Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Where's My Dog's Otter Tail?

This is not an otter tail...

This is Lil

It is hard to get all of  Lil in one picture; either she's moving towards the camera or her tail is moving too fast to capture.

This is Lil's tail

This may sound a little harsh but sometimes, when I think about Lilith's tail, I cringe.

What a Lab is supposed to look like

A nice example in the show ring
According to the breed standard, one of the significant features of the Labrador is supposed to be the breed's "otter tail." The tail is a working component of a working breed. The Lab uses their tail to maneuver in water as they retrieve birds. The water is often cold, and choppy. The tail acts like a rudder for the dog as she swims. Remember, this breed originated in the sea off the coast of Newfoundland.

A proper Lab tail

Lil better stay off of rough seas.
Since there's nothing I like better than a nicely built Lab, I thought I would hit myself over the head with all the ways that Lil's tail doesn't measure up.

First, her tail is a little long, a little thin.
Long enough to curl over her back when she's really happy. Yikes! She's not a husky. Her tail is not supposed to curl up.

A proper Lab tail is short and thick and strong enough to keep it from happily curling up. The tail is supposed to be a blunt instrument of death with which a Lab can chop people down at the knee. They can knock small children over with their tail, break vases with their tail, chop kindling with their tail.

Lil's tail could practically be used for dental floss. It is light, thin, long. If it were about 3/4 of an inch shorter - naturally born - it would be a much better tail, a much more practical, useful, closer to breed standard tail.

A better imperfect tail (they aren't supposed to be fringed but at least it is thick)

So what happened to my Lab's otter tail? A few things I suspect.

I knowingly acquired a Lab from parents who were field trial champions, not crossed out very regularly to bench champions. Additionally, they were bred to hunt on land as well as in water. Lil's mom in particular is an American bred, upland game bird dog. She is a little longer in the leg and tail and works on land really well. But she passed on her imperfect tail to her daughter.

Also, I picked Lil for temperament over confirmation. Her sister Edith had better confirmation. But Edith was a bit of a crier. An out and out howler actually, who did not adapt as well to change as Lil did.
Honestly, Edith was suspicious of change, loud, and little closer to the timid end of the spectrum.
Even though she was a good looking girl, Edith's personality and I were not a good match.

Nitro Steel, Lil's dad

Of course, Lilith is still a baby.
Her dad, Nitro Steel, has a very nice tail and the chunkier build I like in a Lab.
So there's always hope that Lil's tail will fill out ... bwahahahaha. Who ever heard of a tail filling out?
She has about as much chance of the rest of her body shrinking a little. No, the best hope is that she'll grow a little more and her tail will look more proportionate to her length. It could happen.

Okay, it almost looks like a respectable tail in this picture

In the meantime I have a Lab with an imperfect tail.
For someone who is a little obsessive compulsive, it is something of a cross to bear - the Lab in my life does not have a proper otter tail.
Oh sure, I have a loving family, a job I like, reasons for getting up in the morning.

But OMG that tail!


  1. Hi: I get it - lots of folks won't, but I do. If you appreciate the look of a breed, then you appreciate good conformation... Especially when it emphasizes a strongly built dog. And there is something in us that grates at the little imperfections.

    Breezy was an old-fashioned bluetick coonhound with strongly black and tan colors and mild ticking. Americans have gotten used to the whiter blueticks more common today. So, few people realized she was a purebred bluetick - and an awfully good one at that. I acquired her as a rescue, but she was a very titled pup ancestor-wise.

    Gilly was a beautiful black and tan show-bred shepherd. Obviously, the breeder was not paying as much attention to temperament as they ought to have been. But he was absolutely gorgeous.

    It's fun to pick out the golden retriever, collie, and lab parts in Ruby - fascinating how the genes express themselves!

    Gilbert is an ancient black and tan beagle - people don't always recognize him as a purebred beagle because he is ancient and not a tricolor.

    Why do I care if people don't recognize my rescues as purebreds? I grew up with a springer kennel and a smattering of other breeds (GSD, lab, basset hound, lhasa apso, sealpoint siamese) in our home and we went to dog shows and showed dogs sometimes. I appreciate breed standards, especially sensible ones.

    It irks me a bit when people don't recognize Gus as a (very) purebred golden retriever because he is blonde (which actually is coming to be more and more popular in the US). But strangely, whether they recognize him as a golden or not, they invariably tell me what a beautiful dog he is. I always wonder, how do you know he's beautiful if you don't know the breed standard (talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth...) - obviously, people mean something beyond the standard.

