An illustration of the first docking legend, from the 1920s.
A naturally tailless Schipperke.
The first Schipperke to make her way to England was Flo, and she was a bob tail. More Schipperkes made their way to England over the next few years, gaining popularity as the breed was born without a tail. A few were sold to the English by the Belgian fanciers, but many others by dog brokers, and they became so popular that Belgian brokers began to breed them to “pay their rent”. In England they became show dogs and eventually were bred; and, to their owner’s surprise, most of the puppies had their tails! Some of these early lit- ters were even killed, as the breeders thought they were not “real Schipper- kes”. One English breeder sought the records of the early Schipperke litters and stated that out of 323 puppies, 16 were born tailless, 120 with stumps, and 187 with full tails. In Belgium, the fanciers were real- izing more and more that this was not a trait that could be bred true, and in 1889 the first “docking legend” appeared: two cobblers got into a fight over their dogs, and in a fit of rage, one cut the tail off of the other’s dog, and it was so sharp looking, docking became a fashion. This theory was championed by the president of the Belgium Club. 1889 was also the year when Schipper- kes reached their height as a fashion- able dog, being sold in record numbers to England (the Belgian fanciers were unconcerned with this, stating that “the traffickers have rendered us the service of cleaning the streets”). Meanwhile, in England, the dogs were stolen by the crews of outgoing American vessels, so they could be sold in New York! In New York a poem was published in the little dog’s honor, which said in part, “We trust, O skipper! you may jog/Along with joy divine/And feel you’re fashion’s chosen dog/ For 1889.” While the idea of the Schipperke being a naturally tailless breed of dog began to crumble, it came to a crashing halt beginning in 1891, when Belgium’s premier vet, Prof. Reul, wrote an article
which appeared both in Belgium’s dog magazine and in a veterinary journal. He stated that the Schipperke as an “anury” (tailless) breed was a legend which had to go. Most Schipperkes were tail- less for the same reason the fox-terrier was - they are docked! While he con- ceded that there was the rare Schip- perke born without a tail, he also stated that to compliment his owner on the clever amputation of the tail would be an insult; and that he had seen written guarantees of dogs being born without a tail that he himself recalled docking! This article had long reaching repercus- sions, with articles published years later stating “The Schipperke has not been a great success. He took well at first, and the fact that he was born without a tail was all in his favor. Then came the dis- tressing rumor that this was not a fact but a fiction, that in truth he has no tail for the same reason that a fox-terrier has a short one, and this rumor has robbed him of much of his distinction.” Yet as time went on, the Schipperke kept a core of fanciers that preserved the breed. Docking legends arose, as well as theories of why they might be born tailless. The idea that repeated docking eventually resulted in them being born without a tail was fairly popular. Oth- ers thought perhaps he wore his tail off by rubbing it on the boats! Others concluded that by wagging his tail, the Schipperke would knock himself off the boat, or worse, he would capsize the boat, and thus it was docked! Yet throughout their history, breed descrip- tions will often include that they (or some of them) are born without a tail... and this, of course, is true. The Schipperke’s bob tail comes from the T-Box mutation, which is dominant. This means a bob tail parent will throw 50% bob tails, and two full tails will not throw a bob tail. It can- not be bred true for two reasons: first, the bob tails vary in length from almost full to appearing to be tailless. Second, you should never breed two bob tails
together, as any puppy which inherits two copies of the gene will die in utero or shortly after birth. Even if you did, each parent would carry a normal gene, so 25% of your puppies could have full tails. So while bob tails and even natu- rally tailless dogs have always been a part of the Schipperke breed, it is very clear that full tails have also always been a part of the breed. These days in Belgium, docking is illegal, so the FCI standard has been changed to include a description of the tail. While they pre- fer a strong connection to the Belgian Sheepdog and their low carried tail, they acknowledge that most Schipper- kes today have a tail which curls over their back. Bob tails are uncommon in Belgium, but they can be shown there. In Finland, the bob tails are very pop- ular, though it is illegal to breed them together. Many people have asked what sort of tail is a Schipperke supposed to have if undocked? Well, we have bred them without regard to the tail for 100 years... so there isn’t one. One Schip- perke breeder judge has stated that if you hold your thumb up before your eyes and cover the tail, you can easily judge what the dog would look like if it had no tail. Meanwhile, in America, the debate rages on within the breed... should docking become optional, with natu- ral tails no longer being a fault? Many long time, prominent breeders support the movement (while others are quite opposed), and many of those support- ers are choosing to no longer dock, and are showing their tailed Schipperkes. At this point, we have one fully tailed Schipperke champion in AKC, with a few others having their majors. So if you see a tailed Schipperke at a dog show, don’t be surprised, most are born with tails! Moreover, most of us who have them are happy to answer your questions, so please feel free to stop us and ask about the breed, and, of course, their tail!
S how S ight M agazine , J anuary 2019 • 283
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