Posts Tagged ‘tail-docking’

This is a homozygous natural bobtail Pembroke corgi that was born alive. You can tell from its profile that it has something very wrong with its back end.

Over at BorderWars, Christopher Landauer has taken down one of the great myths that breeders of dogs with a certain type of natural bobtail often like to perpetuate.  (I should warn you that the images on this post are quite graphic. Reader discretion advised.)

The myth is that although this trait is a considered lethal when inherited in a homozygous manner, these homozygous natural bobtails are never born.

This myth has gained certain currency in Europe, where tail docking is becoming illegal in country after country. If docking is illegal, then many breeds are going to have to breed for a consistent tail type and carriage. When breeds have been docked for generation after generation, no one has selected for any kind of consistency in the tail, which makes the dogs harder to show. If a breed has a wide variety in phenotypes, it’s very difficult for judges to make a selection about which dog is truly meets the standards.

So it might be a good idea to produce lines of dogs that don’t produce any tails at all.  Dogs that are born pre-docked.

Sounds like a wonderful idea, eh?

The first breed to undergo an experiment to produce natural bobtails was the boxer.  Dr. Bruce Cattanach bred a white boxer to a Pembroke corgi with a natural bobtail. After just a few generations of breeding back to the boxer breed, he was able to produce naturally bob-tailed dogs that were virtually indistinguishable from high quality conformation boxer in the UK.

This particular outcross was performed without any consultation of the German Boxer Club. Germany is the patron country of the boxer in the FCI, and the German Boxer Club refused to accept any dogs that are naturally bobtailed. The German and FCI standard now disqualifies any dog that is naturally bob-tailed, and all the boxers I saw in Germany had long, whip-like tails.

This particular outcross is essentially a failure on breed politics grounds. The majority of boxer clubs in the world will not accept these dogs. And there is really no health or working reason to dock a boxer. Most boxers are family pets. They aren’t running over fields covered in thorn bushes that might damage their tails, as would be the case for a German short-haired pointer, and they aren’t guarding flocks of sheep from wolves that might try to catch them by the tail, as would be the case for a Central Asian ovtcharka. Boxers look fine with tails. The only downside to a boxer with a tail is that it might be mistaken for a pit bull and result in some bizarre hysteria.

But even if this natural bobtail didn’t totally fail breed politics, there are actual health and welfare reasons to be skeptical of it.

Cattanach contends that natural bobtails are not a problem in terms of health.

However, as you will see in Chris’s post, there are risks of breeding natural bobtails together.

Although homozygous natural bobtails are rarely born, they still are born on occasion.

And when they are born, they have severe deformities.

The dog pictured above was a homozygous natural bobtail that was born in a natural bobtail to natural bobtail breeding.  It was euthanized shortly after birth. It was born with no anus, no tail, and an open hernia that leads into the spinal canal. This animal simply could not have survived.

This is the photo of the back end. I should warn you that this image is quite graphic, and it may be disturbing to some readers.

No anus. No tail. And an open hernia into the spinal canal.

Another homozygous natural bobtail corgi was also born. This one also had no tail and no anus. Its intestines and lungs were full of gas, and it had severely wasted muscles in its hindquarters. It also had a kinked spine.

Any breeding can produce dogs with deformities. My uncle bred a puddin’  Jack Russell that was half puddin’/ half JRTCA to a bitch that was derived English farm stock that likely included some border terrier or Patterdale ancestry. The two dogs produced three litters. The first one had two healthy puppies.  The next had three.  The fourth had five, but one of these had spina bifida and had to be euthanized. This was an entirely outbred litter, and neither parent had any defects or disease.  But a birth defect still happened.

However, when one breeds natural bobtail to natural bobtail one is accepting a relatively higher risk that a truly deformed puppy might be born, and in this situation, we have to consider the ethical implications.

Now, we do have lethal traits that are inherited in a somewhat similar way to this form of natural bobtail. The dominant hairless dogs– the xoloitzcuintli, the so-called Chinese crested dog, and the Peruvian Inca orchid–are hairless because of a mutation that in theory is inherited the way it is often claimed that natural bobtails are.  These hairless dogs do not produce solely hairless offspring when bred together. That’s because homozygous hairless puppies are never born. They die before they ever develop into puppies. All of these hairless dogs are heterzyous hairless, and they all carry the recessive coated trait. In every hairless breed of this type, there will be coated puppies born. It’s very simple.

Cattanach claims that the natural bobtail is just like this hairless trait.

But the two corgi pups show that it is not.

If it were just like the hairless dogs, these two puppies would never have been born.

And because they were born alive, there is a real welfare consideration that has to be made.

The German Boxer Club made the right decision. As Europe pushes harder against tail docking, the future is going to be with long-tailed boxers, not gimmicks with natural bobtails.


I find it particularly interesting that Cattanach has come out against the Australian shepherd/Nova Scotia duck-tolling retriever cross-breeding program.

This particularly program is controversial, and it is totally failing breed politics. But it is an outcross for an entirely different reason.

