|Ch Ananás de Aradik|
Ever since I have begun breeding the Barbado da Terceira (Terceira Cattle Dog), I have been criticized by several breeders in Portugal for not docking nor cropping the dogs I bred.
Why don’t I do it? Well, the answer can be given in a single sentence or be the reason for a long post.
The reader’s digest version
I do not dock nor crop the Barbado da Terceira because I believe the future of any breed shall necessarily go through with it being known in its natural state, so I prefer to start working from the beginning to get people used to this look.
The several reasons in detail
1. To avoid repeating the pastI started following the dog world, as an outsider, in the 1990s – a time without the current ease of spreading ideas through the internet. However, even then I remember seeing people from the Boxer, Doberman, Spaniel, etc. fancy discussing the prohibition of docking and cropping (something they still do today!), and their concern as these traits had never been selected, so who knew what they could get.
I also remember the comments, common even today in some breeds, that a dog left entire wouldn’t even look like its breeds, as its “natural” looks was changed.
But I ask, if what separates one breed from another are mere cosmetic traits that require the removal of body parts, does that breed have a reason for existing as an independent entity?
Therefore I chose to keep the dogs I breed entire - so people can get used to seeing the natural Barbado da Terceira, and will not find it strange later on and realize that even with tail and ears the Barbado da Terceira looks different from similar breeds.
The results my dogs have been achieving show well that at least they look enough like Barbados da Terceira to get good results and obtain titles at dog shows.
2. Throughout the rest of Europe…Although in Portugal it is still common to see docked and cropped dogs at different sports events (including conformation dog shows), in an increasing number of European countries these dogs are being denied access to these events. However, regardless the breed we’re thinking of, if we wish to remain competitive at a European level, we need to be able to compete on their field, so we need to be prepared to abide to their rules. This implies stopping docking and cropping.
3. The breed standardThis is what the Barbado da Terceira breed standard says about the tail:
“Medium to low set. At rest hangs and curves at the inferior tip. Anurous is admissible.”As you can see, it is a very generic description and does not mention, as happens in other breeds, details such as the tail’s relative length (reaching the hock, higher or lower than it) nor its carriage when in motion, for example.
The Barbado da Terceira provisional standard was written at a time when virtually all dogs were docked at birth. As are most dogs even today, as this is the culturally preferred presentation. Indeed, the description of the tail at rest is probably based on the tails of similar breeds, as currently breed standards cannot explicitly mention that surgically altered animals are preferred.
Yet, when the Barbado da Terceira’s final standard is written, it will certainly be necessary to include more details about the tail and its carriage. Therefore, my choice not to dock the dogs I breed was (also) made as a way to ensure the existence of a population showing the natural tail and its variations regarding carriage and length, so an informed decision can be made when the final standard is written.
As for cropping, my decision not to do it was based on the same principle as for not docking.
The Barbado da Terceira breed standard, written at a time when most dogs had their ears cropped, says the ears are
“medium to high set, triangular, medium sized. Hanging, folded and hairy. They are very mobile and when attentive raise at the base and fold forward.”Nowadays dogs with natural ears are becoming more common, both at the mainland and at Terceira Island, so I hope this sample will allow for a correct assessment of the existing variation regarding ear set and carriage, so the standard can be the best possible representation of the existing population.
|Left to right: Multi-Ch Figo, Multi-Ch Sheila, Ch Adágio|
4. WelfareWhen I made the decision of not docking I thought, as most breeders “know”, that the tails were cut off during the first few days of life because at birth the puppies’ sensorial system is quite undeveloped, so their ability to feel pain is decreased – therefore docking should be a relatively painless procedure, which is even done without anesthetics.
However, when researching for an article I was preparing, I came to learn that actually it’s the exact opposite. At birth the puppies’ neurons’ dendrites aren’t yet completely involved by myelin (i.e., their protective “shaft” isn’t yet completely developed). This is the reason why we used to think pain-feeling ability wasn’t yet developed. However, today we know that exactly for this reason, what really happens is that there is no impulse inhibition, so pain is actually felt even more intensely! And in puppies younger than a few months of age it isn’t even safe to use anesthetics in surgical procedures!
