Tail docking is the removal of a section, or even all, of a dog’s tail. Docking of dogs has been done for centuries, however, it has become highly controversial in recent years as medical evidence has grown to show the detrimental effect docking dogs’ tails has.
What is tail docking?
Tail docking is the practice of removing some or all of a dog’s tail for various reasons. Tail docking is often performed by vets under anesthetic, but the tail docking procedure can also be performed by breeders.
Typically you saw puppies undergoing tail docking when they were 2-5 days old when it was believed their nervous system was not fully formed and they did not feel the pain.
Why do some dog breeds have their tails docked?
Cosmetic tail docking is the procedure of removing some or all of a dog’s tail. There are many reasons someone might dock a dog’s tail including
- preventing tail injury
- avoiding rabies contamination or infection from angry animals they may fight with or chase
- removing diseased tissue or
- just having them look more appealing in show rings for certain breed standards.
Generally, it has been working breeds such as sheepdogs and hunting dogs like Terriers and Beagles, that feature docking as part of the breed standard
Tell me the issue with Docking Dogs Tails?
The procedure to dock tails is not without consequences, it can lead to scarring behind the site of the surgery, chronic pain for dogs that haven’t been given pain killers post-surgery, and long-term nerve damage which can affect how a dog urinates.
Many experts also say tail docking can also make them less able to socialise with other dogs as much of dog-to-dog communication is done with their tails, and hence dogs with a docked tail are unable to communicate as well.
The Royal College went as far as to brand cosmetic tail docking as an “unacceptable mutilation” and many other veterinary associations including the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) and British Veterinary Association (BVA) are against it
Is tail docking painful?
Tail docking of dogs involves splitting through and severing cartilage. Puppies give repeated shrieking sounds at the moment where puppies tails removed and while attempting to stitch the wound. So there is little doubt that puppies can feel it.
This removal isn’t without consequences: it can lead to scarring behind the site of the surgery. Medical evidence also suggests tail docking can lead to chronic pain for dogs that haven’t been given pain killers post-surgery as the wound heals.
Other issues directly related to the docking include a neuroma forming at the amputation site – Neuromas are often quite painful!
There is also the risk of infection of the skin and tissue potentially causing serious complications.
Finally, there can be long-term nerve damage which can affect how a dog urinates.
Tails are major communication tools for dogs.
We know that much of human communication is non-verbal, however with dogs, lacking a verbal vocabulary, body language takes on an even greater role. The tail is a critical part of this.
Since dogs are hunters, their vision is attuned more to movement than to colours or details. This means that dogs can readily discern different tail wags, so tail wagging is a very effective method of communication for dogs.
The position and movement of the tail can indicate gentleness of nature, the desire to play, submission, or aggression.
Evolution has also helped by producing tails that accentuate the visibility of the tail wag. Some have dark or light tips, some are lighter on the underside, and some are really bushy. All of these help to enhance communication.
When a dog becomes permanently tailless it affects its ability to communicate effectively with other dogs leaving them vulnerable to being misunderstood and having an extremely negative impact upon their ability to socialise with other dogs.
When Did the UK ban tail docking?
In 2007, the practice of tail docking was banned in the UK, but with slightly different laws in each of the home-nations.
All of them contained an exemption for dogs whose tail needs are docked for medicinal reasons.
There are also additional exemptions for certain working dogs
What type of dogs can have their tail docked in England and Wales?
In England and Wales, puppies can only have tails docked if they are one of the following listed breeds:
- HPR breed of any type or combination;
- Spaniel of any type or combination of type
- Terriers of any type or combination of type
In England, crossbreeds can potentially be docked, while in Wales cross breeds cannot be docked, only individual pure breeds.
Is Tail docking legal in Scotland?
The Scottish Government brought in the outright ban on docked tails in 2007 as part of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act. At the time, the Scots were the only one of the home nations to bring in a blanket ban.
However, in 2017, the Scottish parliament voted to amend the law for specific working breeds
This amendment to the law brings in exemptions to remove the tail tip for two specific breeds of working dogs, namely Spaniels and Hunt-Point-Retrievers (HPR) and their crosses, eg Sprockers.
The law only allows the final third of working dogs’ tails to be docked and only if there is sufficient evidence that they will become working dogs.
How Can You Prove Your Dog Will Be a Working Dog?
The dog breeder has to prove that the dog owner will be using the animal for work in connection with lawful pest control.
There are two ways to achieve this
- Supply a shotgun or firearm certificate issued to the owner of the dog (or to the agent/employee of the owner).
- Show a letter from a gamekeeper, land occupier (or his agent), a person with shooting rights or a shoot organiser, etc. that states the owner of the dog to be docked is known to them, and that dogs bred by that breeder have been used on their land or shoot.
The breeder/owner must also provide a signed statement to the vet to say the puppies are of the relevant type and will be used for the above purposes.
What is the Penalty for illegal tail docking?
Anyone found with an animal who is convicted for illegally discharging a tail faces 2 years in jail and 1 year of probation and an unlimited fine.