Nova Scotia duck-tolling retrievers have low MHC/DLA haplotype diversity. These MHC/DLA genes control immune response, and because tollers have such low diversity, they have very real issues with autoimmune disorders.

The only way to increase diversity in haplotypes is to outcross or bring in unregistered dogs from Nova Scotia– which may or may not have diverse MHC haplotypes.

This crossbreeding has been criticized for using an Australian shepherd, a breed that comes in merle and is sometimes more reserved in temperament than toller people might like.

Also, one person in Germany is doing the crossbreeding, and one person doing the crossbreeding on his own cannot save the entire breed. His dogs likely won’t be included in the bloodlines of the breed.

However, he is doing something.  And its for the health of the breed. Maybe the breed clubs will accept his dogs one of these days.

However, this is a beautiful example of cognitive dissonance within the dog fancy.

Cattanach claims that it’s okay to outcross to a corgi to introduce a cosmetic trait into boxers– even if this cosmetic trait can result in severely deformed puppies.  And even if this outcross winds up failing totally when it comes to the politics of the boxer fancy, he still promotes it as a sucess.

But if anyone tries to outcross another breed for health reasons, it’s a bad idea.

It’s really interesting the amount of cognitive dissonance that exists within the dog fancy at large.

It’s everywhere.

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The following videos are of the tail docking procedure in a Jack Russell puppy. (It is very small. And yes, the puppy screams.)

Part I:


Part II:


Part III:


I am ambivalent to tail docking for several reasons.

It is true that  the puppy is in pain, but we haven’t banned circumcision or ear piercing in this country. I’ve not seen any evidence that the puppies remember the trauma of getting their tails cut off.

Phantom pain could always be an issue with this procedure. That’s why this procedure should be performed by a veterinarian. In many states, it is legal to do this yourself. I wouldn’t count myself among those who could do it.

I’ve not seen any evidence that Jack Russells or other terriers injure their tails if these are left intact. Feists and Dachshunds are undocked as a rule. You can’t tell me that Jack Russells have to have their tails docked. It’s just a tradition.

So in most breeds, this is cosmetic surgery.

However, in some breeds, there is some evidence that this preemptive amputation is actually beneficial.

Sweden banned tail docking for cosmetic reasons in 1989.

And when it did, there was an epidemic of tail injuries in German short-haired pointers within just a few years.

A study followed 50 litters of that breed.  38 percent had experienced a tail injury by the time they were 18 months old. By the time they were two, 51 percent had experienced a tail injury. (Yes, that’s a link from the Council of Docked breeds, a pro-docking interest group in the UK.)

These HPR breeds have whip-like tails with very little fat or cartilage on the lower part of their tails. If you’ve ever seen a gun dog work, they tend to wag their tails really hard when they are going on an air scenting mission.  As the dogs run through thick undergrowth, the lower part of their tails can get injured.

I would like a much bigger study on undocked HPR’s. The n in this particular study is somewhat low.

But many countries are banning docking, and it would be very easy to design a good longitudinal study of how often tail injuries occur within these breeds. If the risk is really that high, I think a case can be made for docking in these breeds.

However, I should also mention that sight hounds are particularly prone to these injuries. A common injury in greyhounds is the dog gets its tail caught in a door.

If you look at a greyhound’s tail, the whole thing is like the lower part of the HPR’s. It is like a thin whip, and it is very injury prone.

But none (as far as I know) has suggested that we should dock greyhounds.

Now, as I said before, I am very ambivalent when it comes to tail docking. Almost all of it is cosmetic surgery. However, there are cases in which tail docking really could improve the welfare of certain breeds.

This is an undocked vizsla, but it is one of the breeds that could benefit from tail docking. The lower part of its tail is not well protected by fat, fur, or cartilage. Photo by Béki Peti.

Although my views are ambivalent, my guess is yours are not.

So please feel free to leave what you think in the comments.

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Video of an undocked boxer and a rottie:


Let’s say that you live in Europe, where tail-docking has met resistance in terms of legal and ethical considerations. However, you are a boxer breeder, and you want to try to keep the short tail in the breed. Everyone who has seen an undocked boxer knows that their tails are quite long and rather whip-like. You know that the current boxer gene pool lacks any genetic basis for short tails.

However, you just happen to have a doctorate in mutagenesis and mammalian genetics and are a Fellow of the Royal Society, and your wife also has a background in biochemical genetics.

Such is the case with Dr. Bruce Cattanach and his wife Jo.

Now, because all normal boxers have naturally long tails, something must be added to the gene pool to get naturally short tails.

I would have guessed that they would have chosen the bulldog as an outcross. Bulldogs and boxers are closely related dogs. In fact, boxers contain the blood of a few imported English bulldogs early on in their ancestry. However, we know that bulldogs have several different tail types. One of which is a rather unattractive screw tail (which is allowed in the AKC standard but not in the KC standard). Sometimes this screw tail is really twisted.  I don’t think one would want this in a boxer. Also, bulldogs have longer tails than the docked tails of boxers, and that might present a problem.

