Docked or Undocked Tail for Australian Shepherds?

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Docked Or Undocked Tail For Australian ShepherdsAre you wondering whether Australian Shepherds should have a docked or undocked tail? Is it supposed to serve a particular purpose or does it come with benefits for dogs? These are all great questions, and if you’re looking for answers, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we discuss all you need to know about the docking procedure, and the docking tradition, along with the most common reasons why Aussie owners get it done in the first place. 

What Exactly is Tail Docking?

All purebred Australian Shepherds are born with a tail — if you see a dog with a stubby or short tail, it may have undergone tail docking when it was a young puppy. The practice of tail docking is often done to keep up with the breed standard or to prevent tail injuries with a working dog. Moreover, it’s meant to give the dog a signature look, and will usually be done by a breeder before the puppy is given a new home. 

The thing to remember is that this procedure won’t remove the full tail; rather, the Aussies’ tails are shortened. This is typically performed on puppies between the ages of 3 to 5 days since their nervous systems won’t be fully developed yet, which means they won’t feel too much pain as the procedure takes place. While this process is highly debated, tail docking is usually performed without the use of general anesthesia.

Your veterinarian will start by quickly cutting off the desired tail length using surgical scissors or they may stop the blood supply by cutting off a portion of the tail over a few days. While tail docking can be done on older dogs, this will be treated like a standard surgical procedure. In this case, the dog must be given proper anesthesia and given surgical aftercare such as antibiotics and pain medication. 

This procedure is quite controversial when it comes to the debate on a dog’s pain threshold, so you may need to do a bit of research on clinics that perform tail docking. When a puppy’s tail is docked successfully, it shouldn’t experience any more growth as it gets older. However, some will be pleased to know that tail docking is becoming less popular since many countries have banned the practice. 

Why Dock an Australian Shepherd’s Tail?  

For the most part, tail docking is done on Australian Shepherds for cosmetic reasons as well as sticking to breed standards. In fewer cases, dogs with shorter tails are believed to have enhanced capabilities for work. In truth, most Australian Shepherd owners only keep their dogs at home and don’t have their dogs help with any kind of work. 

They mostly dock their dogs’ tails to adhere to the breeding standards provided by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Aussies are known for their signature look, which has led breeders to dock a dog’s tail before they even find their forever homes. Docked tails have become the most distinct feature for Aussies, which is why it’s still practiced today.      

Tail Docking Pros 

In the countries where tail docking is allowed, there are a few pros to getting this cosmetic procedure. Most of the benefits are only reaped by working dogs which are more prone to tail injuries, but they are still valid for all dogs.   

  • Sanitary Reasons: Because these dogs have such long fur, their tails are easily matted if they’re not given constant attention. It’s also easy for their tails to catch waste, plant material, and other kinds of debris that they may come across.  
  • Prevents Tail Injury: Dogs with an enthusiastic tail will often find themselves a victim of a “happy tail.” This condition refers to an injury caused by their tails hitting hard surfaces that may lead to many wounds that need treatment. 

Both potential issues can be easily avoided through a docked tail, but some would argue that the procedure does more harm than good. Below, we discuss if these claims are true. 

Tail Docking Cons

As mentioned above, the process of tail docking is a very controversial topic among dog owners, and there are a variety of reasons why many are against it. From incontinence to chronic pain, tail docking certainly comes with various risks. 

  • It’s a Painful Procedure: While plenty of breeders will state that puppies don’t feel the process of tail docking, there’s no scientific evidence to back up these claims. On the contrary, puppies have a fully developed nervous system, which means it’s impossible for them not to feel some kind of discomfort. 
  • Harder to Socialize: A dog’s ability to communicate with other dogs is often done through their tail. When their tail is docked, they won’t be able to socialize properly, and it can be challenging for them to meet new dogs.
  • Chronic Pain: Some Aussies can develop chronic pain as a result of the procedure. This can deliver long-lasting pain that stems from lower spinal cord defects or nerve sensitivity which leads to severe pain in the puppies’ tails.  
  • Incontinence: While this is a rare condition, some Australian Shepherds may have incontinence due to tail docking. This will result in adult dogs losing control over their bladders, which can have a big impact on their owners. 