Taking a dog to other jurisdictions to have their tails docked is also illegal and faces the same penalties.
Those who break the law in Scotland face a possible fine of £5,000 and/ or six months in jail. It is also an offense to transport a puppy out of Scotland solely for the purpose of docking its tail.
Can You Show dogs with docked tails?
It is an illegal offense to show a dog that has his tail held at an event where the exhibitor pays a fee or the public pays admission.
There are only a handful of proponents of tail docking but they provide an array of unconvincing theories for their arguments.
Research has shown that docking does not reduce tail injuries in the general dog population.
Many breeds of hunting dogs do not have docked tails but their length is influenced by breed standards.
The excuses that beg for tail docking are completely untrue. There has literally been no justification for the relaunch of this painful tradition. That tail docking should be banned in the UK should be a problem for British.
Is it legal in other countries?
Several European countries including Cyprus Greece Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Austria have also ratified European Conventions that prohibit the cosmetic Docking of tails.
Sweden Norway, Netherlands Finland, Germany, and Denmark also banned cosmetic docking.
How To Get Your Dog’s Tail Docked
In the UK there is a process to get a puppy legally docked. The first step is to prove the dog will be a working dog.
Legally only a registered vet can carry out tail docking. Make sure you leave plenty of time to organise docking with your vet, before the due date.
Puppies must be docked before they are five days old. This is because bones are still soft and the nervous system is not yet fully developed, thus minimising the pain felt. Once the five-day time limit is up, the puppies cannot be docked.
The vet must confirm the breed and see the mother of the litter before the puppies are docked.
The vet will ask you to sign a statement confirming that the dog whose tail is to be docked will be used for one of the following:
- law enforcement
- activities of HM Armed Forces
- emergency rescue
- lawful pest control
- the lawful shooting of animals.
Once the procedure is carried out, the puppies will be issued with a signed certificate by the vet who carried out the procedure
How Does a Vet Dock A Dog’s Tail?
To avoid the risk of infection and prevent the stress of a car journey, it is best for the veterinary surgeon to carry out a home visit to dock the puppy’s tails.
Most bitches are protective of their puppies, so move her to another room or out for a walk while the vet carries out the procedures.
The vet will perform the tail docking with surgical scissors or a scalpel. Stitches are rarely needed. Sometimes a vet will apply an anti-coagulant is applied to the tail end but most prefer not to, choosing a more natural alternative such as witch hazel.
After the puppies have been docked, they are put back in the litter with the mother. It’s normal within five minutes of the entire litter being docked for mother and pups to be asleep in a warm pile without a murmur.
After the puppies have been docked, they are put back in the litter with the mother and it is likely to start suckling or fall back to sleep almost immediately.
The History of Docking dog’s tails
Tail docking has most likely occurred since ancient times. It has been written that the Romans docked tails because they believed the titling of a dog’s tail or tongue was a cause of rabies.
Later, in the late 1790s, a tax in Great Britain was introduced on dogs to help fund the French wars. However, working dogs were exempted and were docked to signify their status as working dogs.
Woods Natural History, published in London in 1865, lends insight into the historical practice of tail docking.
“The tail of the Sheep-dog is naturally long and bushy but is generally removed in early youth, on account of the now obsolete laws, which refused to acknowledge any Dog as a Sheep-dog, or to exempt it from tax, unless it were deprived of its tail.
This law, however often defeated its own object, for many persons who liked the sport of coursing, and cared little for appearances, used to cut off the tails of their greyhounds, and evade the tax by describing them as Sheep-dogs.”
However, docking tails for working dogs preceded this law, so it is most likely that it was simply used as an already viable marker.
The reason for this was that while herding or hunting, a dog’s tail would pick up a host of other burrs and stickers, especially for hairier breeds. This meant that a lot of grooming was needed and the risk of injury to the tail meant that tail docking was implemented to avoid injury and infection.
This is one of the reasons natural bobtails were valued and bred for and many working breeds naturally have short, or non-existent tails.
As dog shows became fashionable in the mid-1800s with the establishment of the Kennel Club, tails of some breeds were docked as an identifying characteristic.
Since the change in the law in 2006, the British Kennel Club has amended its breed standards to reflect the lack of docked tails. However, the AKC standards differ, and for many breeds, the standard is still for the tail to be shortened to create a classic shape for the show ring.
Tails are a part of the dog’s anatomy and in most cases, they serve an important function. If you are considering having your dog’s tail docked, make sure to do some research on the procedure.
Both the BVA and ASPCA have released statements saying that they oppose this practice and encourage people not to carry out this procedure as it generally does the dog more harm than good.
Tail docking is only acceptable for those who use dogs in their work; there is no evidence it offers any benefit whatsoever to the dog itself. It also causes intense pain during recovery, which can last up to six months or more if done incorrectly by someone without experience with veterinary medicine. We hope this information helped inform your decision about whether or not you will have your dog’s tail docked!