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The Tail Docking Controversy

By Paige

Puppy with docked tail

Image from kushwaha

Considering our stance on dying or coloring dogs, our readers probably know how we are going to feel about tail docking (don’t worry, we have a problem with ear cropping too, that’s a rant for another day).

C’Mon Give Us A Good One…

We’ve seen plenty of “reasons” why it is done and not one of them satisfies us. Anyone who has seen an actual tail docking (or the recovery process) will probably agree. Tails are the way they are for a reason, who are we to question Mother Nature & change them for our own benefit?

Australian Shephard with a docked tail

Images from Didier-Lg & Four Doxn

History of Docking

Originally docking was thought to help prevent rabies, strengthen back and increase speed. During early Gregorian times in the UK those who owned working dogs were taxed if they had tails. This legislation ended in 1796 but the barbaric practice persisted.

Modern Day Dockers

Modern day docking is done in two different types of dogs.

Hunting & Herding Dogs
Essentially any dog who works in the fields where their tails collect burrs and foxtails.
Australian Shephard with a docked tail

Image from protoflux

Guard Dogs
In several of the brute breeds commonly used for protection and guard dogs, tail docking (and often ear clipping) makes them look more aggressive.
Doberman & Boxer with docked tails

Image from sduffy

However archaic this sounds, it is a breed registry standard in many cases.

Traditionally Docked Dog Breeds

Australian Silky
Australian Shepherd
Bouvier des Flandres
Bracco Italiano
Cane Corsa
German Pointer (short & wire haired)
Griffon Bruxellois
Hungarian vizsla
Italian Spinone
Large Munsterlander
Neopolitan mastiff
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Spanish Water Dog
Swedish vallhund

Old English Sheepdog | Polish Lowland Sheepdog

American Cocker Spaniel | Clumber Spaniel | Cocker Spaniel | English Springer Spaniel | Field Spaniel | King Charles Spaniel | Sussex Spaniel | Welsh Springer Spaniel

Airedale Terrier | Australian Terrier | Fell Terrier | Glen of Imaal Terrier | Irish Terrier | Jack Russell Terrier | Kerry Blue Terrier | Lucas Terrier | Norfolk Terrier | Norwich Terrier | Patterdale Terrier | Russian Black Terrier | Sealyham Terrier |Smooth Fox Terrier | Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier | Welsh Terrier | Wire-haired Fox Terrier | Yorkshire Terrier

Countries That Have Banned Tail Docking (You guys rock!)

The countries below do not allow tail docking.

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Estonia
  • France
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Scotland
  • Slovakia
  • South Africa
  • Switzerland
  • Virgin Islands

There are other countries with partial bans – in specific areas, pertaining to specific breeds or a ban on cosmetic docking.

Listen To The Pros

If you want more information about tail docking and how (most) veterinarians view the practice.

Want The Real Deal?

Check out the natural shapes of the dog tail world by learning some of the dog tail shape basics.

29 Responses to “The Tail Docking Controversy”

  1. Jonathan says:

    This “ban” has been granted exemption on welfare grounds for working dogs in many of the countries that have a ban in place for “cosmetic docking” . Having witnessed both the docking procedure and recovery process first hand, it must be said that there are far more important veterinary health and welfare issues than this one. This is a minor procedure and in the case of working dogs and particularly terriers is of utmost importance to prevent injury. Vets have agreed to this, that is why the exemption has been granted for working dogs in mnany countries.

  2. Sara says:

    Three points.
    1. Indeed, it is a very minor procedure and causes no trauma. Docking is not “cutting off a dog’s tail.” It is not done with a knife, scissors or clippers. Appropriate docking is wrapping a rubber band around the tail of a newborn. The excess tail falls off.
    2. Dogs who herd animals larger than themselves (i.e. cattle) benefit from docked tails because the tail is likely to be stepped on and the dog trampled — causing serious injury or death. Shall we take away the working dog?
    3. Aussies can be a “natural bob.” Some have the gene and are labeled “NBT” and therein lies the possibility of spinal defects. Research is ongoing. See http://www.imgnr.com/nbt_study.htm

  3. Paige says:

    There is nothing anyone can say to convince us that unnaturally removing part of a dogs body is ok under any circumstance that isn’t going to save it’s life. Perhaps we shouldn’t be “working” dogs in jobs that are so dangerous to their parts.

