A common question I often see asked in online forums, is whether or not French bulldogs are born with long tails which are then cut off and docked for “cosmetic” reasons. This is an awful thing to happen to any dog, and I’m happy to tell you that’s it’s not the case with this breed:
No, French bulldog’s tails are not docked or cut off. They are born without long tails, instead having small, stumpy tails. Some of are screw shaped, some with little curves, and others very short and straight. The stumpy tail is a by-product of the early days of breeding.
Do French bulldogs have tails at all?
Yes, they do, but they have been bred to produce cute, short, and stumpy little tails, which most of the time means their butt is on show.
There tends to be three different types of Frenchie tail:
- Straight down and stumpy
- Screwed and stumpy (never curly though)
- Thick root with a very fine tip
Here is a photo of the Frenchie rear end, where you can see very clearly what a classic tail looks like in the modern day.
Are French bulldogs born with tails?
Or are French bulldogs born without tails?
They are born with tails, albeit not a long tail like most breeds of dog have. Here is a photo of a newborn little of Frenchie puppies where you can see what their tails look like just after birth.
Fact: They aren’t born with long tails!
Does their tail cause health problems?
Unfortunately, it can. I was only aware of this whilst researching for this article.
According to veterinary journals I read online, due to the way in which the breed’s tail has been developed in modern times, the bones sometimes won’t align correctly in their spine.
In some cases, it can mean deformity and instability in the spinal column, and that could lead to spinal and nerve damage – and pain!
This genetic condition will occur in some Frenchies and is a direct consequence of breeders trying to make the screw type tail the preferred look.
French Bulldog straight tail initiative
Interestingly, and I think this is a great move, in 2010 a scheme was launched in the UK by the national Kennel Club to move away from the screw, cork-screw or tight tail to a straighter tail.
Because the breeding that has led to this appearance is actually an in-bred spinal defect. Tails are designed to stabilise the vertebrae and help to support a dog’s rear muscle groups. Without them dogs can suffer with ailments such as dilation of the rectum, incontinence, and hernias.
If we can move towards having French Bulldog’s with straight tails, it will lead to health improvements in the breed. It will take time, but it would lead to obvious benefits.
This initiative to move away from the tails we see in today’s Frenchie population is being pushed through not just in the UK, but also other countries in Europe.
Their aim is to get the breed back to having the short-drop tail which is originally had, as you can see in this image of a French bulldog taken in 1890.
The new UK breed standard for Frenchies now reads:
“Tail Undocked, [delete ‘very’] short, set low, thick at root, tapering quickly towards tip, preferably [delete ‘either’] straight, [delete ‘or kinked’] and long enough to cover anus. Never curling over back nor carried gaily.”
America is still some steps behind this initiative, but I would hope it catches up some time soon.
Why do French bulldogs have short tails?
Great question, and as you saw from that historical photo higher up the page, Frenchies used to have longer tails than the ones we see today.
So why did they become shorter, looking like that had been docked or cut off?
I believe it’s because they were originally used for ratting. By selective breeding, it would have been possible to get shorter tails over time which could have offered:
- Given them increased speed (watch the video where we tracked how fast our Frenchie was with radar and GPS!)
- Helped to prevent rat bites to the tail
Over time, as French bulldogs have moved away from being working dogs, it has become part of their cosmetic appeal, and thus, selective breeding has let them to be shorter and shorter tails.
Interestingly, our dog Claude still has a lot of this rat catching DNA in him.
There’s an abandoned house on one of our walking trails in the local forest which has a rat issue. He goes absolutely crazy when we go anywhere near it, and if he sees a rat, we don’t see him for dust.
Our personal experience with Claude
We have first-hand experience of the docked tail misconception ourselves.
When we were out on a walk once, a complete stranger asked us whether Claude’s tail had been docked.
My wife and I were horrified to think that someone believed we had paid for our beloved dog to have his tail removed.
I had to explain to this concerned (and almost angry) member of the public that “no, you do not crop Frenchie’s tails off” and that we had certainly not “cut our dog’s tail off”.
We then explained to them that French bulldogs are born with tails, but very short and stumpy ones. This is due to the way in which they have been bred down the years with other short-tailed dogs such as pugs and terriers.
It’s a naturally occurring physical feature – as far as human-designed breeding can be of course.
Are French bulldogs tails cut off at all?
OK, so here’s the thing.
As we’ve established, Frenchie tails are not docked and are not cut off. However, there are reports that some breeders or people who like to show their dogs, have occasionally resorted to a little “customisation”.
And that’s despite the dog already being born with a short and stumpy tail.
