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To dock or not to dock

Published on 10th January 1998

Tail docking is a practice that has been carried out for centuries. It is the process of removal of part of a puppy’s tail when it is a few days old and lately it has become a controversial issue. Why?

Well, many dog owners and vets who witness the practice also see the after effects that take place and have become concerned about the health of their animals and the humanness of the act itself. However, breeders and pet authorities who benefit from the practice claim that there is nothing wrong with docking and defend their right to continue it.

For those who are confused on this issue about the arguments concerned, and for anyone who is just interested to know, here are both sides of the story:

To Dock

The arguments for docking are put forward mainly by breeders. They say that the practice is carried out in order to prevent tail damage or for hygienic and other reasons in certain dog breeds. They claim that it is in fact perfectly humane and, when carried out properly, prevents more distress than it causes.

The dog breeds most affected by this are working dogs such as Boxers and Dobermans and gun dogs such as Spaniels. It is claimed that these breeds, in particular, are at risk because they have naturally thin, whip-like tails which damage easily and, once sustained, are painful and difficult to heal.

The Council of Docked Breeds states that “Each case is looked at individually, people may want dogs docked for hygiene reasons or to prevent injury.” However, injuries cannot be completely avoided and if all this were true, why is it only these breeds that have their tails docked, and not all breeds?

Not to Dock

Originally, tails were docked because these working dog breeds were prone to injury whilst hunting and tracking. However, nowadays most dogs are pets or used in competition. It is no longer necessary for them to have their tails docked. Therefore, the only reason it is now carried out is for cosmetic and aesthetic purposes. Only breeders and judges at dog competitions feel it is necessary because the Kennel Club’s standards call for them to be docked. It is, however, distressing to the dog and completely unnecessary. Many puppies show signs of distress and shock after the process has been carried out. this is shown through weight loss, urinary and faecal incontinence and loss of interest in food.

Other effects shown later in life are an imbalance of the dog in water, making it difficult for them to swim and muscles in the tail and pelvis may fail to develop to their full potential. In extreme cases, some puppies die from shock or haemorrhage.

All this makes the practice barbaric and very distressing for both owner and pet.

Because of the health risks involved, a law was passed in July 1993 which made it illegal for anyone in the UK, except a vet, to dock a puppy’s tail. The Vets’ Governing Body also passed a rule that it was unethical to dock tails unless for reasons of health and potential injury to the dog.

Many pet owners now have dogs with their tail undocked. However, the breeders continue to dock their puppy’s tails for cosmetic reasons.

If you are thinking of buying a puppy it is really up to you if you wish the tail to be removed or not. But when making this decision you should consider what effect, if any, this will have on the dog and if, as a family dog, it is really necessary to put it through what may be a very risky and distressing process.

Above all, please remember if you have received a puppy this Christmas or intend to buy one in the future: tail or no tail, your puppy is for life!