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Do Australian Shepherds Have Tails? Breed Facts & FAQs

Ed Malaker

By Ed Malaker

australian shepherd

Australian Shepherd dogs are hard-working dogs that will herd anything and make themselves useful on any farm. One of the strange things about these dogs that you might notice is that many of them don’t have tails. In fact, many people ask us if the Australian Shepherd even has a tail.

The short answer is yes, Australian Shepherds have tails, but they don’t all look alike, either naturally or because of docking. Keep reading while we discuss what happens to them and why to help you be better informed.

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The Australian Shepherd Tail

Most Australian Shepherds are born with long tails. Breeders often dock the tail (cut it off with surgical scissors) when the dog is only a few days old, and the tail is still soft. While the docking process is losing favor, especially for breeds that do it for cosmetic reasons, breeders still dock the tails of working dogs like the Australian Shepherd if they’re going to live on a farm.

Red Tri-Australian Shepherd
Image Credit: Fotoschauer, Shutterstock

Why Dock the Tail?

If you leave the Australian Shepherd dog’s tail intact, you will find it’s quite thick. When the dog is herding sheep or cattle on the farm, it moves at high speed and often needs to change direction quickly. The clunky tail has a habit of getting tangled in its back legs, which would trip up the dog. At best, the dog might lose some time herding and need to catch up. At worst, it fails to make a direction change that would have gotten it out of the way of a much heavier animal.

Docking eliminates the danger that the tail can create, so it is an accepted part of the breed standard, which states that the tail is not to exceed 4 inches long. Since docking occurs to almost all Australian Shepherds at just a few days old, it’s easy to see why most people are unsure if they have a tail.

Do Australian Shepherds Have Naturally Bobbed Tails?

Yes. Even though breeders could not breed a tailless dog through selective breeding, they did get surprisingly close. One in five Australian Shepherds are born with a naturally bobbed tail and will not require any surgery. Unfortunately, two naturally bob-tailed Australian Shepherds cannot breed because doing so can lead to a condition called spina bifida, which is a condition that affects the vertebrae. It can also lead to other problems with the lower spinal cord.

Australian Shepherd on the field with flowers
Image Credit: Petra Heike Laicher, Pixabay

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Other Interesting Facts About the Australian Shepherd

  • The Australian Shepherd is not from Australia. It’s a Spanish dog that breeders took to Australia before taking them to the United States and Americans took to calling the Australian Shepherds.
  • Since the Australian Shepherd was so popular in the Wild West, the breed we see today bears little resemblance to the original stock, making it primarily an American dog.
  • You will frequently see Australian Shepherds at rodeos across the United States due to their ability to herd the bulls and do tricks to entertain the audience.
  • You might also hear people call the Australian Shepherd a Spanish Shepherd, California Shepherd, Pastor Dog, Blue Heeler, and other names. It likely acquired these names over its long history, not only in America but in the rest of the world.
  • Because many of them have blue eyes, Native Americans believed they were sacred animals.
  • While many Australian Shepherds have blue eyes, many of them also have different color eyes. One might be blue and the other hazel, amber, green, or brown.
  • Australian Shepherds are heavy shedders that will need daily brushing and even a professional groomer to keep them under control.
  • Australian Shepherds make great guide dogs, rescue dogs, and even drug-sniffing dogs.

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Final Thoughts

Even though many people consider the Australian Shepherd to be a tailless dog, the truth is only one in five are born with a naturally bobbed tail. The rest get them removed through docking. Since it’s part of the breed standard, most breeders dock the tails when they are only a few days old, long before they go for adoption, so there is little wonder why most people don’t know about the tail. However, losing the tail doesn’t have any long-term disadvantages, and if it’s a working dog, the benefits are significant.

We hope you have enjoyed reading this short guide and found it helpful in answering your questions!

Featured Image Credit: JitkaP, Shutterstock

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