Pet Articles

Dog Tails – Docking Tails

Many people don’t really understand what tail-docking is and there is actually a big debate about the practise of tail-docking. People question whether or not it is humane. Perhaps after this article, you can understand what the argument is, decide whether or not it is a big deal, and form your own opinion about tail-docking.

Have you ever seen a Rottweiler, Doberman Pinscher or Jack Russell terrier? Would you recognize these dogs if they had long tails? Almost all dogs, of all breeds, are born with long tails, just like Golden Retrievers. Any dogs that now have short tails had part of their tails removed when they were puppies. Tail-docking is the removal of part of a dog’s tail, when the dog is young, so that the tail is shorter. Tail-docking is done in many species. For example, sheep are tail-docked to keep them cleaner and to prevent disease. Dogs, however, are not tail-docked for their health; it is done simply as a ‘cosmetic surgery’ in dogs.

Cosmetic surgery in a dog means the same thing as cosmetic surgery in a human. These are surgeries that have no impact on the health of the human, but just end up changing their physical appearance. Therefore, tail-docking in dogs does not make them healthier. But it does not scar them for life, either. A properly done tail-docking will cause no physical problems in your dog’s future. Dogs can be very happy with only part of their tail and will function perfectly normally.

If you were to have one of your dog’s legs removed, it may have trouble running as fast as it used to. If you had one of your dog’s eyes removed, it would not be able to see quite as well as it used to. But if you shorten your dog’s tail, nothing changes. A dog’s tail is used to communicate with other dogs. A tail between the legs indicates fear, while a loose, wagging tail indicates friendliness. Dogs communicate in many other ways, and do not need to depend on their tail all the time. Even a dog with a short tail can communicate perfectly by using its mouth, voice, ears, and other body language. The majority of dogs can communicate well if properly socialized.

Even though tail-docking may not hurt your dog in the long run, what about the pain of removing the tail? Dogs are tail-docked at a very young age (only a couple of days old) for two reasons: so they will grow up accustomed to having a short tail, and so that the procedure will cause less pain. A dog’s tail is made up of many little bones lined up end-to-end. Puppies’ bones are not well-formed, so you can remove part of the tail without actually cutting through the bones in the tail. Even though you don’t have to cut through bone (which would be very painful), in order to remove the tail, you have to cut through skin, muscles, blood vessels, and some nerves. That is why some people wonder: how painful is this procedure for the puppy? To simplify it, tail-docking is done by tying a string around the puppy’s tail until the end part of the tail falls off (a few days). This must always be done by a veterinarian, because there could be some damaging results if tail-docking is not done properly.

So, that’s the big argument. One side of the dispute says that tail-docking is not a big deal because it is a minor procedure that does not do the dog any harm in the long-run. The other side says that it is not acceptable to cause a dog any pain if there is no medical purpose for the procedure.

At this point, you may be wondering why, exactly, we dock tails. Who ever had the idea that some dogs look better with short tails? There is some evidence that the hunting terriers may have had short tails so they wouldn’t get them caught or make noise as they were hunting. However, we must remember that it is very rare for us to use these dogs to hunt anymore. Also note that many other hunting breeds, like Labrador Retrievers, do not have docked tails. Some guarding breeds, like Dobermans, are thought to look more intimidating with short tails.

When it comes down to it, tail-docking is only performed because that’s the way it has always been done. Tail-docking is a custom that has formed the way we expect certain dogs to look. A short tail has become a characteristic feature of some breeds, and people are very hesitant to change something that makes their dog look like a purebred Rottweiler, etc.

There has been a quiet revolution, however. Many European countries have banned, or are thinking about banning, tail-docking. Breed registries (the clubs that you have to register your purebred dog with in order to make it official) have made tail-docking optional for non-show dogs. Most people in the general public do not consider tail-docking a moral dilemma, but to some dog owners, breeders, and veterinarians, it is becoming something to think about.

Tail-docking is not a life-threatening or extremely painful procedure. It does not alter the dog’s lifestyle or lifelong happiness. It does, however, inflict some pain for purely cosmetic reasons. Hopefully now you can build your own, informed opinion about tail-docking.

