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Why Do Australian Shepherds Have Docked Tails? The Truth

Do Australian shepherds have tails? Are they supposed to? There are so many great questions about aussie tails, and it’s time to get to the bottom of why so many have their tails docked.

Why is this the breed standard, and does a docked tail serve any benefit, or just detriment? We explain everything

All Australian shepherds are born with tails, yet many undergoe tail docking in order to adhere to breed standards, and prevent injury in those that will be perform working duties. Still, many are against this procedure for good reasons.

However, many will be pleased to know this prodcedure is becoming less popular as time goes on due to it being banned in many countries.


What Is Tail Docking?

Before we dive into the most common reasons behind tail docking in Aussies, let’s explain what exactly tail docking is in the first place.

If you ever see a dog with a short or stubby tail, it is very possible that they underwent tail docking when they were a small puppy. 

This practice is meant to shorten the tail to achieve a signature look and will often be performed by the breeder before you welcome the pup into your life. Tail docking does not completely remove the tail on a dog but rather shortens it to fit a breed standard. 

Tail docking is generally performed in puppies from 3 to 5 days of age. It is believed that because a puppy’s nervous system is not fully developed, they will not experience as much pain during the procedure itself. 

While this understanding is still highly debated, it is why tail docking in young puppies is performed without general anesthesia. The veterinarian will quickly cut off the desired amount of the tail with surgical scissors, or occlude a portion of the tail to block blood supply over a period of a few days. 

Tail docking can be performed in older dogs but will be treated as a standard surgical procedure. Dogs will need to be properly anesthetized, as well as offered surgical aftercare including pain medication and antibiotics. 

Tail docking is a bit controversial due to arguments on pain threshold, so you may have to search for a clinic that will perform the procedure. Once a puppy’s tail has been successfully docked, it should not experience tail growth as the pup ages.

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Why Do Australian Shepherds Have Their Tails Docked?

Now it’s time to dive into the details of why tail cropping exists.

  • The answer: Most tail docking seen in Australian shepherds is due to cosmetic reasons and conforming to breed standards. In rare cases, it may be to enhance working capabilities.

More hygienic (not true)

There is a long history behind tail docking in dogs, dating back to ancient Roman times. It’s believed that the Romans associated long dog tails with an ability to catch rabies, leading them to trim the top of the canine tail to offer them protection. 

Improved speed (not true)

This belief soon faded but moved aside for another common belief that a shortened tail helps a dog run faster. With how often dogs were used to assist during hunting, they believed this procedure offered them extra speed.

Prevent tail injuries (never been proven)

When working dogs assist their owners in the field, their tail is often a magnet for foxtails and burrs that can cause them harm. Tail docking is sometimes implemented to prevent future tail injuries in our canine friends, as these risks could make them less efficient helpers. 

➡️ Adhering to breed standard

The real reason.

The truth is, nowadays, most Australian Shepherds are family dogs that do not assist their owners in any type of work and have docked tails simply to adhere to breed standards laid about by the AKC.

The Aussie is known to have a signature look, leading many breeders to dock their puppy’s tails before they find their future homes. A docked tail has become an identifying feature for Aussies, which is why it continues to this day. 

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Can Australian Shepherds Be Born With No Tail?

Most Australian Shepherds will have their tails docked in their first week of life, but some will not require it. 1 in 5 Australian shepherds are born with a natural bobtail, meaning they have only one or two vertebrae in the tail. 

This trait creates a stubby tail that is typically a few inches long, making it challenging to distinguish from surgically docked tails. If you do not have an adequate history from your breeder, you may never know if your dog is a natural bobtail or not!

This genetic mutation is a result of a recessive gene known as the C189G gene and can be passed down in any Aussie. You may think that a naturally short tail is a hot commodity in the breeding world, but it is actually the exact opposite. 

An Aussie with a natural bobtail should never be bred to another bobtail, as this can lead to devastating effects on their future litters. More Info

The Dangers Of Breeding Bobtail Aussies

As we mentioned above, a natural bobtail Aussie comes with its own set of risks. Two copies of this recessive gene can lead to serious negative impacts on their future litters, ranging from birth defects to reabsorption in the womb. 

If a bobtail Aussie breeds with another bobtail, there is a high chance that their litter will face a threat of spina bifida or other spinal defects. Some of these puppies are born with defects so severe that they require euthanasia, making this an Aussie breeder’s worst fear. 

