Australian Shepherds are a fascinating breed because they can occasionally be born without any tail at all.
I didn’t know this was possible at first, but after doing research, I found there is a reason behind it, and many other breeds share this trait.
Why do Australian Shepherds have no tail? About 1 in 5 Australian Shepherds are born with a naturally bobbed tail due to a genetic mutation of the T gene. However, many dogs without this mutation get their tails docked at birth for purely aesthetic purposes.
This article will detail both of these situations, why they occur, how they are beneficial, and how Australian Shepherds actually do have a tail.
Why Do Australian Shepherds Have No Tail?
Although it is a common misconception that Australian Shepherds or Aussies have no tail, the truth is that they do.
They may appear tailless for one of two reasons; they were born with a naturally bobbed tail, or their tail was surgically shortened by a veterinarian.
Overall, having a shorter tail is advantageous to working dogs, as they are less likely to be injured.
Naturally bobbed tails occur in one out of five Australian Shepherds, giving them the appearance of no tail. A normal dog tail will taper, and the vertebrae will decrease in size, moving toward the end.
Naturally, bobbed tails are different in that the tail is missing vertebrae, giving it a shortened and blunt appearance.
What often remains is some varying length of a nub, which blends in with their lush medium-length fur and the feathering on the back of their legs.
The bobbed tails are caused by a naturally occurring genetic mutation. Sometimes, an Australian Shepherd’s lack of tail is because it has been docked or surgically shortened.
This type of procedure on a dog can be highly controversial as its necessity can be questionable. Australian Shepherds originated from working dogs, and they are meant to do the same.
As the dogs assisted in the field, herding or hunting, their tails could be potentially crushed, pulled, or caught in something, causing injury.
As a result, tail docking became a standard method of preventing injury and infection. The shortened length of the tail after docking would perform the same as a natural bobtail and are sometimes seen as more attractive for ‘fitting in’ with the growing standard.
Although these answers seem simple enough, there is actually much more to understanding why some Australian Shepherds seem to have no tail. Let’s get more into the technical side of things.
How Do Australian Shepherds Come To Have No Tail?
Both naturally bobbed tails and surgically docked tails feature complex scientific ideas.
Naturally bobbed tails are the result of a genetic mutation called the T gene mutation C189G. The mutation is naturally occurring in roughly 20% of Australian Shepherds.
The bobtail gene is considered an incomplete dominant gene, which means that the dominant allele (a normal tail) does not override or mask the effects of the recessive allele (no tail or bobtail).
Essentially combining the two traits explains why there is such a large variety in the lengths and shapes of bobbed tails. The T gene mutation is also classified as an autosomal dominant gene, which has to do with the way a gene is passed to offspring.
When the genetic code is being created for a new puppy, three possibilities could occur: two copies of the normal tail gene will result in a normal tail, one copy of the normal tail gene, and one copy of a C189G gene will result in a bobbed tail, and two copies of the C189G gene will result in either fetal resorption, termination in utero, or other fatal defects.
For fear of the last possibility occurring, it is well known among breeders that natural bobtails should never be bred together. These patterns of inheritance, as well as the statistics associated with them, are similar to Merle coats, also seen in Australian Shepherds.
For the Australian Shepherds who have two copies of the normal tail gene, they will present with a ‘normal’ tail.
Unfortunately, and completely unrelated to the bobtail gene, normal Aussie tails may be considered unsightly or unappealing. Tails may be crooked, kinked, curved, or too blunt, all of which are undesirable.
Most puppies will have their tail docked in the first week of their life. The procedure is not advised after a week old unless the puppy is old enough and healthy enough for anesthesia.
There are typically two methods of removing the tail, simply cutting it off with a scalpel or sharp pair of scissors or ‘banding’ the tail. The cutting method is most common with puppies, as their tails are small and will require minimal aftercare.
In an ideal environment, the veterinarian would ensure the area is shaved and cleaned, and a local anesthetic can be applied. After the tail has been docked at the breed appropriate length, the end of the tail is sutured shut.
Alternatively, in the banding method, the tail is tied with a rubber band or tight string to cut off the blood supply and cause dry gangrene. In a few days, the dead part of the tail will fall off, and the docking will be complete.
Docking, regardless of age or method, is painful and can potentially cause infection, nerve damage, or other complications.
Both methods will involve a more difficult and extended healing process in older dogs, and there are increased risks for excessive bleeding, poor healing, and extensive scarring.
Should Australian Shepherds Have No Tail?
After understanding both the reasons an Australian Shepherd may have no tail, we have to ask ourselves if our attempts to mimic naturally bobbed tails is right.
While there are definitely some compelling reasons to dock a dog’s tail, there are surely more reasons not to. The most commonly cited reasons to dock the tail is to prevent injury, and improve hygiene for working dogs.
