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A Tale of Tails - by Hugo Ibanez-Hornung

A Tale of Tails - by Hugo Ibanez-Hornung

"What are little boys made of? Snip and snails, and puppy dog tails?", so goes the rhyme.

Seriously, one has to wonder – the American, UK as well as the Standard of many other countries indicate that the tail carriage of the Yorkshire Terrier “should be slightly higher than the level of the back”. Then, it begs to question, why in the UK are Yorkies being shown with the tails down? Why in America, Latin America and Continental Europe are they shown with the tail in an upright position or as it is referred a gay tail (12:00 o’clock)? And to make matters more convoluted some European countries are not permitted to dock tails. The FCI has already changed the Standard for undocked tails: “Plenty of hair, darker blue in colour than the rest of the body, especially at the end of tail. Carried a little higher than the level of the back. As straight as possible. Length to give a well balanced appearance.”
Most are not complying with the Standard. Some of us choose not to; others, have no choice.

“Since when have breeders, exhibitors or judges adhered to the Standard?” interjects Mark Burns, breeder/judge (UK) and adds: “Disregard for the Standard detail is an option when an improvement to a dog’s “look” can be achieved”. Well point taken. Bernice Unden, the veteran breeder, “Debonaire” (Sweden) echoes Mark, “A 12:00 o’clock tail set makes a Yorkie look more compact, better balanced and also shows spirit. It is easy to understand the disregard for the Standard just because of this”.

In many parameters of dog breeding, the breeder may use his own discretion and artistic eye to achieve the balance he prefers while keeping the type and balance prescribed in the Standard.
Let’s take another journey – a controversial one - no doubt. Let’s hear what some of our successful and experienced breeders have to say. Hopefully, they will help us solve the puzzle, if not, indeed a mystery.
And a mystery is. In the UK, as one stated before, Yorkies are shown with the tails pushed down. It is quite intriguing. No one seems to have a clue as to why or when this fad began.

“Yorkies in England have been depicted with both gay tails and above the level of the top line since 1873. Arthur Wardler and Mrs. Foster’s dogs have been shown with tails up or above the level” says Mrs. Joan Gordon “Wildweir”.
One is left to speculate. Perhaps, breeders of modern times thought that pushing the tails down would give the awareness, the perception of compactness – short back. “Perhaps, in the UK we adhered to the tail carriage to promote and enhance the compact square shape”, says Mark Burns.
In other words creating the same illusion as the gay tail.

The second and more controversial is that pushing down the tail helps to hide a low tail set and therefore, dissimulate the problem. “Maybe, because the croups are slightly rounder in England” concurs well known breeder/judge Markku Kipina “Majodian” (Finland), It has been speculated that English Yorkies have the propensity to have low tail sets; however, my partner Sergio who just attended Crufts this year (2006) informs me that the tail sets have improved tremendously. This is a good thing, since the UK won’t be able to dock tails anymore. “long tails can only look good if Yorkies have a strong croup – good tail set” says the veteran breeder/judge Sonia Pagani “Bonsai” (Italy).

Back to America, Lat. Am. And Continental Europe: “Tail carried a little higher than the level of the back”. Ancient history. “I don’t feel it will ever be reversed (gay tails), because this feature has become what breeders look for: in turn, judges have learned (USA, Canada & Lat. Am.) to look for this too” Doreen Hubbard “Yorkboro”.
The writer remembers, back in the 70’s, there was an Am. Yorkie special winning big, Ch. Trivar’s Sud Sipper. “Suds” most memorable characteristics were his super gay tail and perfect top line. I thought, then, that “Suds” was the precursor, the pioneer of gay tails. Not so, tells me the living Yorkie encyclopedia, Mrs. Gordon. “gay tails have been around forever with emphasis on level top lines it became more prevalent and with the number of Am. Yorkies being shown it became more visible”.

Coincidentally, a similar occurrence was taking place in the UK. “In the 70’s there was a bit of revolution in England caused by Ch. Blairsville Royal Seal (he was shown with gay tail). His appearance on the scene, change things.” Bernice informs us.
Obviously, breeders realized that gay tails not only expressed the true terrier character but also makes them look more compact.

