Why Do Bird Dogs Have Short Tails?

Dogs come in different shapes and sizes, and of course, every pup is unique in its way. One of the interesting traits of some bird dogs is their short tails. Have you ever wondered why do bird dogs have short tails?

Certain bird dog breeds have short tails genetically, but many breeds have short tails due to docking.  The main factors that drive many owners to dock their dog’s tail are to preventing injuries and for cosmetic reasons (to meet breed standards).  History plays a big part in the tail docking tradition, as many now long-forgotten myths about the benefits of tail docking and even long abandon taxation practices built the breed standards we adhere to today.   

There is lots to unpack here: Does tail docking make dog’s back stronger? Can it help a hunting dog to perform better? What does science have to say about the practice of tail docking? How is it done? And is it done worldwide?  What’s the scoop on bird dogs with naturally short tails?

Read on if you want a definitive answer to all these questions. By the end of this article, you’re going to have a clear idea about everything related to short tails!

The In-Depth Answer

There’s a lot more you need to know about tail docking. First, let’s give tail docking a full definition. This should eliminate confusion and help you understand the term thoroughly.

What is Docking?

Docking is defined as removing a portion of the dog’s tail. However, the term “docking” isn’t exclusive to dogs only. Docking is performed on a wide variety of animals, including dogs, sheep, cattle, and horses. You should also know that it’s different from cropping, which is mostly used for ears.

Tail docking is done in one of two ways, either by constriction or by cutting the tail surgically. But more on that later.

The Origin of Docking

As we previously said, docking has been around for quite a while now. The first recorded tail docking incidence took place in Ancient Rome.

The Roman shepherds believed that removing a portion of the dog’s tail and clipping their tongue on their fourth day prevented rabies. Hunters later adopted the practice.

At that time, rabies was still extremely feared. The lethal disease was found everywhere, and it was infecting all mammals that encountered its path.

Tail Docking to Avoid Dog Taxes

The second reason for docking was taxation. In the late 18th century England, pleasure dogs were taxed while working dogs weren’t.

The working docks were designated by docking. As a result, all farming, hunting, and ratting dogs were docked to avoid paying taxes.

Ironically, hunting dogs were among the least docked dogs at that time. Hunting was mainly a hobby performed by the wealthy landowners at that time. The majority of their dogs weren’t docked as a sign that they’re able to afford the dog’s taxes.

Tail Docking in Modern Times

In 1796, the dog tax was repealed. Moreover, in 1885, Louis Pasteur and Emile Roux developed the first rabies vaccine. However, tail docking continued, as many dog owners believed it could have other benefits to the working dogs.

It was believed by many that it prevents a lot of injuries while fighting, baiting, and ratting can be avoided by docking the tail. By having no tail, it gives the other fighting side something less to grab and use while fighting.

The common belief that it strengthens the back and enhances the dog’s speed also played a huge role in docking.

How Docking Prevents Injuries

Hunting, terrier, and herding dogs work in the field. The problem comes from the tail’s wagging. Their tails can easily collect small spikes, such as cactus, foxtails, and long-spine sandbur.

While moving through dense bushes, these spikes can result in severe pain and bad infections to dogs.

Foxtails can even lead to death if they’re left untreated, as they can dig through the skin and even perforate the lungs. In that case, removing the dog’s tail means less exposure to such dangers.

Some of these dogs have long tails, which gets bloody and beat up while hunting and in fieldwork. With their short, smooth coats, some of these dogs can’t have enough protection around their tail.

Also, while in the field, the tail bones can be broken through impacts, which can cause severe spinal injuries to the tail.

Additionally, for terrier dogs, they can get stuck underground while hunting for worms. This makes it necessary to pull them out by the tails. In that case, a docked tail would protect them from spinal traumas.

Spikes and getting stuck aren’t the only way for dogs to get injuries in their tail. Different types of equipment regularly surround working dogs. They can be hunting or farming tools. In both cases, a dog’s tail can get caught in some of this equipment.

Enhancing the Dog’s Cleanliness

Another reason for dog owners to dock their dogs’ tails is cleanliness. Working dogs are usually out in the field. This subjects them to a lot of muddy and earthy situations.

A dog without a tail is less likely to collect all the dust and debris while working. Additionally, it reduces the accumulated feces around the rump. Since hunters and shepherds can’t afford to clean their dogs daily, docking the tail seemed an efficient choice.

Why Do Dogs Have Tails in the First Place?

Just like you questioned tail dock, you may have wondered about the tail itself. Since most dog breeds are naturally born with tails, it’s safe to assume that they have them for a reason.

Dog tails are important for a lot of different reasons. Let’s have a quick overview of some of these benefits and why dogs need their tails.


Tails are mainly used as a form of communication between dogs. It’s no secret that a wagging tail is a social cue that the dog is happy. However, tails can be more than that.