But are those reasons enough now that most dogs are kept as pets? Although many people argue that puppies’ nervous systems have not developed enough to feel pain at the time of docking, the puppies still cry out during the procedure, providing evidence otherwise.
It is safe to assume that the healing period after docking may also be painful or uncomfortable. Even the highly sought after naturally bobtail Australian Shepherds may be unfairly exploited.
Any professional or knowledgeable dog breeder should understand and know better than breeding Australian Shepherds with only the tail in mind.
Amateurs, or backyard breeders, however, may naively try their odds at breeding natural bobtails, only to accidentally create puppies with debilitating or even fatal conditions.
All these things said and considered, it is ultimately the responsibility and decision of the dog owner to make the best decisions for their dog.
The History Of Docking Tails From Dogs
Tail docking has been practiced for thousands of years for a variety of reasons.
The ancient Romans mistakenly believed that docking their dog’s tails would prevent rabies. In the late 1790s, a tax on dogs was introduced to help fund the French wars, yet, working dogs who typically had a docked tail were exempt.
There were even laws preventing working dogs from being tax-exempt unless their tails were removed.
As dogs worked in a variety of atmospheres in which a long tail could potentially be crushed, pulled, trapped, or otherwise injured, it was logical and even humane to dock the tails.
When the Kennel Club was established in the mid-1800s, a docked tail was an important distinguishing characteristic.
In more recent years, however, the need for tails to be docked is greatly diminished, and most owners choose to dock their dog’s tail purely for the aesthetic.
What Other Dogs Can Have Naturally Docked Tails?
It should come as no surprise that Australian Shepherds are not the only dogs in this situation. There are other breeds than Australian Shepherds, who can be born with a naturally bobbed tail.
Some breeds that have the same T gene C189G mutation as Aussies are Brittany Spaniels, English Shepherds, Jack Russell Terriers, Croatian Sheepdogs, and Pembroke Welsh Corgis.
Following in a similar fashion to the situation of the Australian Shepherd, most of these breeds, as well as others, will typically have a normal tail docked.
The American Kennel Club alone recognizes at least 62 different breeds, most of which are Terriers or Spaniels, that regularly have docked tails.
Many of these dogs were originally used for farming, hunting, fighting, ratting, or in the military, and thus adopted the practice of docking a tail that was not naturally bobbed.
When you see an Australian Shepherd, it may have no tail because it has a naturally bobbed tail or because its tail has been docked.
Both of these possibilities are as acceptable as an Australian Shepherd with a normal, full-length tail. In the past, a dog’s tail was normally docked to prevent injury and keep the dog tidy and clean, but these days, it is done as more of an aesthetic tradition in the Australian Shepherd world.
Rest assured that the dogs you see out and about with no tail are not bothered by what they lack and likely live happy, full lives.
References and Resources
Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute. (2013, August). Natural Bob-Tails. Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute. http://www.ashgi.org/home-page/genetics-info/bones-joints/natural-bob-tails.
Biology Dictionary. (2017, April 29). Incomplete Dominance. Biology Dictionary. https://biologydictionary.net/incomplete-dominance/.
Canine Tail Docking FAQ. American Veterinary Medical Association. (, 2016). https://www.avma.org/about/canine-tail-docking.aspx/canine-tail-docking-faq.
Dog’s Best Life. (2020, August 14). Docked tail: Originally removed on working dogs to prevent injuries. Dog’s Best Life. https://dogsbestlife.com/home-page/dog-health-docked-tails/.
Hartnagle-Taylor, J. (2008, August 15). Why Are Aussie’s Tails Docked? All. https://allaboutaussies.wordpress.com/2008/08/15/why-are-aussie%E2%80%99s-tails-docked/#:~:text=As%20dogs%20assisted%20man%20in,were%20valued%20and%20bred%20for.
Knapp, S. (2020, October 28). Autosomal Dominant. Biology Dictionary. https://biologydictionary.net/autosomal-dominant/.
The Smart Canine. (2019, September 11). Do Australian Shepherds Have Tails? (The Truth on Bobtailed Aussies). https://thesmartcanine.com/dog-breeds/australian-shepherd/tails/.
Pet Assure. (, 2018). Cropping Your Dog’s Tail or Clipping His Ears. https://www.petassure.com/new-newsletters/cropping-your-dogs-tail-or-clipping-his-ears/#:~:text=Docking%20Your%20Dog’s%20Tail,appropriate%20length%20for%20the%20breed.
UCDavis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. Natural Bobtail. Natural Bobtail | Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. https://vgl.ucdavis.edu/test/natural-bobtail#:~:text=Natural%20bobtail%20is%20a%20naturally,resulting%20in%20a%20shortened%20tail.&text=Phenotype%3A%20Dogs%20with%20natural%20bobtail,may%20have%20virtually%20no%20tail.