Many breeders in America feel that the Standard should be modified. Here to echo that feeling is Doreen: “Tail carried off the spine at 45 degrees to 12:00 o’clock high. The revised standard should also make a distinction between tail set and tail carriage”.
Brenda Aloff, author of the wonderful book “Canine Body Language” states “If the tail is held erect and rigid, that is certainly dominant (Terrier character)”. Further, she adds that it is important to leave the tail half on “so communication abilities are significant because he still signals most of his intentions.”
This bring us to the length of the tail. Certainly tails have generally been lengthening in the past decade. One used to see tiny little buttons year ago. These are never seen anymore.
One can be sure that breeders were not thinking “communication”. They were thinking balance, symmetry. In other words, a balance between the neck and the tail. It is a feature that is bound to stay.
Perhaps this feature will help us all to sort of reach a compromise, a bridge of goodwill, if you like, between us who “dock” and our European friends of “no dock”.

By compromise one means that one should be tolerant. Yorkies coming from Europe with undocked tails should be judged for their merit and vice versa.
One finds disturbing that some European countries arbitrarily would not allowed Yorkies from countries which allow docked tails, to be shown in their countries. Why just not let the judge at the given show decide which is the Yorkie that fits best the Standard?

Finally, we get to the subject of undocked tails. The reality is that undocked tails are here to stay at least in European countries. “We are where we are and must look for the future” says Richard Haynes, breeder/judge “Eburacum” (UK). “We are used to long tails since 1989” reflects Bernice, referring to Scandinavia. More and more countries are following suit, including the UK. “Personal freedom is gradually being “curtaied” in many countries. It is not just the “bad guys” we have to look out for now as political correctness is supposed to be the product of the “good guys” “ asserts Richard.

So, when and why did docking tails came about? “From time immemorial the right to shorten a puppy’s tail to prevent damage or disease and later for aesthetic preference was given right” confirms Richard.
As Richard indicates – at the beginning – docking was done to prevent disease, how incredible! The writer remembers reading an article, stating that tails were originally docked in respond to an “old wives’ tale” to prevent rabies and worms. It was also docked for practical reasons – to avoid damage. “I recall (reading) that in the early days the shortened tail was critical to the handlers getting the terrier off the cornered prey” Doreen, reminiscing.

This is a fact that was considered with Terriers. Terriers running through the bushes or in their homes had the predisposition to have their tail caught and be damaged.
To confirm, here is well-known breeder Beate Ackermann, “Camparis” (Germany). “Being a few years with ‘long tails’, we now know the reason why the Standard asks for docked tails. It is not simply for a ‘better look’, it is also for sure to protect the Yorkie from any tail accidents, and there are lots now”.
The writer has heard some complaints in “sotto voce”, murmurs, as if breeders don’t want to admit this problem exists.
One has to admit that Yorkies are terriers. They are constantly active – playing or chasing birds, squirrels or a cat (mine chase my peacocks in the back yard). These are obviously opportunities to put them in harms way. One also has to consider that Yorkie tails are not thick, some seem to be more fragile than others. Another point to consider is that Yorkies have silky coats, the coat offers no protection and a final one, Yorkies are born with different lengths of tails, the longest are the more prone to have accidents.

Talking about protection, one must interject an interesting note here. As you know Germany is one country that does not allowed Yorkies be shown with docked tails even if they come from countries in which this practice is allowed. Well, the “German Animal Protection Law” allows dogs that are out hunting, the alternative to have their tails docked for protection. Does one smell here a double standard or what?