  4. Jonathan says:

    So are we then going to ban circumcision, tattoos, all body piercing, tribal scarification, boob jobs, lid lifts, cheek implants(even if they are helping the disfigured-disfigurement is not life threatening, therefore not technically medically necessary)and a host of other “cosmetic procedures”?
    The point about work and perceived or possible danger is also frivolous, many of the most rewarding and necessary things in life are also a little bit risky. There is a risk to crossing the street and far more dogs are killed by cars each year than in hunting accidents or whilst performing search and rescue or police work. 300 search and rescue dogs participated in the search for victims buried in the rubble at 9/11. In this, the most dangerous of disaster situations only 1 dog lost his life and this was due to valiant endeavour, not being forced to do this work against his will.

    The “working”relationship between dog and man can be traced back at least 15000 years. All of the original domestic dogs were working dogs as this was a necessity for their and their keepers survival, to hunt and care for livestock. The rise of the dog as a pet is a recent phenomenon that has taken place in the last 200 years only. Working breeds are at their happiest and most glorious when allowed to perform the tasks for which they are intended and enjoy. There is contradiction in the statement that all procedures should only be performed if they will save the animals life. What about spay and neuter? Compared to tail docking, this is a far more surgically invasive procedure and also one that requires a general anaesthetic, something that studies have shown is not at all good for canines. The long term health benefit/risk ratio on dogs that have been spayed or neutered show that this procedure has more begative than positive possible outcomes.( Laura J Sanborn 2007). How can a quick tail docking procedure, over in seconds with no ill eefects when performed properly by a competent breeder or Vet be the latest scandalous discovery in animal cruelty, whilst the campaign for the mandatory gutting and castration of all dogs gathers speed as the latest trend in responsible dog ownership?

  5. DC says:

    From what I’ve read on this subject, people seem to agree to disagree on this matter. Although I would not personally have a dog’s tail or ears altered, it is a fact that some people do and will continue to do so. My main concern is that there are a lot of backyard breeders that do it themselves. In my book, this home practice is what should be made illegal. If tails are to be cropped, then it should be done by a qualified vet. If you have a good rapport with your vet, he/she will do a house call to do this, just as they do for large farm animals. I have had 3 ‘rescued’ poodles in my lifetime and every one of them had their tails docked way too short. The standard poodle I have recently rescued from the shelter has less than 2 inches of tail left, a far cry from the ‘equal to the top of her head’ recommended length. I cannot imagine how short it was cropped as a 2-5 day old puppy. It definitely was not was more than taking off 1/3 of the lenght and was cropped well into the bony part of the tail and no one would be able to convince me that it didn’t hurt.

  6. Jonathan says:

    The point above is very pertinent. There is a right way to perform this procedure and also a wrong way. Prior to 96 hours old, with surgical hygiene and caution and there are no problems. Most breed societies that protect working dogs have a specified procedure for docking tails correctly.

  7. Sandy says:

    I am a Foster parent to dogs in need for several organizations. I recently obtained a little 6 pound Rat Terrier that had her tail docked by some obscene person without an ounce of caring in their soul. She is only 6 months old and was dumped at a shelter (high Kill) then rescued. The poor little thing has had the tail removed so short that not only is there no sign of even a nub, there is actually a dent in her where her tail belonged. Not only that,now her little rectom doesn’t even close all the way so if she get excited or scared she leaks. She is lacking the muscle to be able to pinch of the stool as she deficates and the nerves have been damaged so she has pain every time she pottys. She SCEAMS in PAIN. We took her to a vet yesterday, he says surgery can be done but it’s not likely to help her any and will cost from $1,000 to $4,000 dollars. The only thing I know to do is start some fund raisers, hope for the best surgeon we can get for this problem and pray. She is so prescious and sweet. Now tell me again someone…”TAIL DOCKING DOES’T HURT THE DOG.” All I have to say to that is….”THAT’S A BUNCH OF CRAP.”

  8. Sandy says:

    Ok, I know I’m going to hear alot of, “If it is done properly by a qualified vet.” And that is true, I have two dogs, now, that had their tales done, before I got them and they are fine. But I’ll bet there are just as many botched tail jobs as there are properly done ones. I feel, that unless there is a health reason for the docking, and it will benifit the dog, then it shouln’t be done. And it shouldn’t be done by anyone except a exceptionaly qualified vet.

