The Dog that Wore a Phony Tail

March 28 /08

Mama's climbing on her soap box for this one.
Go Mama!

The article below appeared in the Montreal Gazette a couple of days ago. I thought it was relevant for those of you who own dogs with docked tails, like I do, and to those who are interested in the docking debate.

Frankly, I'm wondering how stuff like this gets published. This experiment is totally misleading and gives docked breeds a really bad wrap.

Docking tail may make dog aggressive: study
Giving pooch the chop stunts communication

Dock your dog's tail, and you run the risk of making it more aggressive. So say two University of Victoria scientists after observing how 492 real-life dogs reacted to a robotic dog with and without a docked tail.
UVic biologist Tom Reimchen and graduate student Steve Leaver wanted to find out what effect cutting off a dog's tail might have on its behaviour and the way other dogs behave around it. They discovered dogs will approach a dog with a docked tail more cautiously than they will a dog with a complete tail. And that, says Reimchen, could make the dog with a docked tail more aggressive.

"Think of it this way," he says. "What type of teenager would you get if everyone approached him saying, 'I don't trust you'? What type of personality would emerge from that? It could be the same in dogs."

Reimchen hypothesized that if a dog lacks a tail, arguably the most important communication tool it has when it comes to relating to other dogs, its behaviour could be negatively affected.

To test that hypothesis, Leaver outfitted a toy dog with a motor in its hind quarters that would wag - or not - one of two artificial tails, one long, one short. Then Leaver took the robo-dog, which resembled a black lab, to a number of off-leash parks in the Victoria area to observe how real dogs reacted to it.

"When the long tail was wagging, then other dogs would approach (the robo-dog)... But when the tail was still and upright, they were less likely to approach."
A dog that lacks the ability to express its intentions with its tail may have to resort to other methods, says Leaver, such as growling, lunging or even biting. Or a dog that is always treated as if it were something to beware of, says Reimchen, may become a dog to beware of.

The robo-dog used in this ridiculous experiment

These biologists claim that docking dogs' tails may make them aggressive because they are unable to communicate their intentions to other dogs.

This is nonsense.

Tail-wagging isn't the only way dogs communicate with one another. And even if it were, this experiment still doesn't prove a thing.

I owned three Cocker Spaniels before getting Chef, all with docked tails, and I never saw another dog hesitate to play with them. And each one grew up to be a happy, sociable, loveable adult. And I know of many other docked dogs who have grown up to be well-adjusted.

Chef is docked and cropped and most of the dogs he encounters are totally at ease with him. And he with them. There are only two dogs he doesn't get along with in our neighbourhood. One of them is walked with a muzzle on because he's a biter. And the other one is an upstart with most other dogs and should be muzzled. ( Both have intact tails . ) So Chef, so far, seems just as adept at signalling his social messages as any average dog.

I am not a proponant of docking and cropping and would never advocate it for cosmetic purposes. For me, it's a matter of freedom of choice. But tail-docking dates back to the time of the Romans, and if there was a tendency for all the dogs born since then who got docked to be mean and fierce, we'd certainly have a lot of nasty dogs in the world. And we know that's not the case.

Among the 57 breeds of domestic dogs that are routinely docked these days, or one third of all recognized breeds, there are very few who are considered vicious. The Boxer, for instance is known to be an ideal family dog and is popular for its patience and gentleness with children. In all the reams of material I've read about Boxers, I've never come across any claims that only undocked Boxers are friendly. I'm sure the same thing applies to all the other docked breeds.

The scientists who conducted this experiment used a robotic dog to try and prove their theory. Do they actually think they fooled the dogs into thinking it was real? It didn't move, act, sound or smell like a dog. I honestly don't even think it really looks that much like a dog either. When they attached a long,wagging tail to it, the dogs apparently approached it more confidently than they did when it had a short tail or a tail that didn't wag. I would guess that was just curiosity, and they were simply investigating a stuffed creature with a wiggly rear end, as they would a toy with a moving part. I am not convinced that the dogs' reactions had anything at all to do with whether or not they saw the robo-dog as a friendly, approachable animal.

I think these biologists overestimated the importance of tail-wagging as a means of communication between dogs. Dogs also rely on scent, posture, facial expression, ear position, hackles, and vocalization when exchanging social cues. Besides, tail wagging habits vary among breeds, and among individual dogs within breeds. It often depends on genetics and personality. Tightly coiled tails, for instance, have less mobility than longer, more flexible ones. According to everything I've ever read, some dogs are just more articulate with their tail messaging than others. I've seen friendly dogs wag their tails the same way that others have wagged theirs right up until, and during, a vicious attack - set high with full-tail movement. So it's not that simple.

The experiment was an insult to canine intelligence, as these men tried to pass off a stuffed animal as a real dog. Did the robot spread pheromones to send out social data to the other dogs when it's tail was wagged? Did it assume the necessary posture to relay its information? Were its ears up or down? What sound did it make? .... If the study involved a real dog as the model instead of remote-controlled toy, I'd take a second look.

I'm not saying that docking doesn't adversly affect some dogs. It may be true for dogs who are suseptible to aggression. But this experiment seems incomplete and I don't believe the results. I hope that people who have read this article, which was published all over Canada and maybe beyond, have an open mind and realize that there are a lot of variables involved when it comes to interpreting the complex social cues of pack animals. These men relied too heavily on one type of communication. The absence of all the other types makes their findings insignificant.


Lola Smiles said...

great points made. that's a silly article. why didn't they use 'real dogs'. makes no sense.

luv ya,
Lola Smiles

Moco said...

I think they have to much time on their hands. The old guy looks a little demented.
Foley and Dawson both have docked tails. They came to us that way. They are more odd than aggressive.

Peanut said...

the question is why don't those guys have something else a little more important to spend their time on?

Butchy & Snickers said...

This person obviously wastes time on stupid things. How ridiculous, tail length has nothing to do with aggression. Too bad the article even got published. He should have known that real dogs know when they are looking at a fake dog, duh, hehehehe. Hope you have a great weekend!
Luv & Wirey Hugs!
Butchy & Snickers with docked tails, hehehehe.

Gus and Louie said...

We were over at Lola's blog so we thought we would jump over for a peek. You are very handsome.. Louie is at the same stage you are. Tearing up TP and rugs. Long legged goofy looking pup..
Have a great day..

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus and Louie

Turbo the Sibe said...

Some humans are so stupid!

Gus and Louie said...

Yepper some people believe everything they read. Maybe they should read more than one article before they form and opinion...

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus and Louie

happy said...

Looks like they certainly had a lot of time on their hands. Just dropping in to say hi, Chef! Can you really cook?

boxercab said...

I agree with Turbo! That was one of the dumbest articles ever! It was obvious to me that it came from people against tail docking. I know of two boxers that had to get their tails amputated as adults because of medical reasons - what is to be said those... they will be aggressive too? ugh!

G Man said...

This reminds me of when they did a HUGE study in the US on WOMEN'S health and all the participants were men....

ps: Chef, my crazy ma has 3 dog blogs but mine is the really cool one!


nativetxan said...

Oh JEEEZZ. Give me a break. That is such a CROCK!!! BS!!!! Ok, can ya tell I think their "study" is stoopid?? Not only does it not make dogs aggressive, but then they say that dogs who are not docked are leary of dogs that are??? Somebody was smokin somethin funny methinks!! Bah

Bella the Boxer said...

Those studies are just docking stupid! Your Mama and my Mama both like their soapboxes, don't they? But I'm glad that they're willing to speak up (and my Mama's thrilled that yours doesn't care for Oprah, either. She thought she was the only one).

xoxo - Bella