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By Linda P. Michels,

Chairman of the ARC Tail Docking Committee

From the ARK - 2nd Quarter 1999



The Rottweiler we recognize.



Close your eyes. Visualize a Rottweiler. Carefully study the distinguishing features that make you recognize this dog as a Rottweiler rather than a Bullmastiff or Labrador Retriever or the mixed breed dog who lives on your street. Visualize this Rottweiler in action. See him move. See him play. See him greet you at the door. These attributes and characteristics, which distinguish the Rottweiler from any other breed of dog, are called breed type.


Now answer a few questions. Did your imaginary Rottweiler have a tail? How important was this in describing the dog that looks like a Rottweiler? Did the imaginary Rottweiler who greeted you at the door wag his whole rear end?


By now, you're probably asking yourself what all this has to do with tail docking Actually, it has everything to do with why we dock tails on Rottweilers.


History and Lore of Tail Docking


There has been much written about why Rottweiler tails were originally docked. Most dogs with docked tails do work hunting, herding, droving or draft work. The hunting dogs (gundogs and working terriers) often had to work in dense vegetation and briars and the tail would get injured in the brush. Terriers went to ground after foxes, badgers or other game, and the docked tail facilitated working in a confined space. The other working and herding dogs, as well as the hunting dogs, were docked for hygiene reasons.


Working and herding dogs worked livestock. Now, I'll ask you to visualize again; imagine you are in a barnyard in the spring If you have ever had the pleasure of doing chores around a barn, you know that stockdogs' tails, if not docked, will become fouled with the feces of the stock. On our dog's ancestors, this build up of feces acted like a weight on the tail and caused the tail to bang the hocks and become sore and sometimes cut. The feces also harbored bacteria and attracted flies, so the injured tail would become infected, causing the dog to become sick and possibly die. Since the Rottweiler was developed for cattle droving and general utility work on the farm, his tail was docked to prevent injury, sickness and death. In my opinion, docking prevented cruelty to working dogs.


Perhaps you have heard the lore of the "tail tax", which supposedly was a luxury tax imposed on owners of nonworking dogs. Since most working/herding/hunting dogs had docked tails, I suppose this makes sense and could be the reason the Rottweiler tail is docked closer to the body than many of the smaller breeds in these categories.


How are tails docked?


Most Rottweiler owners have never seen a puppy's tail docked. I'll describe the process to help you understand what happens to puppies. Basically, there are 2 methods of docking, both performed at 2-4 days old. I prefer cutting the tail with surgical scissors, which is fast and does not seem to traumatize the puppy or the dam. In this method, the tail is clamped and snipped off close to the body. My puppies have always seemed to object as much to the being held upside down as they do to the cut. The puppies quiet down immediately and go right back to sleep. If their dam is there, they will nurse right away. Rottweiler mothers do not seem concerned that there's a tail missing, and will go about their business of cleaning and feeding the puppies.


The second method of docking is banding. A band, usually an orthodontic rubber band, is placed very tightly around the tail, close to the body. The tail shrivels up and falls off in 3-7 days. Again, neither the puppies nor the dam seem to be bothered by the procedure.


Just as with tail docking, many Rottweiler owners have never seen puppies less than a week old. We have all seen TV movies of newborn horses or cows struggling to stand and walk. Puppies are not like foals or calves. When puppies are born, they cannot see, hear, regulate their body temperature or walk. Their eyes do not open until 10 - 14 days and their ears are sealed shut until their third week. They must be kept in a warm environment, since they will die of hypothermia if pushed away from the dam and other puppies (if the breeder does not intervene and put a heat source in the whelping box). Young puppies cannot urinate nor defecate without the stimulus of the dam licking them. They have activated sleep, which causes puppies to twitch. This jerking and twitching helps puppies develop muscle tone and motor control. In short, puppies less than a week old are not fully developed neurologically. For this reason, I do not feel puppies are traumatized by tail docking at 2-4 days.


It is important to note that the tails are docked at 2-4 days old. Tail docking performed on adult dogs is major surgery and can affect balance, since the dog has grown up with this big rudder on his rear, and he is fully developed neurologically.


Docked Rottweiler Structure


The Rottweiler tail was docked before the ADM, the American Rottweiler Club or the Kennel Club (UK) developed a breed standard. Therefore, all standards have described a dog with a docked tail. As the breed clubs worked to refined the breed standards, Rottweiler structure changed and from the 1930s until today, Rottweilers became more heavily boned and muscled. This structure, including a level topline, shorter back and medium length croup are the design of an almost square, broad and deep dog who is capable of trotting for long time periods without tiring. This tailless structure has a center of gravity located in the front half of the dog The standards say that the Rottweiler's tail carriage is "an extension of the topline".


