The Truth about Tail Docking

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Tail docking has become normal practice for certain breeds of dogs, but the tail of a dog is an under-rated appendage. In fact, the tail is often treated with such contempt by humans that a large number of tails are lopped off when a puppy is just a few days old.

The procedure of tail docking is painful. It is carried out without anaesthesia when the puppy is only a few days old.  The puppy is forcibly restrained while the tail is stretched out backwards. A pair of scissors is used to cut through the tail. The puppy squeals loudly and wriggles, but we are told that ‘they do not really feel it’. How do we know? They certainly seem to be feeling pain, although because of their diminutive size, they cannot escape. Just because they are quiet again five minutes later does not mean that they did not feel pain at the time. If you used a sharp pair of scissors to cut off a new born baby’s little finger, they would cry for a while, then they would stop and return to suckling their mother. Does this mean that they would not feel their finger being amputated?

Veterinary surgeons are officially prohibited from carrying out ‘cosmetic’ surgery on pets in Ireland, which means that if a vet carries out tail docking, they are guilty of unethical behaviour as well as breaking the law.

If a member of the public carries out the procedure, he or she is guilty of cruelty to animals. Yet tail docking is still sometimes carried out.

I cannot understand why Jack Russell Terriers, Boxers, Doberman Pinschers and many other breeds are deemed to have tails which are in some way offensive to the eye. When you see the fine, swishing, expressive tails on individuals of these breeds who have been left undocked, you wonder why some people insist on their removal.

dog tail

There are two main arguments used to justify tail docking, but neither argument is persuasive.

The first excuse is that working dogs are claimed to have a high incidence of tail injuries, caused by the tail being damaged as they run through dense thorny undergrowth. The argument states that it is better to remove the tail before it causes any problems. However, there is no proof that such dogs do have a high incidence of tail injuries.

As a vet, I would almost never see a dog with a tail injury due to charging through bushes. I do see tail injuries, but not in working dogs. The injury which I see most commonly is in indoor situations, when dogs wag their tails so hard that they bash the tip against a wall, causing bruising and sometimes bleeding. Cheerful breeds such as Labradors or Golden Retrievers are most commonly affected, yet nobody ever suggests docking their tails.

The second excuse for tail docking is that certain breeds ‘look wrong’ with tails. This is a purely cosmetic, nonsensical reason. If every Jack Russell Terrier had his right ear chopped off at birth for the next twenty years,  we would become accustomed to this bizarre appearance. After twenty years if a single dog was then left with both ears intact, we would feel that he looked most peculiar.

Tail docking is illegal in Ireland and the UK, but it still does happen sometimes: this needs to be stopped.

When you buy a puppy of any breed, look for one with a tail. Refuse to buy one whose tail has been cut off. If you are offered one, ask your local vet how to report this to the authorities: it is an outdated and cruel practice that needs to stop completely.

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