Australian Shepherd Tail Docking: Should You Dock Your Dogs Tail?

Tail docking is something that many dog owners have questions about. Aussie shepherds, in particular, are often seen with docked tails, but is it good for them? Here’s what you need to know if you are considering tail docking.

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What is tail docking?

There are a few reasons tail docking gets performed on Australian Shepherds. The main reason was to prevent tail injuries during activities such as hunting. Today, the main reason tends to be cosmetic, and some dog owners believe it improves a dog’s appearance.  

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Docking involves removing portions of the tail either by surgical removal or using a rubber ligature to restrict blood flow until the tail simply falls off. A cut is made in between the bones to shorten it to the desired length to dock the tail. While it can be done on adult dogs, it is most commonly done on newly born puppies.

Why do people dock their Aussie Shepherd’s tails?

Aussie shepherds usually have their tails docked because they are used as working dogs, and removing the tail helps prevent injury. Their tails can also cause burrs and stickers to become entangled in them, resulting in trauma to the tail itself. While people living in cities don’t need to worry about this so much, it is a problem worth considering if your dog is out in a rural area.

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For those not using their Aussies as working dogs, docking is most commonly done for cosmetic reasons, especially if they promote their dog at dog shows.

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Is it legal?

Tail docking is currently legal, with only two states in the US regulating it. Maryland and Pennsylvania both have laws regulating how docking can be done. In Maryland, a veterinary license and a reason are needed before the procedure can be done.  In Pennsylvania, docking cannot be performed on dogs over five days by an untrained individual. However, veterinarians can still perform the procedure after 12 weeks with anesthesia. Between five days and 12 weeks, a vet can still perform the surgery, but only if they deem it medically necessary.

If you’re considering tail docking, it’s worth speaking to your vet if you live in either of these states. While opinions vary between vets on the necessity of cropping, it can help give you an idea of how you should proceed if you do decide to pursue cropping.

Is it the breed standard?

Tail docking for Australian shepherds is considered a breed standard due to how matted and messy their tails can get without cropping. However, despite being a breed standard, many owners still choose not to pursue it. It depends on each situation and each owner’s belief.

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Is tail docking cruel?

The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes tail docking due to the unnecessary risks that it can come with. While most docking cases are without complications, there is a chance for infection or further injury with any procedure. Docking, in particular, can come with risks of developing a neuroma (nerve tumor) which can be painful for dogs. Because aesthetics are the main reason for docking today, the AVMA states that these risks aren’t worth the potential harm.

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While not necessarily cruel, especially if the procedure is done with anesthetics, there are many instances where no anesthetic is used. This means that it is painful, even for puppies, which docking is most commonly done on.    

Should you dock your Aussie’s tail?

Deciding to dock your Aussie’s tail is a big decision, and it isn’t one that you should make on a whim. Consider the pros and cons as well as the environment that your dog will be in most. While city dogs that are easily groomed and brushed may not benefit from docking, a working dog who’s outside all day might. Because the hair on Aussie’s tails can grow quite long, it can become tangled or matted with burrs, weeds, and mud without constant brushing and attention.

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If you’re unsure of what option is best for you and your dog, speak to your vet about what they recommend. If you opt for the procedure, ensure that an anesthetic is used and that the area is well cared for during healing.

Docking can have pros and cons; however, it’s up to you to decide if it is suitable for your pup.