To add a long, heavy tail to the structure described in the standards would change the center of gravity, moving it towards the rear of the dog This would lessen the Rottweiler's ability as an endurance trotter, unless the croup we desire today changes. Mechanically and kinematically speaking, it must be lengthened and rounded if the desired tail carriage is down to facilitate the mechanics of trotting tirelessly for a long time. Likewise, if the desired carriage is curled tightly over the back, a short croup would be necessary. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog and Bernese Mountain Dog breed standards, the Rottweiler's closest relatives, call for a long, rounded croup. Alternatively, the Akita, who is also a broad dog, has a very short croup. 



This Rottweiler has a tail set often seen in Sweden.
Note the shortened croup.



The tail is an elongation of the topline.
 Is it a Rottweiler or Labrador Retriever if there were no markings?


  As described above, the Rottweiler's presently desired croup and tail set would have to change to accommodate an undocked tail. I also would expect to see the undocked Rottweiler change proportion, too, and become a longer dog. Lengthening the back will cause Rottweilers to bounce during the trot, which will decrease the dog's endurance.


How does the undocked Rottweiler structure I have described compare to your imaginary Rottweiler? In the crude drawings I have included with this article, I have taken the same dog and put different tail types on her. Would you recognize the dogs with tails as Rottweilers?


Breeding for Tail Type


Let's imagine for a moment that the Rottweiler's tail is left undocked. Since tail type has not been a breeding criterion for over 100 years, someone would have to select a desired type, which would probably be similar to the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog's set and carriage. The length of hair on the tail and straightness of the tail vertebra must be considered. If you have bred dogs at all, you realize that structure cannot be changed overnight. It can take generations to get a gene pool of Rottweilers with the correct tail. Since the tail of a Rottweiler will be very noticeable, tail selection will suddenly move from no consideration at all to major consideration in the selection of breeding stock. Healthy, correct temperament, typey (sans tail) animals may be overlooked for inferior animals with the desired tail. Dog shows being what they are, some exhibitors will break tails to "set" them, which is cruel to the dog and deceiving for anyone who unknowingly breeds to that animal. All of this will be a travesty for the Rottweiler. 



This dropped tail shows the greatly lengthened croup.



  Puppies and Stress


Many responsible breeders have tried to breed Rottweilers with good temperaments and have tried to provide them with the best environment to reach their full potential. Researchers have found that puppies subjected to mild stress learn to adapt and can better handle stress as adults. It is this reason that many of s place our puppies in the refrigerator for a two minutes during their second week. (Bet you reread that sentence.) Unless you have read Rutherford and Neil's "How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With", or have read all you can on enriched environments, you probably think I have lost my mind. However, exposure to mild stress in a controlled manner is a good thing. Therefore, a case can be made for tail docking of very young puppies helps them handle stress better in later life.


Tails and Injury


Once again, I'll ask you to recall your imaginary Rottweiler. Did he wag his whole rear end when he greeted you at the door? If so, a long tail would probably become injured by beating it against the wall, the table, etc. Tail injuries do not heal well, can bleed profusely, cause "water tail" and can lead to painful amputation for an adult dog. In countries such as Sweden, where tail docking has been banned, there has been an astounding increase in tail injuries of previously docked breeds. This is not mere speculation; many studies have been done with statistically large populations to warrant clubs such as the Vorsteh (Pointer) Club, with the backing of the Swedish Kennel Club, to urge a reconsideration of the taildocking ban.


If you have never seen nor dealt with a tail injury or the long convalescence of an older dog requiring amputation of the tail, please ask your veterinarian to describe it. Docking at 24 days old of a puppy whose nervous system is not fully developed is definitely preventative medicine in this case.




The Rottweiler, as we know it today and have known it for the past 100 years, is an animal with a docked tail. The docked tail is part of who the breed is.


The AKC Board of Directors adopted a policy on docking and cropping which approves the process when performed on puppies and under the care of a veterinarian. This organization recognizes the concerns of all dog breeds and their owners. They did not adopt this policy because "it's what we've always done", but, rather, after considering the facts on all sides of the issue.


The ARC Tail Docking Committee has also given careful consideration to the issue, as well as the current state of affairs in Germany. The Committee recently recommended to the ARC Board that the wording regarding the tail in the current breed standard should be left as it is and we saw no reason to start the ARC breed standard revision process at this time. The committee and I welcome input. For those of you who do not know who's on the committee, we are: Linda Michels, Chairman, Joe Hedl, Anna Williamson and Peter Piusz.





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