Let’s back-pedal a bit. So, when did all this salsa about undocked tails begin? Talking about America and the UK, it all began one dreary day in the UK in 1989 when Dr. John Bower became president of the British Veterinary Association (JAVMA) and decide it would be a good idea to abolish cropped ears and docked tails. His position was crucial in getting in motion this proposal.
On the other side of the Atlantic almost simultaneously the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) had recommended to the American Kennel Club and the Appropriated Breed Association that action be taken to delete from the standards mention of cropped ears and docked tails that are born after a specific date.
Needless to say Dr. Brown found an ear. In America the AVMA never had a response from the Appropriated Breed Association and neither from AKC.
Dr. H. Powell Anderson from sunny Tampa, FL, owner of small animals practice was the maverick to go against the AVMA stance.
Due to their interest and their different views, JAVMA (UK) contacted Drs. Bower and Anderson and asked to voice their different views on cosmetic surgery.
Briefly, these are their opinions: Dr. Bower feels that dogs “use their tails for communication and a little for balance.” But, Dr. Bower’s main reason “I feel docking should be stopped because there is absolutely no benefit to the animal to have his tail removed.” He continues “the operation also hurts a little bit, but the pain is transient, not serious, and it isn’t the abolition of pain that makes me feel so strongly against it. It is really the fact that you are removing a perfectly normal part of the dog’s anatomy that it was intended to have.”
Dr. Anderson’s rebuttal: “Cosmetic surgery is very definitely a part or should be a part of veterinarian’s repertoire.” And adds “people are becoming more and more concerned about aesthetics. People are having more eyes tucks, face-lifts and other kinds of cosmetic surgery. They are concerned about similar things in their animals.” He goes on “Tail docking is usually done when puppies are born – I wonder if that would compare to make babies being circumcised”. Dr. Anderson concludes “I was particularly shocked to find that the AVMA would take stance against cosmetic surgery, that would be like the American Dental Association taking a stance against braces on teeth. I can’t imagine anything being as far out line”.

So here we are. It is what it is. In the real world one has to deal with realities, and the reality is that we have to put up with docked and undocked tails.
Again, soft-pedaling back to undocked tails. As it was mentioned before the FCI has already changed the Standard to regulate undocked tails. Here it is again “Plenty of hair, darker in blue colour that the rest of the body, especially at the end of the tail. Carried a little higher than the level of the back. As straight as possible. Length to give a well balanced appearance.”
Frankly, the writer does not see much difference than before. Breed Standards are like the Bible. Everyone interprets the same printed word a bit differently and sometimes very emotionally.

“Carried little higher than the level of the back” Here we are again, docked – undocked, upright position, 12:00 o’clock is here to stay. The problem one foresees is that gay tails are part of the dog’s temperament and part of a technique of how to dock tails, so tails will be gay; obviously with undocked tails one has no choice. Undocked tails won’t be able to control this aspect, unless the tail is naturally gay.

“As straight as possible”, does it mean that the tail should look like a flag pole? The reality is that one sees undocked tails being carried like a Shih Tzu or a Maltese, some like a Cavalier and even some like a Beagle or an Afghan. The breeder has no control. Some tails appear to be very thin with not much hair, others are thick with density of hair almost like a plume. And finally the length of the tails are some short (good thing), others medium and some long.
It seems it would be very difficult to have a Standard with so many variables. One has to assume that ultimately it will be up to the judge to determine which dog personifies the Standard best.

Some one said “there is more to a dog then the tail”. Of course, there is. No more to say that color and texture makes a Yorkie. One can not forget character, silhouette (tail), head and expression, movement and color and texture. All these elements constitute type and all are equally valuable.
A dog is the complex combination of conformation, compensation and cooperation to some degree or another.

Coda: After I have written this article, I found interesting information regarding short tails that our friends in Europe might find interesting and perhaps useful.
Three years ago The American Kennel Club (AKC) approved a new breed: The Toy Fox Terrier, an American breed. The TFC has been a breed for years before its approval.
I happen to own one. Her name is "Lola"; although, sometimes I feel she should be called "Lolita" (no pun intended). Seriously, breeders of the TFT have found that breeding short tail to short tail came up with "NB", natural Bob. "Bob", refers to naturally smaller length tails. (Cats with no tails are referred to as Bob tails); however, breeders found out that if you over do it, one will have spine problems.
By the way, when one reads a TFT pedigree, there is BT besides the dog.

This article was edited for Yorky Club, and published on YC Magazine #5 - May 2006

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