A Tale of a Tail

I’ve been posing questions to many poodle people recently trying to understand the mystery of the poodle’s tail.  Well there isn’t really a mystery, per say, but the tide is turning a bit with the evolution of the long docked tail.  My understanding so far is that a long dock removes “only” the end 1/4 of the tail versus the last 1/3.   Definitely a step in the right direction in my book, but it’s still docking!

When communicating with poodle breeders they are very open to the concept of keeping the tail au natural, but the problem seems to be in the timing of the tail’s removal.  To decrease the cruelty of docking it is believed that day three or four of the pup’s new life (at the latest) is the optimal time to remove the last 1/3 to 1/4 from the tail.  I’ve never witnessed this procedure, but I’ve heard reports and let’s just say that the eyewitness testimony varies depending on whom you talk with be it a vet, breeder, or owner.

We must thank the American Kennel Club for this tale as it’s their standard that makes breeders so very hesitant, if not resistant, to the move towards non-docking that is current in Europe.  Per AKC’s breed standard for the poodle: “Tail straight, set on high and carried up, docked of sufficient length to insure a balanced outline. Major fault: set low, curled, or carried over the back.”  Albeit, in all fairness to AKC, there are a also a few poodle experts that believe it to be in the dog’s best interest to have a docked tail due to the environment it works in.  For example, hunting or search and rescue.

Now, I am not a breeder and I don’t put any responsibility on them for this mystery.  Breeders have no way of knowing which pup is going to be the next AKC Grand Champion at 3 days old.  I personally had the opportunity to spare a pup from the docking procedure, but I too was without a crystal ball to determine which puppy had what it takes to be the next MACH by 3 days of age, so I passed on the litter.

You might not be able to tell from this post, but I am still developing an opinion on tail docking.  One part of me feels that it is cruel and unnecessary.  Why should all puppies in a litter be docked if only approximately 10-25 percent go on to be shown in AKC conformation?  The other part feels that long docking is definitely a step in the right direction as a safety measure.  But what I know for sure is tail length is NECCASSARY for performance longevity.  The tail is a biomechanical lever and acts like a rudder.  The longer it is the better it promotes a greater capacity for weight shifting both in the air and on the ground and the more it elevates the compensatory stress that is put on the pelvic girdle, hip joints, SI joint, spine, and hocks.

I know, I know.  What about the potential owner that is just looking for a companion poodle; one that looks like the pictures in the AKC breed book?  Well, information is power.  I can’t tell you how many people ask me if Tess is a doodle.  I do usually keep her in a one length coat most of the time, long in the winter, but she does have a docked tail.  Not a long dock, but a classic 10½-year-old dock.  I have also had to educate a few of my non-dog owning friends about tail docking as they thought poodles were just born that way.

All the same, with any change comes anxiety and resistance, which can be tempered with information.  Maybe, we bring full tails to the next Meet-the-Breed?  Maybe, we request pictures of poodles with long tails in the dog magazines.  We can start slow, but we need to start somewhere and we must not forget to support the breeders who have made the gutsy leap in favor of non-docking and keeping the dews.  Now, I am the last one to carry the flag or sound the alarm for this cause, it just isn’t in my nature, but I strongly believe that fear halts progress and waiting for AKC to change its standards will probably not happen in my lifetime.

What would I do if I were the queen of the world?  I’m glad you asked.  I would require breeders that promote their litters as “performance litters” to keep full tails and dew claws on their pups as more and more literature is supporting that these appendages are non-optional “equipment” for performance longevity and I would require docked litters be labeled as “conformation only”.   Boy, I can hear it now, “Hi, I am a local poodle breeder.  Would you sign my  “off with her head” petition?”

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  • Marsha

    I believe it is the parent club (in this case Poodle Club of America), not the AKC that determines the standard of the breed. You might want to check on that. Personally, I am in favor of undocked tails :)

    • rpelletier

      Marsha you are correct.  PCA writes, maintains, and “owns” the breed standards, but AKC makes it very difficult for a parent club to alter the standard by considering changes only every five years.  Thanks for your input!

  • Christine

    The breed standard in Canada is different. It states the tail ‘may’ be docked. See below:

    Set on high, carried up, and may be docked. The tail set is distinctly ahead of the pinbone. Never curled nor carried over the back.

  • rpelletier

    Christine, thanks for the info from up North.  I wonder how influential the “may” is.  Do you see more docked or undocked poodles in Canada?  

    • Christine

      Still see more docked, but we are starting to see undocked. I saw a standard with and undocked tail get its championship a few weeks ago.

  • Brigitte

    My red boy is undocked. His breeder only docks by special request. I just love my boys “cinnamon bun”. The reason for docking being for health/injury reasons seems silly to me. In that case why is a Labrador’s tail not docked? In my opinion the only reason for docking is the standard that is required. In Europe there has been no docking allowed by law for years. It would be interesting to find out if there are more tail injuries there. I have hope that the standard will change in my lifetime.
    I am also in Canada and definitely see more poodles at agility trials then 10-15 years ago. Except for mine and my friends dog from the same breeder they are all docked. We very rarely see Dobermans, Schnauzers or other breeds that used to have cropped ears with them. So why not eave the tail on. I know that a little stubby tail can look very cute, but I think that God or nature or who ever put it there put it there for a reason:)
    Best wishes Brigitte

  • maureen

    Sorry I totally disagree with the you on “performance” longevity as it relates to docked tails and dewclaw removal. I have been competing at a high level in agility with docked poodles with no dew claws for almost 20 years. I have owned/competed with 5 agilty poodles over the years…..all “Standard” variety. My dogs are “consistently” on the podium at the Regional and National Championships, year after year. The oldest two, who are still competing and winning, against the more traditional agility breeds (BC’s, Kelpies etc) are now 10 and 9 1/2 years old respectively, and have “never” had an injury…..pretty good performance longevity, in my books. In order to keep up with the B.C.”s and Kelpies, my poodles have to run at speed and execute fast tight turns……without an extra long “rudder or dewclaws.” Docking and lack of dewclaws has “never” affected their efficiency! Also, as an agility instructor, (for 18 years) I seem to have at least one students dog, every season, who tears a dew claw off….its very painful for the dogs and takes a long time to heal. I would never leave dew claws on my poodles, and I prefer their docked tails. Just my humble opinion, as a breeder and agility competitor.

  • Corax H.

    I think docking of poodle tails has resulted in the situation of today, where the breed standard calls for the tail to be held fairly straight out from the body, never curled or held over the back… and where almost no poodle today has such a tail. The vast majority of poodles have tails which curl, and I doubt anything much can be done about it. Why are they all non-conforming? Most likely, it’s because for many years, it didn’t matter if a poodle had a curl in its tail since the curl would be cut off and nobody would ever know. Of course, tails held high tend to curl over, and so breeders favored the high, curled tail, with the curl cut off. Now we are in the situation where conforming to the breed standard requires modification of the dog. The PCA and AKC ought to be ashamed. And here it is, 2017, and no change from them. Shame on them. I hope they disappear. We can all join the UKC, which does not require docking.