Giving pooch the chop stunts communication
"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."
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.