  9. Jonathan says:

    To say there just as many botched tail jobs as successful ones is ridiculous. Present the verifiable data to support that.
    The proper procedure is prior to 96 hours old with surgical cleanliness. Working terrier tails have been docked for centuries by their breeders and there is no evidence to support the fact that a Vet can do it better than a competent breeder. I agree with the correct procedure and shy away from all ths emotive nonsense. A test case was recently thrown out of court in South Africa as the prosecutor could find no evidence of wrong doing and the case was brought against a competent breeder who preformed the procedure herself properly. A massive waste of time and resources could be better spent policing real canine welfare issues. Read the whole story here

  10. rich says:

    My dog just had it’s tail amputated due to a mast cell tumor so I’m hoping that there wont be any major complications. She cannot communicate as she used to and is clearly in a lot of pain. If it is possible to avoid getting this done do so, I have no choice because of tbhe risk of the cancer metastisizing. Hopefully she will return to her old self, but the thumping of her tail and excited wagging is now gone.

  11. Sandy says:

    Obviously you work with competent breeders and veterinarians. And you are certainly correct in what you say as far as I know. I’m not arguing the fact that it can be done correctly and safely. However, I work in rescue. I have no degrees in any kind of veterinary fields. I’ve done no real studies on any of this. But what I see, is the incompetent home breeder.( I have no problem with licensed,humane,knowledgeable, breeders) Last year in one case alone, over 600 dogs and puppies were rescued from one puppy-mill. Have you seen the inhumane conditions these dogs are forced to live in. These are the same kind of breeders that do not use proper procedures and cleanliness when doing such things as docking tails and ears.Nor do they get competent vets to do it as that takes away from their profits. I see the effects of this kind of breeding and care, or should I say lack of it.
    I still prefer to see tail docking not done unless there is a health reason, or as you say, for some breeds of working dogs. Just for appearance doesn’t work for me.
    Rich, I am so sorry to hear about your dog.You obviously had no choice but to try to save your dogs life. This is of course not the same as tail docking.
    I pray that she recovers completely and although you will always miss that happy wagging tail, console yourself in the fact that you have her. In time she will find new ways to communicate with you.
    God bless you

  12. Jonathan says:

    Sandy sums it up well and also points out that this post has opened up into a debate on subjects other than its original starting point. Amputations, puppy farming and uninformed backyard breeding are all issues that deserve attention, perhaps more attention than is currently being focused on properly performed tail docking. Good wishes to all and their dogs( especially the ones who are recuperating) on this site and around the world

  13. Sandy says:

    Thanks Jonathan, But I do hope everyone keeps focusing on all the issues concerning our beloved animals whether they be pets or working partners. I think it’s time that their rights as a living, feeling, caring beings are brought out into the open,discussed and laws brought forth that will help all of these innocent creatures live happier, healthier lives. We all have an subject that really pulls on our heart strings,so it will take all of us to get attention brought to each of these areas of concern.

  14. DC says:

    I have a question for Jonathan and Sandy. How can a person know he/she is dealing with a “licensed, humane, knowledgeable breeder”? The fact is that most people buy puppies from affordable sources and just don’t know any better. Unfortunately, these “affordable sources” also don’t seem to know any better either. From what I understand, it’s not very hard to become a registered breeder and very little proof of being “knowledgeable” is required.
    I may not have all the facts but from what I can read, the main reason that some dog breeds are altered today is not because of their ‘work’ but more because of the standards established by Kennel Clubs. Let’s face it, people do as people see. If we’re only seeing certain breeds with docked tails or altered ears, then of course that’s what we think is ‘normal’. If we start seeing more animals in their natural state, then that will become normal to us. I know that in New Brunswick, vets no longer perform this service so breeders (knowledgeable or not) are left to their own devices to tackle it themselves. I have yet to see a poodle in this province who’s tail is more than a few inches long…far shorter than the standards set. I don’t know about the rest of the readers but I feel I need to do something. For starters, I will be looking into possibly pulling some accurate information together and providing it to those breeders in my area that advertise particular breeds. It may not convince them to stop the practice of tail docking, but at least raise some awareness. If you have any suggestions, please pass it along.

