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Docking the tail of the poodle
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Its Time to Reconsider Some Old Ideas which you have already started to do if you love the parti poodles as we do. The AKC standard states that poodles shall be of solid color. Well, we've gone past that haven't we? We find the idea of killing puppies - just because they were born with the wrong coloring - abhorrent but it is something that was done by many AKC show breeders over many years. 

Over the last 30 years or so Americans (and those in other countries as well) have changed their attitudes quite a bit about how dogs should be taken care of and protected.  When I was young only the "eccentric poodle lady" would have brushed a dog's teeth and she'd have been seen as a crackpot. Now, although most of us don't do it as often as we should, we recognize that a responsible pet owner needs to take care of the dog's teeth and if we don't brush them regularly (and even if we do) we have our dog's teeth cleaned periodically at the vet's office while the dog is under anesthesia.

We've come a long way but we're not there yet. 

Sometimes it's hard to even think to question something that has always existed.  Sometimes we assume that things just are the way they are.

So it was with solid colored poodles. Most people didn't even know that poodles could be a mix of colors. How could we when we'd never seen one?

When picturing a poodle most people get one of two images in mind: Either the fru-fru hair cut of the show poodle or the close cut do of the pet poodle.  Many people in fact love (or hate) the poodle initially due to the hair cut.  The show cuts (there are actually a couple of different styles that are allowed but they are a similar mix of extreme hair and shaved skin) had a practical beginning. Poodles were originally bred to be water retrievers. The long and thick natural coat would impede the dog's ability to swim and his speed in the water so it was trimmed but poofs were left around the joints to keep the joints warm.

The fashion has so outlasted the function that long after poodles were classified as non-sporting dogs by the AKC the extremely modified hunting cut tenaciously hangs on. (Some other kennel clubs still recognize the poodle as a gun-dog or hunting dog) 

Pet poodles may sport any haircut the owner wishes. Some poodle people like more hair and others like less maintenance. The dog can have any haircut you can imagine as long as you give some thought to health, safety and sanitation.

The next item of re-consideration - the tail

There are many prospective poodle parents who don't realize that poodles are born with (beautiful) long tails which the breeders either cut off or have cut off by a vet to create the tail we think of when we think "poodle". Other people realize that it's done but give it no thought since it's always been done by the "best" breeders so it must be ok and the breeders must have some reason for doing it.

It's not really ok unless the scenario to the right appeals to you (and if it did appeal to you not even the breeder who is docking the tail would want you to own their pup)!

Then why is it done?

Believe it or not, at one time in England a dog with a docked (shortened) tail was exempt from a tax that had to be paid on a natural tailed dog. Of course, no one uses that as a reason for docking tails in this day in age.

The most common current answer (in fact, the only one I can find) is that docking the tail prevents injury to the tail later in life. This is only logical in the way that poking your eyes out to prevent you from the possibility of going blind is logical. There may be cases - in hunting dogs - where tail damage is a high risk and the disadvantages of tail docking may be justified. There are also however breeds of hunting dogs that have full tails with no docking required in the breed standard. 

As it pertains to the poodle this brings us back to the nearly obsolete origins of the poodle as hunter (there are actually a few toy poodles I know of who do hunt and there are many standards who do but they are are a small fraction of the poodle population). What may have been functional once is strictly a matter of fashion now.  Should we really be willing to mutilate puppies in the name of fashion?

Concern for the tail regarding potential injury should be considered but it should be considered the way all body parts should, not as an expendable body part. The most likely tail injury for one of our non-hunting little poodles is getting it slammed in a door.

Poodles are really fast and often decide to run through a door as it is closing. A small poodle that gets tapped - even lightly - with the corner of a door can get a nasty bruise. They can easily be trained to walk through doors in a more mannerly fashion. This is necessary regardless of tail length.

I have never liked the idea of docking tails but I did it because it was always done and people expect it. (I am ashamed of this reasoning, but it's the truth.) Now I find that more and more vets are refusing to perform the docking surgery on young puppies. I find this very impressive because business people (and with all due respect, vets are business people) have to feel very strongly about something to refuse to do it when people are still willing to pay to have it done. (It should also be noted that 13 European countries have already outlawed tail docking.)

The last vet that I discussed this with (who is the only vet who will dock tails in an office of approximately 5 vets) said to me "I do it because I'm the old guy and I've always done it but I'd like to stop." He went on to say that it is very painful for the puppies (they are given no anesthesia at all) and that if the owners insist on having it done they should have their own vet do it at the same time that the dog is spayed or neutered when it will be under anesthesia already.

There is also some recent concern that dogs with docked tails and cropped ears have may have some difficulty communicating with other dogs since so much of what they make known to each other is done with body language of which the ears and tail position are an integral part. Dr Stanley Coren provides a very interesting discussion of this in his book "The Intelligence of Dogs".  Again, this would not be a concern to a toy poodle hanging out on a couch but if you are the type of poodle owner who likes doggie parks and takes obedience classes or engages in other activities where other dogs are present the docked tail may be interfering with the dog's ability to communicate with other dogs.

Having had the cruelty of docking puppy tails pointed out to me so clearly and having given this whole matter serious consideration  I can no longer have tail docking done in good conscience when there is absolutely no reason other than fashion to put the puppy through that trauma.

I am aware that old standards die hard and that some people will probably still want to have a poodle with a docked tail. I will not take issue with that and I will still sell puppies to those whose vet is going to do it at a later age and under anesthesia but I can no longer personally  be a party to fashion amputations.

I hope that rather than having your puppy's tail docked you will allow -and help - your poodle to be an emissary for poodles everywhere. Having the opportunity to explain your poodle's long tail to others will provide you with a forum for helping others to be aware of and re-think this barbaric practice.  

Right now there are probably people who will not buy puppies from me because I will not dock their tails. I am looking forward to a day when no one would be willing to buy a puppy with an amputation and no reputable breeder would consider doing one.

Imagine going to a breeder's home to view 3 day old puppies and having the breeder say this to you:

"I love this puppy and I will only sell her to someone who will love her too but don't you think she would look better if we made a little surgical alteration?

"Pick up a pair of sharp scissors and cut half of her tail off. Go ahead, the puppy might screech but she will recover quickly and we'll be saving her from a possible tail injury later in life."

"Don't want to use scissors? Well there's another "humane" way to do it. Wrap a tight elastic around the middle of the tail so that it will cut off the circulation and the end of the tail will die and fall off in a few days."

Wouldn't you escape from this lunatic's house at your fastest pace? Would you call the "Animal Precinct" cops? Would you vomit? Would you fear for your own life? (After all, most serial killers started out mutilating animals.)

This is what has been done to almost all poodle puppies.  The difference between the reality and the scenario above is that you aren't asked to do it and don't have to see it being done. This distinction makes little difference to the puppy.

Both of the methods mentioned above are used (though the latter - the elastic method - was used more often in Europe). Both are done without anesthesia.

Some breeders dock the tails themselves. Others take the puppies to the vet and have it done. Often the vet puts a stitch in each tail to keep it from bleeding. The stitch is also done with no anesthesia or pain killer of any kind.

Breeders will generally tell you it doesn't hurt the puppy. Some of them will actually believe it. If you'd like to find out, try pinching a newborn puppy and listen to it squeal. Then imagine the difference between a pinch and an amputation.


Around the 1700s in England the working dogs, collectively known as "curs" were the ones whose tails were shortened or cur-tailed. That is the origin of the word curtail.

What will they look like? 

Below are some pictures of European poodles whose tails are now protected by law.

Revised: 06/12/05.
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