Apparently for those that show their dogs, appearance is everything, and they have been known to cut the tail down either further, or “tidy” it up from its natural, cute appearance.
Weird I know.
It’s quite easy to figure out if this has happened though, and here’s a check you can do with any dog to tell if the tail is docked.
You simply feel the tip of the dog’s tail. If the last tail bone is not pointy, this is a strong indication that part of the tail has been cut off and removed.
Can French bulldogs wag their tails?
French Bulldogs cannot wag their tails. Some will manage to move their stumpy tail a little, but in the main, a wagging bottom is a sign that a Frenchie is happy as their tails are too short to actually wag.
Our personal experience
If you know anything about dogs, you will know that a wagging tail is a sign that the dog is happy.
Our dog Claude can’t wag his tail. It’s just way too short.
There are some Frenchie’s whose stumpy tails will move a little, but for ours I have never seen him do that!
So how do we know if Claude is happy or not?
Well our little man is a complete clown and he has lots of other ways in which to show us how he is feeling. Sometimes that will be by his eyes, but most of the time just the way in which he is jumping around, cuddling into us, and being his happy little character.
What he lacks for in a tail he more than makes up for in his behaviour.
Why are dog’s tails cut off and docked anyway?
According to a little research I did, tail docking isn’t a new thing and was actually practiced in Ancient Rome. Apparently, shepherds used to do to prevent rabies. I have no idea how that would prevent rabies, so if anyone can tell me I would love to hear it!
Later in history, there was a trend to remove the tail tips from hunting dogs on order to prevent them from being injured.
Again, I don’t truly understand how cutting off a dog’s tail could stop them being injured, but research from 2010 suggests that 13.5% of working dogs sustain one tail injury each year.
You would assume that the less tail the dog has, the less inclined they would be to pick up an injury. It still seems a barbaric practice though.
Fast forward to the modern day, and many people will dock their dog’s tail for either cosmetic (which I believe shop be stopped) or working reasons (I understand this a little bit more, but even so).
Docking the tail is either done in a homemade fashion where the owner wraps a rubber band around it to cut off the flow of blood. The tail will then drop off after a few days.
It can also be done by a vet, which you would think would be way safer, and would lead to less chance of infection.
However, as far as I can gather, neither procedures use anaesthetic or stitches.
Does it hurt a dog to have its tail cut off?
Advocates of tail docking believe that a puppy’s nervous system is not developed enough yet to let them feel pain.
I’m not entirely convinced by that argument, and there have been studies that show that whilst the dog’s pain isn’t quantifiable, it will certainly still cause discomfort.
I will leave the last word on this to the RSPCA of Australia, the animal welfare charity.
They state the following (view source):
“The basic nervous system of a dog is fully developed at birth. Evidence indicates that puppies have similar sensitivity to pain as adult dogs. Docking a puppy’s tail involves cutting through muscles, tendons, up to seven pairs of highly sensitive nerves and severing bone and cartilage connections. Puppies give repeated intense shrieking vocalisations the moment the tail is cut off and during stitching of the wound, indicating that they experience substantial pain. Inflammation and damage to the tissues also cause ongoing pain while the wound heals. There is also the risk of infection or other complications associated with this unnecessary surgery.”
And then go onto write:
“Tail docking can also cause unnecessary and avoidable long-term chronic pain and distress to the dog. For example, when a chronic neuroma forms at the amputation site. Neuromas are often very painful.”
The laws on tail docking
We live in the UK, and in our country the docking of any dog’s tail is completely illegal except for some working breeds. I believe that this law was introduced in 2007, and it should have been a lot sooner in my view, as it’s a cruel and unnecessary practice.
I also looked up the law in the United States to see what the regulations were, and I am happy to say that tail docking is also prohibited for cosmetic purposes.
Below you can see a graphic that I found on Wikipedia that the legal status of dog tail docking by country.
As a Frenchie owner, it was only after we got Claude that we were made aware of the misunderstandings over their tail appearance.
Having researched for this article, I also now know that the shorter tails they are being bred in modern times, are in fact a spinal deformity, and can lead to health issues – you can see the most common French Bulldog health problems in this list.
We love our dog, and thankfully he is very healthy with no concerns and we hope he continues to be so.
But I am fully behind the new initiatives to bring the longer tail back, as for the future generations of the breed, it has to be done.
But in terms of the initial focus of this article, and before I became aware of the historical background, I hope it’s helped you in your quest for more information.
So, the next time someone asks, “do French bulldogs have tails”, I hope this gives you the facts and knowledge on what to say. It should also help you to counter any accusations of docking as we had when we took our dog for a walk that time.
Handy Hint: You might also like my explanation on whether Frenchies have their ears docked.