  15. Jonathan says:

    My view of a responsible breeder is someone who does his or her best to talk you out of getting a dog and who will be upfront with prospective owners about the realities of owning a puppy and raising it to a dog. I always emphasise the pooping and peeing on carpets, digging up of lawns( and also carpeting, floorboards and tiles) and a whole array of other inconveniences associated with my breed, that is the “working Jack Russell terrier”. They also need to know that they are in for a lifetime commitment and a decent dog breeder will give you his/her written assurance that they will take the dog back from you at any point in its natural life if circumstances dictate that you cannot keep it. As for docking and show ring standards, I cannot comment as I am not part of the Kennel Club show crowd. Terriers, thank God have been kept away from the show ring and its associated cosmetic demands for nearly 2 centuries and the positive rewards of this are obvious when this strain is compared in terms of health on a genetic level and longevity to other show breeds. Don’t buy a dog from someone who just agrees to sell you one, expect questions and demands from someone who cares about their dogs and their futures. Your breeder is supposed to be your friend after the purchase of the puppy. Type ” hump and dump dog breeder” into google and there is a very good piece to read on this..

  16. Stef says:

    “So are we then going to ban circumcision, tattoos, all body piercing, tribal scarification, boob jobs, lid lifts, cheek implants(even if they are helping the disfigured-disfigurement is not life threatening, therefore not technically medically necessary)and a host of other “cosmetic procedures”?”

    Those procedures are done on humans. Humans can have a say in what is done to them (with the exception of circumcision which I believe is more often done without the permission of the recipient than with). Dogs can’t choose whether or not they want their tails docked. And although the band round a small puppy’s tail may be the most humane way who’s to say it’s not still painful whilst the nerves are dying. And as Sandy said there are people who do it wrong and cause lifelong problems and pain.

    Although I have to admit there may be cases where it does need doing. Injury for example and working breeds who do actually work. For cosmetic purposes I dislike the act. My neighbour has a female Jack Russell which is a working breed however Bella (neighbour’s dog) is not a working dog yet her tail is docked. It makes me sad to see it.

  17. bdz says:

    The terrier described by Sandy in her January 28, 2010 post could actually be a dog with a congenital bobbed tail. The nerves that control the rectum come out of the spinal cord further up in the body than the tail but a tailess-ness birth defect could produce all of the symptoms described. I have only had one tail docked in my dogs. An adult male Borzoi who caught his tail between the wire mesh forming the sides of the crate and then exited the crate breaking his tail off in the process. The emergency vet had to take some more off so we had enough skin to seal the stump so he ended up with 6 inches of tail. It healed pretty quickly and he never seemed to miss it – although for cosmetic purposes I did miss his tail. I also had a greyhound who used to beat her tail tip bloody with excessively violently wagging. Leaving blood on the appliances and walls. We were afraid we might have to dock the tail because of the repeated wounding of its tip but I was finally able to teach her to sit every time she greeted us so the tail was no longer whipped about.

    However my experience with her caused me to wonder if part of the reason for docking the tails in dogs such as Dobermanns was that before antibiotics were developed a dog that regularly wounded its long whip like tail the way my greyhound did might die of an infection.

  18. Rodrigo says:

    Hi, Brazil have also banned tail docking, along with ears as well. In fact all non-essencial and only-for-looking surgery in pets are banned.

  19. mike_87 says:

    Domestic dogs,Canis Lupus familiaris, is in no way natural. This arguement that docking a dogs tail goes against nature and is unnatural is ridiculous as domestic dogs are not natural in themselves. They are a product of human intervention in evolution. Domestic dogs are a product of mankind, this is evident in the fact that in no way would natural selection ever select for many of the odd characteristics of many breed and in the fact that domestic dogs are very different than wild dogs such as wolves or coyotes, in that even a domesticated wolf will not look towards humans for help when attempting to solve problems but domestic dogs instinctively look to humans for help (just place your dogs favorite treat or toy in a place that is just out of their reach and you will see that eventually they will look to you for help). And for someone to say that a dog should not be used in working that may put them in harms way just shows how little you really know or understand about working dogs. These working dogs love to work and love to do a job it gives them a sense of purpose. These dogs instinctively want to work and a working dog that is not given a job or a purpose is an unhappy dog. This is why many owners of jack russels or other working terriers find the dogs to be uncontrollable and mentally unstable. One of the most cruel things a person can do to a dog, aside from physical abuse or gross neglect, is to treat their dog like a person and not like a dog, most dogs were bred for a purpose and are happiest when performing this purpose. Treating a dog like a person can lead to mantal instability, hyperactivity, and destructive behavior.Tail docking is important to many breeds but should only be done correctly and to breed standards.