By Ashley O’ Driscoll – writer

7 Responses to this Article, So Far

  1. Avatar ADA says:

    Docking can cause long term pain through neuroma (caused by the amputation – phantom limb syndrome) and further damage can be caused due to the thinness of the skin over the docked area (often baldness).. “Docking”/amputation done in the first few days can be life threatening and painful see Veterinary (and medical) research informs that a pup’s nervous system is fully developed when born, the nerve pathways appear fully open and it isn’t until later that they develop the inhibitory pathways. Thus, the evidence shows neonates are HYPERsensitive to pain, rather than hyposensitive in comparison to an adult animal. Neonates have been shown to produce hormonal, physiological and behavioural stress responses in response to pain that are similar to those produced by adults, however they occur at LOWER (=more intense) thresholds. In some breeds where von Willibrand’s disease or other auto immune disease occurs docking could result in mortality of the entire litter. Runts are rarely docked for fear of them not surviving the procedure.

  2. Avatar Grant says:

    The College of Veterinarians in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada have just passed a bylaw passed on Nov 9 banning the cosmetic docking of pigs, cows and horses’ tails.

  3. Avatar Mike says:

    Docking is not always cosmetic. Pointing breeds, like my Vizsla, often have thier tails docked as a preventative health measure. Pointers love to run and tear though forests and fields either looking for birds or having a great game of chase. Pointers with full tails are more at risk of sustaining tail injuries to the extremity which are MUCH more difficult to deal with in an adult dog. I believe it’s better to dock as pups than to risk partial amputation later. But that’s just me.

  4. Avatar CJ says:

    It would be wise to first get correct information on tail docking from the professionals before making such blatant comments. The method of a string tied to remove the tail is an option. Although it is not the preferred way of tail docking in a veterinarians office in the USA.
    The purpose of tail docking different breeds vary as to there JOBS they were bred to do. The Miniature Pinscher, Rat Terrier and other small terrier breed such as the Yorkie, Silkie, Norwich….where bred to keep the rodents and small prey control. As to the statement that this is only for cosmetic reasons, not for their health and just for looks is far from the truth, along with the statement that these dogs DO NOT do these tasks anymore.
    The truth is that many of our dogs DO their jobs they were bred to do. Protection dogs such as Dobermans, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, American Staffardshire Terriers Have the ears and tails cropped and docked so that predators have less to get a hold of and damage. Many Terriers have the tail docked so that the owners have a handle to get a hold of to pull them out of the hole when they go to hole to remove and kill the fox, rabbit…The small dogs still do rat and mouse along with keeping other small predators off the property. The docking and cropping (for some) are for the same reason as the protection dogs to have less for predators to get a hold of. The Poodle is a water retriever the tail docked keeps the tail buoyant and acts as a bobber to assist holding the dogs rear up in water. Other sporting dogs use the docked tail as a Rutter in the water and the shorten tailis for safety reason in the field, as Mike stated in the earlier comment. Our dogs are and always have been bred to assist people that is why they are domestic.
    I just had to take a Mouse and a Shrew out of my Miniature Pinschers mouth the other night. This is why I have my little dogs and they do their jobs well. My Doberman still is my protection dog and takes his job seriously doing it well. My Welsh Springer Spaniel retrieves both up land and goes to water to get the birds. They all have docked tails, they all have a reason for tail docking in their bred specifics standard, it is NOT just for “They have always been done” ” it is a custom” as you commented.
    Our words are an effective way to communicate……let us get the facts, get all the information, and be educated in what we are saying before we go opening our mouths or putting pen to paper.

  5. Avatar Sam says:

    obviously it hurts to get there tails docked and there ears cropped!!. But most people get it done for safety reason. I own a Rottweiler and you know, her tail is docked. She doesn’t look at me ever day and say WHY DID U DO THIS TO ME ??? She doesnt care that her tail is gone. If you did more research you would know that dogs live in the moment, they dont dwell on things that happen to them.! Thats is Human psychology not dog psychology!!! And you said “that Tail-docking is a custom that has formed the way we expect certain dogs to look” Which is not true Rottweilers tails were originally docked so there tails wouldnt get caught in the carts they pulled.! As with other working dogs. Seriously I don’t think people should feel guilty for having there dogs tails docked. To me i think of it as if you chose to get your son circumcised or pierce your daughters ears.! if you think about it, it is the same thing, at lease with the circumcised analogy because the skin doesn’t grow back.

