Bobtail Breeding

From the history of the pembroke corgi we can read about the little bobtail dog that has been bred on Welsh farms through centuries. We know that in the beginning of this century the majority of pembrokes were born with bobtails.

I believe that the period in the beginning of this century, when the pembroke and the cardigan were registered in the Kennel Club as one breed and were also interbred to a certain extent, is the reason why the bobtails are so few today. When the breeds were separated I 1934, the longtail gene had been introduced to the pembroke population and the breeders docked the puppies that were born with long tails as the standard described a short tail.

The bobtail gene has proven to be a dominant gene, and it is very easy to loose a dominant gene if you are not aware of the genetic rules. If you want to keep a dominant gene in your population, one of the parents have to carry the gene, otherwise you will loose it. It is easy to understand how the breeders would hold on to their best puppy regardless of it being bobtail or longtail as they were all docked anyway, and how the amount of bobtail dogs in the population gradually could decrease.

When we got the docking ban in Norway, I am happy to say that most of the corgi breeders in Norway agreed that they wanted to take part in the project of trying to reintroduce the bobtail gene into our corgi population.

This has been a necessity as our population is so small that we needed to use all our breeding material to keep our breed healthy while introducing the bobtail gene. Although I had bobtails born in my first litter in 1968, and also in a litter in the mid seventies, we were not able to find any dogs of our old lines that could be used when we got the docking ban.

This meant that we had to import dog from England where Mrs. Peggy Gamble (Blands) and Miss Patsy Hewan (Stormerbanks) had just started a project of reintroducing the bobtail gene to the breed.

Miss Patsy Hewan at that time run a very large kennel, and over the years she had managed to keep the bobtail gene in her stock. Peggy Gamble bought a bitch from Patsy, Stormerbanks Bobs, and Peter Hopwood (Jofren) used her uncle Stormerbanks Barnaby Bear to introduce bobtails into his line.

As Patsy Hewan died shortly after they agreed to start the bobtail project, the Blands and Jofren kennels were the ones that carried out the pioneer work, and Stormerbanks Bobs and S. Barnaby Bear will be in the pedigrees of most bobtailed dogs in England, and in Norway. Miss Sarah Taylor (Bymil) and Miss Leila Moore (Kaytop) also had litters containing bobtail puppies sired by Kaytop Ming, but it seems the bobtail puppies have not been used for breeding and that line seems to be lost.

I know that Peggy Gamble also gave her stud dogs for free to some pet owners with bobtail dogs, but I do not think that they have bred on, at least I do not know of any.

There are many hypotheses of defects that are supposed to be linked to the bobtail gene. However, as far as I know there has been no serious research into this matter, and the Norwegian corgi breeders were not willing to accept these theories as long as they were not supported by scientific proof. We could not understand why dogs should be so different than other wild animals or even humans, which live and reproduce happily with their short tails.

We must admit that the first bobtail dogs that were imported to Norway were not of the quality that we were used to, and we had to take a few steps backwards quality wise. This because we had to use our best bobtails even though there might be better longtails available.

For many years we have done mainly longtail/bobtail matings to try and preserve most of our quality, and have tried to import breeding material and find stud dogs that could help us to improve our quality. It has been a long and difficult process, but the last three or four years I am happy to say that I think the quality has improved very much, and our bobtail corgis has won well at group level, and I myself have won both BIS progeny group and breeders group at big International shows with all bobtails.

We have not experienced any of the predicted defects to pop up in our breed. It is as sound as it has always been. Some years ago the Norwegian Welsh Corgi Klubb together with Norsk Kennel Klub and the Veterinary institute, made an x-ray study of the spine of a random selection of bobtail dogs from double bobtail matings.

The conclusion to the study was that there was no indication what so ever to say that the bobtail gene should be responsible for any spinal deformities.

In nearly every litter we will have puppies with different tail length. Some can be long, some half long and some quite short. We do not know why the bobtails appear with different length, but it is a fact that the tail is the only body structure that will appear with different number of bones, this is also true for the longtails.

I believe that in the same way as some terrier breeders select for shorter longtails, we can select for shorter bobtails. So far it is difficult to predict the length of tail of our bobtail puppies. I have mated longtail/bobtail and have got puppies with very short tails, and I have mated bobtail/bobtail and have got half long tails. Some of the bobtails, but also the longtails can be seen with a kink on their tail. Our x-ray project also involved some of these dogs, and there was no indication that this would also affect spinal vertebra. So far we do not take any notice of these kinks when breeding, as we have not seen them to cause any problems.

We have not yet found the dog or bitch that will produce only bobtails. Because not all bobtail puppies from bobtail/bobtail matings are suitable for breeding, the Norwegian Welsh Corgi Klub, together with geneticists from England, The Norwegian Veterinary Institute, and the Norwegian Kennel Klub, some years ago made a project of blood testing our bobtails to try and find the homozygote bobtail through gene research.

The locus for the tail gene was found, but from our random selection of dogs from bobtail/bobtail matings, the scientists were not able to find a homozygote. Also dead bobtail puppies were tested but even in this selection there were no homozygotes. The scientific conclusion was that the bobtail gene that produces bobtails in Pembroke corgis is a lethal gene. This gives no support to my working theory that the longtail gene was introduced by the interbreeding with cardigans, or explain how the welsh farmers managed to maintain the percentage of bobtail dogs so high, as there is no reason to believe that they knew that one of the parents had to be a bobtail to produce bobtails.

Even though the scientists find it statistically likely that the bobtail gene is a lethal gen, I think that historic facts gives some support for my theory, and I still hang on to the hope of sometime finding the dog that will only produce bobtails. There is also the possibility that the bobtail gene has undergone changes over the years, and has become a lethal gene even though not being so originally.

If the conclusion of the scientists is correct, and this is the basis for our present breeding plans, this indicates that the homozygote puppies are absorbed early in the pregnancy and never will be born . The bobtail/bobtail matings will represent no problem to the breeders other than that the litters will statistically be numerically smaller, as statistically one out of four will be absorbed. In stead of expecting three out of four bobtails, with one being homozygote, one can expect two out of three, and all the bobtails will be heterozygote. In our statistic material of number of puppies in bobtail/bobtail litters produced in Norway/Sweden compared to longtail/longtail or longtail/bobtail litters there is no statistic significant decrease in number of puppies.

This of cause can be explained by the different fertility of different bitch lines, and does not exclude the possibility of the bobtail gene being a lethal gene. Our aim, in time to produce only bobtail pembroke corgis seem to be impossible. There should, however, be no reasons for not doing bobtail/bobtail matings, other than a possible ethical view that one will not produce a litter were there is a possibility that one or maybe two of the puppies will be absorbed in mothers womb, and never come to life. There should be no reason to expect any physical defects resulting from bobtail breeding either bobtail/bobtail, or bobtail/longtail.

The Scandinavian countries were the first to have the docking ban, and the breeders here have been leading the way in seriously trying to breed the bobtails back into the breed. Over the last ten years many more countries have got the docking ban imposed on them, and many corgi breeders in many of these countries have joined the Scandinavian breeders in their wish to maintain their short tailed corgis.

In 2004 docking was also banned in Australia that is one of the really influential countries when it comes to corgi breeding. Some breeders have been breeding bobtails there for many years, but like in England the discussion is loud, and many breeders are all against. An extended interest for bobtail breeding in a country like Australia would be of great help to all the bobtail breeders in countries with numerically small corgi populations. Imported bobtails from Australia could help us increase our gene pool to keep our breed healthy with no inbreeding depression, which is a much larger threat to the breed than defects resulting from bobtail breeding.

Leif-Herman Wilberg