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?”