Telling Tails - The Docking Truth

Can you imagine an amputation without an anaesthetic? It sounds horrific but it happens on a daily basis in the dog world.

The procedure is tail docking in infant puppies. If it were done on an adult dog, it could not and would not be done without a full general anaesthetic. However, in a three-day-old pup, unable to struggle effectively and unable to express pain fully, it is done almost without a second thought.

The pup is at the absolute mercy of its breeder who is perpetuating an archaic practice that the experts say is painful and unnecessary.

So why is it done at all?

I must admit to not quite understanding why the procedure still has so much support - and the support is worldwide too. It is a centuries-old tradition. Before the 19th Century, folk thought that docking prevented rabies and that it strengthened the back and increased speed. It was an unusual tax lurk too. Undocked dogs did not attract tax!!

In those times, hunting was more a functional need that a hobbyist's pastime as it is today. Thus, they docked tails to prevent injury. Nowadays, many breeds are traditionally docked because they are 'hunting' or 'working' breeds, although in reality very few still perform this function. Owners who enjoy retrieving and hunting with their dogs claim the need to dock tails still exists. They perceive that a high chance of injury is present when their dogs are 'beating a line' through the bush.

It is a common and everyday occurrence for dogs in Australia to work the bush. On properties throughout Australia, through the harshest of vegetation, Cattle Dogs, Kelpies and Border Collies are doing their duty - and (apart from the Stumpy Tailed Cattle Dog) they all have tails. Tail damage very rarely occurs in these dogs. Interestingly enough, the Stumpy Tailed Cattle Dog is born with a short tail. It does not have to suffer the pain of an infant amputation.

When it comes to bird hunting and retrieving, shoulder to shoulder with their docked cousins we have Labrador and Golden Retrievers and many other gundogs with complete tails too. Is tail damage a common problem with them? It is not. .

The truth is that most docked dogs would not damage their tails if their tails were left intact.

It also seems that some people dock their dog's tails for convenience sake. Many will claim that the tail is a nuisance when the dog is inside as the tail knocks articles off tabletops. Others claim that, because their dogs wag their tails enthusiastically, damage to the tail occurs frequently. The justification is that docking prevents damage to possessions and to the tail itself.

Many breeds of dogs are of similar nature and stature to those typically docked breeds. Breeders dock the tails of Boxers and Doberman Pinschers because of their active nature, but why are the tails of Ridgebacks and Dalmatians - dogs of similar stature and nature - left where they should be? Tails do not cause enough of a problem to justify the procedure.

Many other unusual tales about docking abound, none of which stand up to scrutiny. In reality no practical reason exists for tail docking. It is done only because the breed standards state that is the way a dog is supposed to look.

For me, it is a welfare issue and my main concern is the pain these pups have to endure. There is no doubt that the docking of the tail of a three-day-old pup causes pain.

In years gone by, the procedure was justified because a pup is born blind, deaf, unable to move effectively and because it has poorly developed nerves. The assumption therefore is that it could not sense enough pain to warrant concern about tail docking.

It is now recognised world wide that a puppy feels at least as much pain as an adult dog. The problem facing a pup is that, because it cannot express pain as well and an adult dog, we perceive that it does not feel pain.

 The problem facing a pup is that, because it cannot express pain as well and an adult dog, we perceive that it does not feel pain.

When pain is felt, is it the result of nerve impulses going to the brain. The pain-transmitting nerve impulses can be reduced in intensity by a second group of 'inhibitory nerves'. These 'inhibitory nerves' reduce the severity of the 'pain message'. This process works well in adult humans and animals to reduce pain sensation. However in puppies, the pain inhibitory pathways are not well developed. So, instead of not feeling as much pain as an adult animal, a pup is likely to feel more pain. The pup is an innocent victim as it cannot express the pain it is feeling.

In the United Kingdom tail docking is a criminal offence if carried out by a lay person. The Australian Veterinary Association considers cosmetic tail docking as unnecessary and unjustifiable and considers it detrimental to the animal's welfare. It recommends that the Kennel Control Councils in Australia phase tail docking requirements out of breed standards. It also recommends that State and Federal authorities and animal welfare organisations declare tail docking to be an illegal act.

Naturally, the RSPCA does not support tail docking either.

Dog breeders- it is time to face the facts! Tail docking is painful and unnecessary. It is entirely a cosmetic procedure and is of no advantage to the dog. Breeders, please lead the way in reform by refusing to dock the tails of your pups. Those dog lovers who are considering purchasing a breed of pup that is traditionally docked should request that their pup's tail be left on. The more potential buyers ask breeders to provide complete-tailed dogs, the more likely they are to change their ways. Breeders do not want to leave tails on their dogs if they have no confidence that there is a market for such pups.

As the RSPCA states - Tails You Win!

More information:
Tail Docking Ban implemented in Queensland