AUSTRALIAN TERRIER TAILS, DOCKED and UNDOCKED; such a charged topic for many fanciers in so many breeds. I am writing to tell you about our journey in the Australian Terrier Club of America, which has resulted in a change in our Breed Standard to make judging our breed more inclusive for many in our fancy.
Over the last few years, there have been a number of requests from many to modify our Standard, with equally adamant defenders of the Standard to be left unchanged.
In our breed, there are also those fanciers who do not have such a strong response in either direction, but would agree with whatever the Standard described. Many members have imported and exported to countries that did not allow docking, making this an issue that finally came to a head with a petition to the ATCA Board. Without boring you with the details, the Board followed the AKC Procedure to appoint a Standard Revision Committee to analyze, craft, and propose new wording to the Tail Section of our Standard. The members were myself as Chair, Kerrie Bryan, Marilyn Harban, Caren Holtby, and Elaine Strid. Working diligently, we accomplished our goal, ending in full adoption of a revised Tail Section by the ATCA members and the AKC Board on April 7, 2021. The new Standard wording is as follows:
“Tail – Set on high and carried erect at a twelve to one o’ clock position, in balance with the overall dog, a good hand-hold when mature, docked leaving slightly less than one half, or undocked from straight to curved forward. The tail set is of primary importance.”
In addition, the wording “docked” or “undocked” was a modification to the General Appearance Section, and there was a change to the Dewclaws stating, “may be removed” rather than “removed.” This provided for more inclusivity for dogs that are imported or those to be exported. But in our breed, I am going to guess that not many judges have paid attention to that phrase in the previous standard.
Let’s parse some of these points out, to focus on what is important about the tail. First, set-on is high and carried at a twelve to one o’clock position. This point has always been a feature of the breed as the tail does not need to be carried fully upright, but reflecting that the tail, as part of the spinal column, should be set well, coming from the croup and as a continuation of the spine. It is easily discerned by observation whether or not the tail has been docked. Another key feature is balance; the tail, no matter the length, should be balanced, i.e., the Aussie is a medium-boned breed and the tail should reflect this—not too thick nor too thin, but pleasingly in balance. The Standard has always referred to a good “hand-hold” that some think refers only to the docked length. This is not entirely the case. The docked tail should be long enough for a good handhold, but this is true whether a tail is docked or undocked. The primary criteria for a hand-hold is that the tail has a strong base and is sufficiently muscled, and can be gripped when hunting, to pull the dog from their prey’s den quickly without injuring the tail. Too thin a tail and the tail could be broken by too vigorous handling. The wording reiterates that the tail set is most important, as it reveals whether the dog has proper hindquarter structure. Too low a tail set usually indicates some disproportion or structural flaw in the entire hind end. In judging the Australian Terrier, what judges should keep in mind is that our breeders are in the initial steps of creating the look of the undocked tail.
The Standard was carefully worded to be inclusive, yet it creates a word picture with the words “straight to curved forward” which allows for future progress in breeding.
The hope is that judges will continue to view the entire picture of the Australian Terrier and assess those aspects of the tail that assist in allowing the dog to perform its intended functions. This means, more than length, the judge should focus on tail set, strength at the base, and the flow into the hindquarter structure. We also hope that with this inclusive wording, breeders who choose not to dock will be encouraged to explore their vision on the shape of the tail and continue to improve not just the look of the tail, but the dog’s entire structure and type.
In summary, the wording allows for inclusion of the docked and undocked tail, and for future development as breeders continue to envision and improve the entire shape and proportion of the tail. Ideally, a high set, strong, and well-shaped tail provides a finishing touch to the picture of an Aussie.