Many believe that you should never breed a bobtail Aussie in general, as there is always a risk of producing puppies with serious complications. If you plan to breed your pup in the future, we suggest only purchasing an Aussie with a natural tail or surgically docked tail. 

Pros of Tail Docking In Australian Shepherds

With tail docking being practiced around the world, there have to be a few pros to this cosmetic procedure.

The positives mainly affect working dogs that are more at risk of tail injury, but they should still be noted!

Sanitary reasons: Due to the Australian Shepherd’s long fur, their tails can become extremely matted if they are not taken care of. Their tails can also collect plant material, waste, and any other objects they come in contact with. 

Preventing tail injury: If a dog has an enthusiastic tail, they can fall victim to a condition called “happy tail”. This is an injury that is caused by their tail hitting hard surfaces leading to tail wounds that often require treatment. 

Both of these potential issues can be avoided with tail docking.

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Cons Of Tail Docking In Australian Shepherds

As we mentioned before, tail docking is highly controversial in the dog-loving world.

Ranging from chronic pain to incontinence, tail docking comes with its own set of risks. 

It’s painful:

Though many breeders state that puppies do not feel the tail docking, this cannot be true based on scientific evidence. Puppies do still have a developed nervous system, meaning it is impossible for them not to experience some form of discomfort. 

Socialization is harder:

Dogs use their tail as a major form of communication with other dogs. Docking their tails removes their ability to properly socialize, making meeting new dogs more challenging for some. 

Chronic pain:

Some Aussies with docked tails can develop chronic pain from the procedure. This long-lasting pain can be due to nerve sensitivity or secondary nerve spinal tumors but can result in serious pain around their tail. 


This is certainly rarer, but some Australian Shepherds can experience incontinence as a result of tail docking. This results in a dog being unable to hold their bladder properly, which can deeply impact their family down the line. 

AVMA opposes it:

Tail docking is of course allowed, but the AVMA considers it an unnecessary procedure due to potential pain and unclear benefits. If the AVMA opposes anything pet-related, it should be considered as a major con. 

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Australian Shepherd Tail Docking Length

Australian shepherds that have their tails docked generally have them cut down to 4 inches or less.

Should You Dock Your Aussies Tail?: Do You Have To?

The choice of docking your Australian Shepherd’s tail is entirely up to you. And it is certainly not something you have to do.

If you have a working dog that will face the risk of tail injury each day, you may be considering the potential benefits. 

I would not personally dock my dog’s tail, as the list of cons far outweighs the pros in my opinion. Cosmetic procedures are controversial for a good reason, as many of the negatives of having a tail can be easily addressed. 

Daily grooming of your Australian Shepherd can prevent painful knots, and keep their tail as sanitary as possible. Tail injuries do happen, but they are not as common as you may think. 

If you are struggling with the idea of tail docking, we strongly suggest speaking with your veterinarian about what is best for your furry friend. 

FAQ Section

Do Australian Shepherds Have Docked Tails?

Many Australian shepherds have docked tails, but it’s becoming less common. Currently, the AKC requires Australian shepherds to have a docked tail (no longer than 4 inches) or a natural bobtail in order for them to be considered “breed standard”.

Why Do Australian Shepherds Have Docked Tails?

A long time ago, tails were docked as it was thought to improve performance and reduce injuries. Nowadays, tail docking is nearly always down to appearance and aesthetics. Some owners dock their Aussie’s tail to conform to “breed standards”.

Do Dogs Need Their Tails Docked?

No. Dogs, even Australian shepherds in particular “need” their tails to be docked. There are far more cons to having a docked tail than there are pros. Tail docking is becoming less common every single year.

Does Tail Docking Hurt The Dog?

While some believe that tail docking isn’t painful due to the young age at which it is performed, there have since been many studies proving that pups already have pain receptors from birth. And due to the fact that no anesthetic is given, many consider the procedure cruel, and unnecessary.

What Length Do They Dock Tails To?

Tails are usually docked to less than 4 inches in length. A tail under 4 inches conforms to the AKC’s breed standard (at least for australian shepherds).

Final Thoughts

As you can see, tail docking in Australian Shepherds has been around for quite some time. Be sure to review the information that we discussed above, and you can better understand this practice going forward!

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Before making any decisions that could affect the health and/or safety of your dog, you should always consult a trained veterinarian in your local area. Even though this content may have been written/reviewed by a trained veterinarian, our advice to you is to always consult your own local veterinarian in person. Please read our full dislcaimer if you have any questions.