Monday, December 24, 2012

Dog Tail Shapes and Sizes

About ten years ago I statistically analyzed the shape of dog tails in 330 pedigreed dogs listed in the Atlas of Dog Breeds of the World (Wilcox and Walkowitz, 1995).

With the assistance of my 12-year old neighbor, Grace, we figured out that the most common tail types (56%) are the otter and whip tails.
Labs have otter tails.
Greyhounds have whip tails.

The ring tail is a trait found in 15% of all breeds.

The sickle tail is common in only 3%. 

Only 1% have a screw tail.
Docked Tails - twenty four percent of registered breeds have their tails cut off, although the trend is toward not docking tails or ears, and in some countries it's illegal. Dobermans usually have docked tails.

But a lot of breeders are leaving tails as nature intended.  When a breed's tail is no longer docked, what shape is it?  It might be any shape because breeders never selected for tail types. (I know a geneticist who has a drawer full of docked puppy dog tails.  I'm not naming names. He is studying the mutation that affects tail shape.)

This is a Dobie with something between a ring and sickle shape tail - very cute.

And here's one with more of a whip x otter  tail shape.

Pembroke Welsh Corgi tails are traditionally docked.  
But here's one with an otter tail.

And one with a very wet ring tail.
    And one with a cute I don't know what tail.

    Only 1% of registered breeds are born without a tail at all, called  bobbed tailIn a few breeds it's a fixed trait, like the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog.

    In all, 23 breeds have naturally bobbed tails, but the trait isn't fixed which means they may or may not be born with a tail.  These include among others Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Australian Shepherd, Brittany Spaniel, Jack Russel Terrier or Schipperke.

    Of the 23, 17 have a specific mutation on the T-box transcription factor T gene (C189G). Geneticists still haven't figured out what accounts for the bobbed tail in the other six breeds. If you want to know more about the science behind this mutation, click here.

    Doctor Barkman says no tail is a bad shape or size, and the best tails are ones still attached to the dog.
    I rest my case.


    1. That was really interesting and something I never thought of, but it would be fun to see if tails have changed, that are usually docked.

      I hope you have a wonderful Holiday.


    2. I absolutely agree! Tail insitu is always best!!!!! Both my Schipperkes have had their tails docked, and when I saw a picture of what their tails could have been I could have cried, they are sooooo cute!!!! Docking their tails here (Australia) is now not allowed, thank heavens for common sense! Very interesting subject in this post!!

    3. Have you ever heard of a Rotti being born with a bobbed tail? Visiting my local pet shop, they had some Rotti puppies (crossed with something but I've forgotten what) and some of the puppies had bobbed tails.
      The assistant told me that one of the parents was a German Rotti which have naturally bobbed tails. I'd never heard of such a thing and surfing thru the 'net tonight, I can't find any, either.
      But I did find your statistics. You mention that there are 23 breeds that can have naturally bobbed tails. I thought maybe you may have come across some mention of them. thanks

    4. Rotti's are pretty much all the same, whether bred in Germany or elsewhere. Maybe a Rotti breeder can provide more information. Naturally bobbed tails show up in mixed breed dogs on occasion, but it's a fixed trait in only a few purebreds, and Rotties are not one of them. My guess is that the pups are mixes of Rotti and something else, which is alway good. A mongrel pup is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get!

    5. There has recently been cases of Central Asian Ovcharkas being born w/o tails and fullspinal you have an idea of what would cause this?...dogs are dying and people are trying to stop the breeder of these answer ASAP would be greatly appreciated...I am writing to you due to your research on bobbed tails...Mahalo for your help!

    6. I have a yellow lab mix and the vet thinks it has Shepard in her, but she has a sickle tail. What mix could this be?


      1. She could be any mix at all. Read this article I wrote about mixed breed dogs and why the shape of the dog is not a tell-tale sign of ancestry.

    7. I have a French Brittany Spaniel, she was born naturally bobbed is this a "T" box genetic or one of the others?!

      In X-rays it looks like her her tail just stopped developing/growing after a bone or 2.... she has a "nubbin" as I call it.

      Thank so much as she is a great dog

      1. Good question. I did a cursory look at some studies and it sounds to me like scientists have identified only a few breeds with short tails due to the ancestral T-Box mutation and it doesn't include your breed. This means that bobbed tails can be the result of other genetic influences not yet identified. When geneticists publish a paper about it, I will post it here.So stay tuned.