  20. Jonathan says:

    Amen to mike_87.

  21. I just can’t understand why the animal welfare board have yet again to interfere with tail docking of dogs. If certain breeds have had their tails docked for generations, why now does this institution have to poke their noses into something that now seems so natural for those dogs, by changing the law in which tail docking becomes illegal, you have changed the way people view these dogs.
    In Norway (Shechita) (Jewish ritual slaughter of cattle) became illegal three years before the Nazis came to power in germany in 1933, however they allow ritual slaughter (Hallal) for Muslims. The animal welfare board would just love to make ‘Shechita illegal and they have already tried on several occasions however unsuccessful for the time being.
    If and when one day they succeed, that will be a very sad day for religious tollerance, however possibly by that time the already dwindling jewish community of the UK will have left these shores for the safety of Israel, away from The Jew-hating British Muslims and british indegenous socialist jew-hating-Israel-hating scum.

  22. FarmerAlex says:

    Jack Russells have been a part of my family as long as I can remember. In fact one of my first memories is of my father and grandfather coming home from a day long of rat hunting with 7 or 8 of our terriers(all tails docked)As a child I used to think JRT tails were naturally short, and didn’t think much of it until I saw my grandmother tying string on newborns tails. Our dogs were happiest while working. Never had I witnessed an injury to a dog due to its tail being docked. We did lose a few dogs when they went to ground, only to never be seen again. As children we were sad to lose a dog, but we always knew they died while doing something they loved. The only time I saw a dog get hurt was when an un-docked terrier got his tail tangled up in the thick briar. I never saw that dog again. I’d like to think the farmer who owned that dog kept him as a house pet, however I doubt it. Unfortunately a working dog needs to earn his keep. I’m not a educated man, but I believe a fate far worse than docking tails is taking working dogs away from what they do best-work.

  23. bishop says:


    It is a pleasure to read comments written by someone with this knowledge, but more importantly–common sense.

  24. Jana says:

    No Jonathan, not amen to Mike; his is an unqualified and unquantifiable view of the evolutionary trajectory or relationship between humans and dogs. However, using his own narrow hypothesis that dogs look to us for “help”, we reasonably should then be their stewards and not harm them for reasons that are antiquated and no longer make sense (if they ever did).

    Every argument for tail docking in the 21st century is complete bullshit, including Mike’s. Cosmetic “breed standards” were set by people that are long dead. We DO have the ability to change, modernize, amend or make up our own rules and traditions. The use of the “tradition” argument is absolutely meaningless—after all, we have amended many of our ancestor’s more dubious traditions and we will continue to do so.

  25. Martin Molock says:

    Mike _87 is right when people talk about dogs they are treating the dog as it is a human. I for one love dogs myself and i’ve had 2 dogs with a dock tail and there was never any issue with the dog or it’s feelings. It’s just like nuetering a dog we do it for our own comforts, to make the dog less aggressive or not have it runnign around when females are in heat/ unwatned litters but it’s ok to put the dog through that kind of pain right… As long as it benifits te human. People are such hypocrtes

  26. Britney Woolverton says:

    I have had two litters of puppies and I couldn’t dock their tails. But I do believe that it is important in some breeds. Herding breeds can not help chasing/herding cows or other herd type animals. It is bred into them from centuries past. Just recently my parants sheltie was down with the horses and she wasn’t herding them. But that didn’t matter, she got stepped on. She lost the end of her beauitful fluffy tail. I was very trematic for the poor old dog. Now if her tail would have been docked she wouldn’t have had to go through that ordeal. So I’m sorry but I do think that some dogs do need to have their tails docked for their own safety.

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  28. Melinda says:

    My loving dog is a mix of breeds (9 breeds) and has a bob tail from his Australian Shepherd lineage. Every time we go out people ask me about it, thinking that it was cut off. Some even talk in a judgmental, condescending way to me. I have to even show them the tip of his tail for them to believe me. At times it can be frustrating to have to explain that my dog indeed is healthy and wasn’t mutilated. He has no problems communicating with other dogs and is extremely sociable.

    Just like declawing a cat, it is horrible to maim an animal, but please be kind.

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