    He has a blocky, well-built head (it is still a bit puppyish and he's never going to have the big head his intact dad has) and lovely feathers and coloration, and people very frequently also tell me he looks happy - I'll take it even if I'm not 100% sure what they mean (I think his face is open, animated, and people like it when dogs appear to smile).

    The golden that won best of breed at Westminster this year was ridiculous (as are some of the top springers these days). The poor dog literally has feathers down to the floor on his belly. Come on, what's the point of that beyond vanity? They aren't Afghan hounds!

    So, I understand, but Lil sure is gorgeous anyway!

  2. Kathy, thanks for understanding :-)

    The goofy girl's looks usually are met with a soft eye from me but every once in a while I see her next to the breed ideal - which I can't help it, it is a picture in my head - and I see her issues. And at the top of the issue list...yup.

    I totally relate about the non-informed comments about Gus, i.e. not recognizing him for who he is. When I was much younger I was walking our family's very well bred black Lab and someone asked me what kind of mix she was, I guess because she was getting older and a little grey in the muzzle. First my jaw dropped, then I felt like slapping them with a glove and challenging them to a duel, "How dare you sir, question the background of my dog!"

    And I think you're right about Gus being a friendly looking guy, with an open face and I would add, kind eyes; you don't have to recognize a Golden to know that Gus is a nice looking boy...I'm a little surprised though that people don't recognize he is a Golden!

    I have to keep reminding myself, a lot of people do not know a lot about dogs.
    My saggy Shar Pei female used to sometimes get called a Pit Bull...really? That was the best guess you could make when you saw this sack of wrinkles?

    And thank you for the compliment. Lil has a gorgeous heart and attitude ;-)
    maybe not a tail....

  3. Hi: You made me laugh - imagine, mistaking a Shar Pei for a pit bull. Just another sign the world is not as dog-obsessed as we are.

    I used to page through and suck up our AKC big book of dog breeds, so I kind of grew up with that stuff, guess not everyone did.

    I know you love Lil for all her wonderful stuff...

    Speaking of which, after 100 hours of training, practice and driving and over a $1000 worth of training, lessons, classes and gas, Gus flunked his obedience class! He'd been the star all 7 weeks (just behind the standard poodle/service dog trainee) blowing dogs who barked for 7 weeks and wouldn't recall or sit or down or stay out of the water regularly. And he did it with style! (he prances) I think my class friends were nearly as sad as me...

    And then tonight he blew sitting to greet - there was a new person there who was assigned testing them on this, we couldn't use food and we did it in a way I hadn't practiced and we blew it!

    I was a little sad, but had a long car ride home to ponder and realized we had not practiced it in a way that prepared him for doing it the way it was tested... (my fault) I'm not really discouraged, just a little disappointed. I work with this trainer a lot and we knew this was hard for him... and he would have done perfect if I'd practiced it differently...

    And the last points are most important - I also realize that it is a blessing and a joy to have a dog who loves to meet people and be petted so much that that he can't keep his little doggy butt on the ground when they approach because he wants so badly to lick them. I've had the reverse and its not good!

    And finally, Gus is an amazing, lovely, wonderful boy who is my hearts heart, once in a lifetime dog and he's done so beautifully with training, I'm really proud of our work together and really love our trainer, live and learn!


  4. I had forgotten this but you reminded me...when I got my very first Shar Pei I took him in for a health check to a young vet who was traning with my regular guy. This was when Shar Pei were new in North America. The young vet saw the dog's black tongue and said, "So you have a Chow mix..." When I told him that this was a Shar Pei he wanted to know what kind of mix that was!

    Oh Kathy, I'm so sorry that Mr. Friendly Personality was too happy to see the tester. As someone who struggled with school I will suggest that sometimes the best long term students don't always test well. He KNOWS everything he learned the last seven weeks. But I know I would be discouraged. Gus is so amazing; lovely and loving. And you're right, there are a lot worse things than having a dog who loves people.

    Don't know if this will comfort you but when I took my Schnauzer through a seven week CKC training class the trainer finally (after watching Bonny not heal properly after weeks of training)took her aside to work with her privately. She finally brough Bonny back and sighed saying, "Well I don't know - I guess just keep trying." Now THAT is failure.

  5. Hi: Thanks! My disappointment is very mild.

    I keep thinking about the fact that my last pup didn't make it through his obedience class because he was scared of people (he bit my friend the weekend before his last class) and my current one didn't because he loves people so much, when I view it that way it is both ironic and puts everything in perspective!

    Ouch! Were you treat training in Bonny's class...


  6. I realized last night I was mis-remembering which Schnauzer that happened with - it was my boy Wills. And yes, we tried everything, including treats. The trainer had never had such absolute failure in getting a dog's attention with high value food.