But that really limits the choices for the outcross. Only one other breed has a color that approaches that of a boxer and has a naturally short tail. The problem is that it is a small dog with erect ears and short legs. It also has a longer coat than a boxer, with a tendency to throw the odd long-haired pup. However, it is relatively common in the UK.

Of course, I am talking about the Pembroke Welsh corgi.


Yes, this experimental outcross involved breeding naturally bobtailed corgis to boxers. Of course, the corgi was the dog in the breeding to prevent dystocia. The problems inherent in breeding a short-legged dog to a long-legged and somewhat larger bitch are rather obvious.

However, they eventually did get a successful mating, and the most interesting puppies were the result. Bobtailed puppies did result from this breeding, which were then backcrossed to the boxer. In this backcross, the puppies really varied in appearance.

It took four or five generations of breeding back to boxers to establish dogs that looked like boxers and had the natural bob tail. Even with that amount of breeding back, the coats occasionally were a bit long.

The problem had apparently been solved. Now the government could ban docking, but they had line of naturally bob-tailed boxers. However, the bob-tailed trait cannot breed true. If a dog has two copies of the gene for the natural bob tail, the animal will not survive to birth. Thus, one must cross bob-tails to dogs with naturally long tails, which means that one must be willing to accept the  existence of at least some long-tailed puppies in the strain.

Now, the Boxer breed club in the UK and KC allowed these bob-tailed dogs to be registered and shown. However, their luck on the European continent hasn’t been so good.

Because most European countries operate under the FCI system, the parent club for a breed in its native country has a lot of power. The breed standard used by the FCI is that of the native country, as are the guidelines for accepting new blood.

The national club for the boxer in Germany opposed allowing these dogs with corgi blood into the registry, and thus, the dogs are not accepted into the FCI system. The last time I read, though, the dogs were still being shown in the UK.

Now, the reason why the UK’s boxer club and the KC allowed this outcross breeding is probably easy to explain. The breeders doing this outcross were experts (as in top of their field) in genetics.

And because you are dealing with experts, the KC and the boxer club were probably more willing to take the risk.

However, I find it a sad that one can outcross for a trivial trait like a bobtail, but one cannot outcross to reduce the incidence of a genetic disorder (see the Dalmatian Backcross Project).

Maybe one day we’ll get there, but for now, we can point to the bobtailed boxers as an example for using outcrossing to solve problems.

If you would like to read more about how the project, please visit the Steynmere site on genetics.

Update: In case you were wondering, here is a photo of a naturally bob-tailed corgi.

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Although it is a relatively unknown movment in the US, many European countries have rather strong lobbies that have succeeded in banning ear-cropping and tail docking. Most countries in the EU no longer allow them.

Although I would be happy to see these procedures fade away, there are real unintended consequences of banning them.

When you breed for a dog that has the long show crop, the dogs have been selected for thin ears. That way they can be molded so they will stay erect. If you’ve ever touched a boxer’s ear, especially an uncropped one, it is really thin. These ears do not have a predictable shape to them if left natural.

That is a problem if these dogs are to be shown. In Europe, the main lines for most formerly cropped breeds have developed a distinct ear-carriage. In Britain, where ear-cropping has long been banned, Dobermanns, Great Danes, and Boxers have a definite natural carriage.

However, the same cannot be said for uncropped dogs in US lines. I’ve seen boxers with tulip ears and rose ears.

Further the tails are all different. If you have not been selecting for a particular tail type since the founding of the breed, the dogs are all going to have different tails.


An undocked rottweiler, for example, is supposed to have a tail like the one in the photograph.

However this page shows us that rottweilers have several different tail carriages, including the tail curled over the back.

Now, when you’ve not selected for ear and tail carriage and are suddenly forced to do so, breeders tend to narrow their gene pools in order to get the tails and ears “correct.”

I would be fine if these dogs were not judged solely on appearance.

However, I’m sure there are many breeders of docked and cropped breeds that still are.

We do know that one of the events that began to hurt the bull terrier’s genetic diversity was the banning of ear-cropping in Britain in the 1890’s. It took decades and lots of inbreeding to produce an erect-eared bull terrier. The AKC standard once described cropped ears in that breed, even though it has been a totally prick-eared breed for a very long time.

We may not like docking and cropping, but if we really care about genetic diversity, we are going to have to tolerate them. This is the triage we must do in selecting our battles for making dogs better. Dogs suffer much more from inherited disorders and bad breeding practices than they do from cosmetic surgery.

I should mention here that I respect those people who still have these procedures done, but the days of ear-cropping and tail-docking are numbered. The American Veterinary Medical Association now opposes ear-cropping and tail-docking. Cropping requires a lot of skill on behalf of the vet, and the old-time crop artist vets are retiring. The new generation of vets is probably less likely to perform these procedures. The fact that so many breeds are now being bred back to their European counterparts means that standards might have to be re-written to include European-bred stock that have not been docked or cropped.

I think cropping  and croppin will disappear in the US within the next twenty or thirty years, simply because so many vets and the veterinary profession refuse to do it. There will be very few laws that actually ban it. It will die because the profession has changed, not because legislautures have said so.

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