Moreover, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is strictly against it — while tail docking is allowed, the AVMA agrees that it’s an unnecessary procedure because of the pain associated with it and the little benefits it offers. The AVMA consists of professionals in the field, so if they oppose anything related to our pets, it’s best to take their opinion to heart.  

Should You Dock Your Aussies Tails? 

The answer to this question is entirely your decision to make but it’s definitely not something you need to do. If you’re raising a working dog that may be at risk of tail injuries every day, then you may want to consider the potential benefits that you can reap with this procedure. However, not many people will choose to dock their pet’s tails because the list of cons far outweighs any pros that may be gained. 

Getting a cosmetic tail for dogs is controversial for a reason and many of the negatives associated that come with having long tails can be addressed easily. Keeping your Aussie’s tail sanitary and grooming it daily can help to prevent knots that can cause pain, as well as keep it from matting. While tail injuries can take place, they’re not as common as some people think, but if you’re struggling with whether to dock your dog’s tail or not, be sure to speak to your vet about what’s best for your best friend. 

Can an Australian Shepherd be Born Without a Tail? 

Many Australian Shepherds will undergo tail docking during their first week of life, but others won’t need it. Moreover, 1 in 5 Australian Shepherds will be born with a natural bobtail, which means they only have a vertebrae or two in their tail. This characteristic results in a stubby tail that’s shorter than a full-length tail, which can be hard to distinguish from a surgically docked tail.

This is a genetic mutation from the C189G recessive gene which can be passed down in any Aussie dog. You might think that a shortened tail is highly sought after in the world of breeding, but this isn’t the case. It’s not a good idea to breed Aussies with a natural bob-tail with another bob-tailed dog, since it can lead to many problems in their offspring. 

What are the Dangers of Breeding Bobtail Dogs? 

Unfortunately, even natural bobtail Aussies come with health risks. Making two copies from this gene pool can lead to negative results in these dogs’ future litters, which range from fetal deaths and birth defects. If a bobtail Aussie breeds with another one of its kind, then their litter will have a high chance of developing spina bifida and other kinds of spinal defects. 

What’s even worse is that some puppies can be born with such severe defects that they’ll need euthanasia, the worst thing that can happen to breeders. Many people believe that bobtail Aussies shouldn’t be bred in the first place, since there’s always a risk for them to develop serious complications. But if you plan on breeding your pooch in the future, it’s best to only purchase Aussies with a surgically docked tail or ones with a naturally bobbed tail. 

Docked or Undocked Tail FAQs

Below are some of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to Australian Shepherds and tail docking. 

Are Australian Shepherds Supposed to Have Docked Tails?

While many Aussie shepherds come with docked tails, this practice is becoming less common. Currently, the breed standards according to the AKC require that these dogs come with a docked tail that’s no longer than 4” or have a natural bobtail. 

Why Do These Dogs Have Docked Tails?

Some historical reasons point to people thinking that it would reduce injuries and improve performance. However, in recent years, tail docking has come down to how it looks on dogs and is generally done for cosmetic purposes. 

Does this Practice Hurt The Dog?

Some people believe that this process doesn’t hurt dogs because of the young age during which is it performed, but there are studies that prove pups are born with pain receptors the moment they’re born. There’s also no anesthesia given, which makes the procedure even crueler and unnecessary for many.  

What Length are Tails Docked to?

If you do decide to undergo this procedure, keep in mind that bobtail Aussies will usually have tails cut down to 4 inches or more, so this might help you come to a clearer decision.


Tail docking has been around for a long time, but this old tradition may not stay with us for much longer. More and more people are arguing that it’s not a necessary procedure for their dogs to take, and others believe that the amputation of the tail tip is cruel to dogs. But if you’re unsure about getting a docked or undocked tail for Australian Shepherds, be sure to ask your vet for their expert opinion on the matter.