Shepherds have quarter-length or longer tails.

What is the Average Tail Length of an Aussie?

The answer depends on which type of Aussies one is examining. There are long tailed-Aussies. Kennel clubs, like the The Australian Shepherd Club of America, only consider an Aussie a purebred if it has a bobbed-tail of four inches or less. Any length over that is considered to be a full-length normal tail.

Some owners dock the tails of puppies. Docking is a way to create a shorter-tail look by clipping, during surgery, the tail. Or, the owner will cut-off the blood supply to the tail, allowing it to atrophy. This happens at a very young age for the puppy. Distinguishing an Aussie with a surgically removed tail between a natural bob-tail is very difficult. Tail docking is a very controversial procedure. Many countries have banned tail-docking surgeries or procedures. 

The other side of the argument comes from ranchers. They believe the bobbed-tail protects the Aussies while they herd. Shorter tails do not collect burrs or other irritants that may become infected. Yet, opponents claim usual grooming methods can protect the animal while also admitted herding is a danger for the animal no matter tail length. 

Can You Show an Aussie with a Tail?

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC) an Aussie can be shown with a tail. However, the requirement is that the Aussie can not have a tail longer than four inches. There is controversy around the decision to include docked, surgically removed, tails in shows. Some competitions consider an Aussie without a docked tail to look less like a purebred animal. This would inevitably affect the dog’s rating from the competition’s judges. 

While slightly over half of Aussies are born with long tails, that means the majority of Aussies have docked tails. European competitive dog shows allow Aussies with any length of tail to compete. Most of Europe has outlawed the docking of tails. 

Why Would You Dock an Aussie’s Tail?

Docking an Aussie’s tail is obviously an uncomfortable and painful experience for the animal. There are instances when docking a dog’s tail may be necessary for the overall health of the animal, but this is not common.

In the past, sometimes the docking of an Aussie’s tail was done to prevent rabies or strengthen the back of the dog, today few dog shows and breeders share this sentiment. As an Aussie is typically a working breed of dog, it would benefit from a docked tail to prevent injury as well as for cleanliness.

In short, the docking of tails is not usually necessary for the health of a dog. Few cases of farm Aussies have been shown to require the docking of the tail, which begs the question as to why certain dog shows in the United States prefer or even require it. 

One would think that in order to level the playing field for all breeds involved in a dog show, the rules would state that all breeds either be docked or all breeds be intact. 

Requirements for Showing an Aussie 

The requirements for Aussies at American shows is a good way to learn about the species. The AKC looks for the Aussie to be proportional. They state it should be slightly longer than tall when measuring the breastbone to the rear of the thigh, and from the top of the shoulder blades to the ground. 

The requirements are quite extensive. They range from length of hair to coat color to number of teeth and of course, a short tail. The American Kennel Club gives a good run-down of what judges are looking for if owners are getting their Aussie into competitions. Here are some specific highlights.    

  • Desired height for males is 23 to 23 inches, the height for females is 18 to 21 inches.
  • Shoulders should be long, flat and closely set.
  • Width of the hindquarters and forequarters should be equal.
  • Tail is docked or bobbed, less than four inches long.

Conclusion

An Aussie may have a shorter or even seemingly nonexistent tail naturally or by the design of the breeder. For those puppies that are born with a shorter tail, it is almost always due to genetic breeding. Other puppies can be born with long tails and the owner or dog breeder may choose to have these tails docked.

Docking a dog’s tail is a pretty controversial practice as it is not usually necessary for the health of the animal, and is more about cosmetic appearance. If your Aussie has a long tail, a docked tail, or a naturally short tail, these dogs make excellent pets and hardworking companions.

Sources:

http://www.ashgi.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/0910HS-Summary-Data.pdf   

https://www.australian-shepherd-lovers.com/australian-shepherds-and-tails.html

http://www.ashgi.org/home-page/genetics-info/bones-joints/natural-bob-tails 

https://images.akc.org/pdf/breeds/standards/AustralianShepherd.pdf
https://www.avma.org/about/canine-tail-docking.aspx/canine-tail-docking-faq

Jacqueline Hamel

I’m a lifetime dog owner of several breeds and a recent Cattle Dog enthusiast after adopting two puppy siblings Bindi and Banjo. Now, I’m on a mission to better understand Heelers and other herding dogs. Hopefully, through this blog, I can share the joy and lessons learned from these intelligent, protective, loyal, athletic, and intelligent dogs.

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