5. BehaviorThe tail is an important element in dog-to-dog and dog-to-people communication. It helps to reveal the dog’s state of mind, its intentions, etc.
Several studies have suggested dogs with short tails tend to be involved in more aggressive confrontations with other dogs, possibly as the result of communication problems. A study published in 2008, the first under controlled conditions, using a robotic model in which only the length and movement of the tail varied (long wagging, long still, short wagging, short still), has revealed differences in the way dogs approached the model, suggesting that tail does indeed influence canine behavior.
Therefore, we can infer that the absence of a tail will put the animal at a disadvantage regarding tailed dogs, and potentially increase the probability of aggressive confrontation.
6. FunctionThe tail works as a “counter-weight” in situations requiring agility (jumping, turning while running, etc.).
I have always been amazed with how a tail can be docked in a herding dog! These dogs’ work often requires turning, breaking and turning again at relatively high speed, so the tail will necessarily help.
This does not mean that a tailless dog will not be able to work properly. After all the dog’s “heart”, its “will”, ends up being the most important element in a dog’s work. Quite simply, the job would possibly be easier with a long tail helping out.
7. HealthIn some breeds, docking tails is justified with the argument that it is done to prevent it from being injured in the brush or when banging on objects. As in the Barbado da Terceira I have never heard health-related arguments regarding docking, I will refrain from commenting them here and now.
As for ear cropping, however, the situation is different. In almost all cropped breeds it is common to call upon the argument that dogs with hanging ears are more prone to otitis.
There are few studies comparing the occurrence of otitis in dogs with hanging and prick ears. Indeed there seems to be a slightly larger incidence of otitis in the former case, but usually the studies either don’t specify the type of hanging ears (there is a lot of diversity) or are based in Cocker Spaniel data – whom, with heavy, long, very handing ears, are very different from the Barbado da Terceira, whose ears are much shorter and mobile, allowing for a better aeration of the ear cannal.
Actually, it is interesting to note that all water dogs and retrievers (breeds which, due to their job, would a priori be more prone to otitis) have hanging ears. If the incidence of ear problems was serious, certainly prick ears would have been selected by now…
My Barbado da Terceira
Yes, unlike what many people think, I indeed love seeing a docked cropped Barbado da Terceira! Actually, and against my principles, my first Barbado, Ch Adágio (out of the same lines as Xico), was cropped after I had him.
Not only docking and cropping is a tradition in the breed’s island of origin, its looks become quite different and appealing.
But should we cling to the past in the name of “tradition”?
The ears were also traditionally cropped, and nowadays we see more and more dogs, even on their native island, with entire ears. Stopping docking is just the next logical (and in my opinion unavoidable) step.
Disadvantages in keeping the dogs entire
|Ch Cortiça de Aradik|
A cropped dog immediately seems to have a wider head, an advantage in a dog meant to be compact and robust.
A dog with a tail will immediately seem longer, not only when moving (with the tail in line with the body), but also when it is standing, due to its hair’s volume. If in addition the dog has white socks (as I personally like), then it will seem even longer, as the illusion of the color difference “breaks” the dog’s height. Unless the judge is able to bypass the optical illusions, the dog will often be penalized.
So… are there disadvantages I showing undocked dogs at shows nowadays (as uncropped dogs are fortunately increasing)? Yes there are! But you need to start working and investing today thinking about tomorrow!
Is it common to hear that a dog needs to be docked (and cropped) to be a Barbado da Terceira? Yes! However, that is not what justifies belonging to a breed, or even what defines the dog’s quality. There are good and bad docked and cropped dogs, there are good and bad undocked and uncropped dogs.
I believe the “culture gap” of the different looks of the natural dog will be quite lessened if, from the beginning, people get used to seeing the two “versions” of the breed and begin “training” their eye for what (I believe) will be the future.
This has been my guideline at Aradik Kennel!
P.S. – Obviously, the fact that I chose to keep the dogs I breed entire doesn’t mean other breeders have to, as some seem to fear based on the intensity of their protests. Everyone should act based on their conscience and principles, not based on what others do! There’s a time and a place to evaluate the pros and cons of the decisions made.
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