  6. Avatar Ashley says:

    I have a pittbull/boxer mix, and when we got him, he was already too old for the simple procedure of tying a string to dock his tail as a puppy, and we were told that it would be a much more involved procedure. We decided to keep his tail intact, as we didn’t want to put him through the pain of removing the tail, and we didn’t really understand the point of removing it at the time.

    He is now an adult, and he has more breaks in his tail than we can count. He gets so excited to see us that he whips his tail around, and the tip is completely bald because of the amount of times it has come into contact with walls and corners. His tail often bleeds from how hard he whacks it on things, and we find sprayed blood all over the walls.

    These injuries rarely heal, as he reopens his cuts as soon as he hits them again. If I had the opportunity to go back in time and dock his tail, there is no doubt in my mind that it would be medically necessary and would have saved him so much pain in the long run. We are currently considering saving up to have his tail amputated.

  7. Avatar wbl says:

    Hello. Interesting comments, some not convincing.

    I recently docked several pups from a litter of 8, leaving 3 undocked. Why? 5 resembled the spaniel 3 the lab. No I don’t ‘backyard breed’ and the litter was unplanned. I used the ‘rubber ligature’ method and wanted to comment on it. It worked very well applied at 3.5 days for 4 of 5, leaving a clean, dry, callused ‘stump.’ The pups experienced no pain or discomfort at all, convincing me the anti-docking ‘campaign’ is based on human emotional disturbance not dog welfare. The technique is essentially a tourniquet after all and thus numbing to the extremity.

    I wanted to comment to offer this about the 5th which had complications. It took extra days to necrotize and that happened for two reasons: 1) the band was a bit wider than the others (I ran out of the first type); and 2) the band ‘rode up’ on the tail away from the initial constriction site unnoticed by me. The end fell off finally and the pup is fine and in no observable discomfort, despite being quite ‘vocal’ about other ‘issues’ on occasion. I am on it, however, taking care to be sure he is sanitary and getting a swipe with hp and a dab of antibiotic ointment daily as a precaution.

    I noted some sites suggesting use of ‘dental bands’ which are the right width but I felt lacked a tight enough ‘crimp.’ Thus I used stationary store bands with about a 1″ oval, which I doubled & rolled, using a pen cap size tube over the tail to guide the band to the desired length. You want a thin, snappy and small band to start with, and to get a tight, thin constriction of the arteries and nerves. The band that worked so-so was wider which I think prevented it from burying itself in the pup’s fur far enough, exposing the edges of the band to the hazards of squirming in the ‘pile’ once the pups grew past the 6th day.

    As a boy, way back in the day, when homes still had chopping blocks for kindling, we took a hatchet and, yep, lopped ‘em off at day 3 or 4, on the block. It wasn’t bloody and I can’t recall any complications of doing that. In hindsight I suppose the blade was sanitized by the pine sap and polishing effect of chopping. (Yes, I’ve killed chickens . . . ) We cared a lot about the pups like all kids; we felt it important to dock; but we lived in a farm community where maybe 10000 lambs were docked every spring on the area ranches and the practice was hardly considered cruel or inhumane for dogs or livestock. I’ve seen comments about docking livestock being cruel but don’t buy it since it is a business practice if it involves livestock– a farm is a business after all, not a sort of petting zoo.

    Do you need a vet? If you are more comfortable using a vet and can afford it, and realize she may use a blade, use one. If you feel confident you can roll a small rubber band over your pinkie finger, you can dock puppies yourself if you follow my precaution about the size and elasticity of the band. Thin, snappy, small oval & make a thin, tight constriction.

    If you are still wondering how all this feels to the pup, well, try putting that tight band around your pinkie for a few minutes. It will shortly go numb and there’s your answer. If the nerve signal can’t get past the ligature to start, and the lack of blood flow enervates the tissue, the pup can’t feel anything.


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