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 an Australian Shepherd. One of their defining characteristics is their short or almost non-existent tail.
Australian Shepherds are either born with naturally bobbed tails or their tails may be surgically docked. About 20% of Aussies have the gene that produces a bobtail. The remainder of Aussies have a tail, often four inches or shorter. Australian Shepherds born with tails longer than 4″ may have them docked to conform to breed standards or for safety purposes.
But how did Aussies get their characteristically short tails and what are the benefits of a bobtail? Keep reading to learn why Aussies have short tails and reasons for and against altering the tail length.
Are Australian Shepherds Born Without Tails?
Australian Shepherds are born with either no tail or have tails of various lengths depending upon their genetics.
One of the Aussie’s most noticeable traits is its bobbed tail. This tail is much shorter than the tails of other breeds. In some instances, there is no tail at all. 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 to form long 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 fewer linked vertebrae, resulting in shorter tails.
Why are Aussie Tails So Short?
Genetics is to blame or to thank, depending on preference, for the Australian Shepherd’s short tail. Initially, ranchers bred Aussies with smaller tails to get the bobbed look. The ranchers claimed a bobbed tail, aka bobtail, 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 bobtail 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 bobtails. According to the Australian Shepherd Health and Genetics Insittute’s breed survey, 10% of Aussies have kinked tails while almost half 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 and bobtailed Aussies. Kennel clubs, like The Australian Shepherd Club of America, only consider an Aussie a purebred if it has a bobtail of four inches or less. Any length over that is considered to be a full-length tail.
Some owners dock the tails in puppies. Docking is a way to create a shorter-tail look by clipping the tail during surgery. Or, the owner will cut off the blood supply to the tail, allowing it to atrophy. 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 who believe having a bobtail protects the Aussies from injuries. For example, shorter tails do not get caught in gates or collect burrs during herding.
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 4″.
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 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.
As an Aussie is typically a working breed of dog, it was believed 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 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 Australian Shepherd
In the breed requirements, the American Kennel Club 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 AKC 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, 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.
An Aussie may have a shorter or even 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.