Each dog has a different tail for a reason

By Marc Marone
Tribune Media Services

Q: My question is one of tails! We have three dogs -- a Boston terrier, a mini poodle and a golden retriever. The Boston has a teeny-weeny tail, the Poodle has a tail that was obviously cut off and the Golden has a big long tail. All three dogs seem happy with the way things are but we were wondering why there seems to be such a difference in the tail that a particular dog has? -- Fran Weller, Chicago, IL

A: Well, the dog is probably the most domesticated animal on earth and the definition of a domesticated animal is one whose genes are controlled by man. In other words, when a spontaneous mutation occurs in a group of animals being bred by man in a controlled environment, then we do our best to breed more offspring from that animal that was born with the mutation in hopes that it will pass the characteristic to the next generation.

So the Boston terrier has a little short tail that is pretty much useless, however when a dog was born with such a tail long ago, the human that saw it thought it was a desirable trait for whatever reason. Then they did their best to be sure that dog had puppies that also had the little bob tail. Thus the modern Boston terrier and bulldogs all have that particular type of tail.

The short tail of your poodle is not so simple. Dogs like poodles, terriers, cocker spaniels, boxers, Dobermans and many others are subjected to having their tails amputated or "docked" soon after they are born. They are made to a length that has been determined by a breed club that controls the standard that dogs of that particular breed are compared to.

The reason for this is because the job the dog was bred to do is enhanced by the dog having a shorter tail than nature intended. Although that argument does not hold much water as for every breed of dog that has a docked tail there is another breed with a natural tail that does the same kind of job.

So basically it is the same situation as the short tail of the Boston terrier -- for whatever reason long ago a dog breeder thought the particular dog they had looked better to them with a docked tail, and since nature did not cooperate then the breeder took matters into their own hand with a scalpel.

I myself do not judge this situation as long as the docking is done by a vet. Most dogs really do not seem to care in the end, but there are those that do, and as a result dogs in the European Union are not docked no matter what the breed. So they look very different from what we in the USA think when we visualize a particular breed of dog.

Obviously the creators of the golden retriever determined that their particular breed was just fine with the tail the way it was and that is why they look the way they look today. There are many other different types of tails that breeds of dogs have, such as the tightly curled tail of the pug or the long whip tail of the greyhound, but no tail type determines if any one dog will be a better pet than the other.

When you compare all these different tail variations with the natural tail of the dog's ancestor, the wolf, then you can really appreciate how the creation of the dog by early humans is indeed the eighth Wonder of the World.

Q: Is it helpful to occasionally feed the backyard gray squirrels when the ground is frozen and inaccessible in winter? I thought it would be difficult for them to retrieve their buried storage of nuts. Do squirrels remember where they have hidden all of their food supply? Thank you very much. -- Kim Hustik Nesconset, New York

A: When you are a little animal living outside in 20-degree temperatures then any help is appreciated and squirrels are no exception. They are one of my favorite animals to observe and I feed them whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Although we admire the idea of an animal hiding food to take advantage of at a later date, the squirrels that are hiding nuts and acorns in the nice weather have no idea they are doing it to help them through the winter. Squirrels that are born in May have no idea that the winter will be upon them six months later.

Although squirrels are smart and do communicate with each other, I doubt they have enough folds in their brains to allow the older squirrels to impart the experience of living through winter to the younger ones.

It is instinct that tells them to bury nuts, the same instinct that has a dog go through all the motions of burying a bone or toy between the cushions of a couch. If there is an abundance of food available, such as more than they can eat at a particular moment in time, then the squirrels will bury the extra nuts here and there. And then later on, they will find it through chance and their keen sense of smell. Of course they do not recover all their nuts and this is how the forest helps to regrow via the ones they do not find by springtime.

(Marc Morrone has kept almost every kind of animal as a pet for the last half-century and he is happy to share his knowledge with others. Although he cannot answer every question, he will publish many of those that have a general interest. You can contact him at petxperts2@aol.com; please include your name, city and state.)