Dogs raise their tail when they’re alert. They also tuck the tail between their hind to show that they’re concerned and submissive. According to studies, there are a lot of messages that a dog can convey using their tail


In tightrope walking, people might use a balance bar as a counterbalance to keep their balance while walking on the rope. This is somewhat similar to the dog’s tail. It also acts as a counterweight to balance them regularly.

This isn’t only relevant while running. You can also notice how essential a tail can be when a dog is walking along a narrow surface.

Conserve Body Heat

Dogs also use their tail to conserve their bodies’ heat. In cold winter days, dogs curl up into a ball and wrap their tail over their bodies to keep themselves warm.

Additional Uses

In addition to all these essential benefits of having a tail, there are additional uses that dogs utilize their tails at. Here are some of them:

  • They can use their tail as a rudder to stabilize their body while swimming
  • They can keep insects off their body by waving their tail
  • They can use their tail as a decoy target while fighting to avoid serious injuries
  • They use their tails to waft anal gland scents, which they also use for identification between other dogs

Are Hunting Dogs’ Tails Naturally Short? 

While most dogs have long tails, some of them have escaped tail docking by having no tail. These dogs still have tails, but they’re naturally extremely short that it might take you some time to notice it.

This happened either naturally or by selective breeding. A study in 2008 found that a mutation in the gene C189G is responsible for short tail in 17 out of 23 studied breeds.

According to the study, this gene is responsible for what is known as “congenital short-tailed dogs.” This means that due to this mutation, puppies are born with almost no tails at all.

Here are some of the most notable hunting dogs with the gene mutation for short tails:

Is Tail Docking Shown to Prevent Injury in Hunting Dogs?

Tail docking continues up to this day. It became a part of describing some dogs’ breeds. However, tail docking earned some serious controversy in recent years.

With the advancement of physiology and medicine, many animal rights groups started to question the act.

As a result, a lot of medical associations started investigating the justification of tail docking.

Tail Docking Doesn’t Have a Significant Impact on Limiting Tail Injuries

The largest study on tail injuries in dogs to date was released in 2010. The study was a survey of 138,212 dogs attending 52 participating practices between 2008 and 2009.

The study revealed that the risk of a dog injuring its tail was only 0.23%. This means that the difference between dogs’ tails injuries is almost negligible.

It was calculated that it’d take about 500 dogs to be docked to prevent a single tail injury.

Docking Hinders Dogs Communication

As previously mentioned, dogs use their tails to communicate with other dogs and people. This means that a dog without a tail is severely handicapped in conveying a lot of emotions.

This includes fear, caution, playfulness, and even aggression. All these concerns were initially reported in a study by Robert K. Wansbrough in 1996.

Additionally, in 2007, Leaver and Reimchen found that longer tails have a better effect in conveying different social cues.

Is Tail Docking a Global Thing?

Despite being common worldwide, a lot of countries started banning docking and ear cropping. These countries consider it an unnecessary practice that’s extremely painful and cruel.

Some countries also consider it a form of mutilation. Also, a lot of people don’t see the need for prophylactic docking in the presence of modern veterinary medicine. Currently, docking is only exclusive for controversial cosmetic purposes.

Currently, a lot of European countries prohibit the act of tail docking. While docking performed by a licensed vet in the United States, many veterinarians refuse to perform the procedure.

When Are Dog’s Tails Usually Docked?

Docking is usually performed on newborn puppies. The early age is chosen because the tail is still soft. Also, the procedure is done without anesthesia.

Generally, the most common time for tail docking is between 7 to a 14-day old puppy. The procedure is painful, so if a dog is a bit older, they’re usually docked around eight weeks. At this age, dogs can undergo general anesthesia.

What About Tail Amputation and Bobbing?

Tail amputation is done for medical reasons only. Technically, amputation isn’t considered docking, as it’s performed to protect the dog from more serious health issues.

Unlike amputation, tail bobbing is when docking is made for cosmetic purposes.

How Is Tail Docking Done?

The first one involves tying the dog’s tail to constrict the blood supply. It’s done with the help of a rubber ligature and left for about four days. The tail falls off on its own shortly after.

The second one involves cutting the tails with surgical scissors. The length to which the tails are being docked is specified according to the breed.

Final Words

You now know why bird dogs have short tails. Additionally, you have a better idea about the procedure and why it’s facing a lot of converters

So there you have it. A complete and comprehensive guide to answer all your questions regarding dog tail docking and short tails.

Scott Phelan

I came from a non-hunting family, in my teens I got interested in hunting and taught myself to hunt. I got my first hunting dog after college and became obsessed with all things hunting dog and hunting dog training. I have spent the last 10 years training and hunting with dogs. My dogs and I have hunted quail, chukar, huns, pheasants, grouse, woodcock, ducks, and geese all over the USA and Canada. Hunting dogs are my passion.

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