    As a Retriever owner it can be hard to believe but there are actually a hand full of dogs in the world who are totally not motivated by food.
    And in Wills case, not much of anything else either. Ironically, Wills' sire was the first Schnauzer I met who had obdience titles.

    Fortunately, overall Wills was a nice guy. Totally Terrier in the focus department though, "Squirrel, is that a...wait ball, is that a...wait is that a squirrel!"

    He thought obdience classes were social opportunities to break the attention span of focused dogs like the Retrievers. They'd be working on a sit-stay and he'd try to run at their faces to see if anyone would break loose to play with him. He was a very humbling dog to work with; he was a devoted shadow and independent spirit in turns. He never, ever agreed that a walk on a leash was ment to be at any pace other than on his back two feet, straining, unless he was being "anchor dog" planted to the ground so that he could smell something.

    He almost made me feel bad - until he did exactly the same thing with any trainer who tried to work with him. Total obdience school drop out, never passed a class, never graduated.
    I've decided that every trainer should have to work with at least one dog like that in their career; I'm hoping to limit myself to that one!

  7. If It's any consolation the majority of American working style labradors I've seen have has the same tail problems.

    Anatomically it probably suits them better. Most those dogs are used for land based hunting and retrieving these days, and good balance (A tail is of great importance in balance) on land would overtake priority to a good rudder like tail for swimming.
    As they have longer legs and thinner bodies than the British labs, its makes perfect sense that a proper balanced tail would be both thinner and longer.

  8. Lisa, I agree with your observations. An increasing number of Labs are doing land work and their tails do help balance them out.

    Lil's dad is an English type...thought she might get some of his physical traits. Too soon to tell for certain how she'll finish filling out, she is still very much a PUPPY. She is currently flopping toys around on the living room floor trying to get another dog's interest so that they will try and take the toy from her. She loves a good game of keep away but has a tendency to pick toys that no one but she likes.

    At least she's cute :-)

  9. Could be worse; my little guy is handsome as can be to me (and others are constantly commenting favorably), but no otter tail and - gasp! - his color ("black and tan," recessive) is AKC disqualified... Fortunately temperament an intelligence won out over pedigree... (he's a rescue, his whole litter was saved from back yard breeders...) would I love him any more if he was conforming? Nope. (http://facebook.com/maynard. ;))

  10. I don't know Jim, sounds pretty bad :-) Lol, when I was a kid my parents bred Labradors and we had two pups born with white strips on their chest - horrors! Poor Dad, even though his dogs were working dogs it took him weeks of living with one of those little girls to come to appreciate that her lovely personality shown through despite what the AKC considered a bit of a defect.

    Sounds like your guy is lovely - and kudos on adopting! I sometimes write a little tongue in cheek but the truth is, I'll take temperament over pedigree any minute of the day. I'm lucky that along with being a sweet girl, Lil is pretty darn cute too. Not that I'm biased or anything....
    Thanks so much for taking time to comment and including your Facebook link!

  11. Google Tiger Mountain Pointing Labs...this is where you little dog shines, just like my Jussi. There is a lot of opinion that Labs should be split into two distinct breeds now. If you ever watch the Westminster Dog Show, you may have noticed that most of the bird dogs in it would be hard pressed to actually hunt. Beautiful maybe, but not suited for for hunting. And there is a reason most people who want German Shepherds get them from W. Germany. The AKC has much to answer for. Try reading Dog Sense by John Bradshaw, a British Animal Behaviorist. I think Lilith is beautiful, but this is because she looks just like my Jussi and my old dog, Luke. I looked for a long time to find one that looks like this.

  12. Theres nothing wrong with her tail, my goodness, if you read up the labs tail should not be feathery it suppose to be thick at the base moving to a little skinny around the tip, with the fur tightly bounded around the tail.....and from whjat I can see hers does..

    1. Thanks for the reassurance :-) In fact Lil has grown up to be what I consider to be a most lovely member of her breed - I think she has one of the most beautiful faces ever - and her tail is more balanced in proportion to the rest of her now that she's all grown up. Technically though, her tail could be just a bit better ;-) Not that it really matters...just noticing that Labs have continued to evolve and the field and bench Labs really are - as noted by a previous poster - visually distinct from each other.

    2. I have bred Labradors for 40 years and have noticed that even in the Show ring
      they are losing their otter tails. Such a shame.

    3. Someone who understands! :-) I would love to see pictures of your dogs if you care to share any - cmoslund@gmail.com
      Thanks for stopping in.