Short tails are a familiar characteristic for terriers. More than half of the 30 types of terriers recognized by the American Kennel club have shorter than normal tails. You might assume most terriers have their tails docked, but some dogs are actually born with short, bobbed tails.
Single Terrier Type
The rat terrier is the single type in the AKC group whose breed standard mentions a naturally bobbed tail. The lack of a bobtail on a rat terrier won't get him disqualified from show, though. Length is unimportant to the standards, which state that the tail can be naturally bobbed, docked or left naturally long.
You might wonder why some rat terriers are born with short tails while others have a full-length tail that falls down to their hocks. The answer is all in the genes. Puppies get two "tail" genes -- one from mom and one from dad. If a puppy gets at least one short-tail gene, he'll have a short tail. If he gets both long-tail genes, he'll have a normal-length tail. The problem comes when a pup gets two short-tail genes. In his book "The Genetic Connection: A Guide to Health Problems in Purebred Dogs," Lowell Ackerman explains that puppies who get two short-tail genes don't typically survive to be born. Those who do are born with spinal abnormalities and other birth defects.
What's with Docking?
Tail docking for dogs who are born with long tails is typically a cosmetic procedure that is unnecessary for most dogs in modern times. Docking the tails of dogs has its origins in England some 200 years ago. Specific dog breeds -- including terriers -- were classified as working breeds and exempt from taxation. These breeds were distinguished by their shorter, docked tails, a characteristic which made performing their duties easier, such as hunting in brush or below ground where a full-length tail could get in the way or be injured.
Other Bobtailed Breeds
Rat terriers aren't the only breed who carry a bobtail gene. Entlebucher mountain dogs, Brittany spaniels, Pembroke Welsh corgis, old English sheepdogs, boxers and Australian shepherds are all naturally short-tailed. Docking takes place in many cases when puppies of these breeds are born with long tails, particularly if the puppies are to be show dogs.
- American Kennel Club: Rat Terrier Breed Standard
- National Rat Terrier Association: Development of the Rat Terrier
- The Genetic Connection: A Guide to Health Problems in Purebred Dogs; Lowell Ackerman
- Web MD: Dog Body Language
- American Kennel Club: The National Entlebucher Mountain Dog Association
- American Kennel Club: Old English Sheepdog Standard
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.