Educating the Veterinary Students of Tomorrow
There remains great controversy within the veterinary and public communities regarding the ethics and justification for tail docking of puppies. In many instances, it can be considered unethical and purely cosmetic, however the procedure is supported by many breeders and dog owners for the practicality of activities carried out by working dogs. It is important, therefore, to consider the advantages and disadvantages, assessing the benefits, as well as any potential welfare implications which may follow.
Non-therapeutic docking of puppies in England and Wales was banned under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, excluding those considered to be ‘working dogs’, which must be evidenced and approved by a veterinary surgeon (The Kennel Club, 2013). Such breeds must be docked no later than five days old and they must be microchipped before reaching three months old (RCVS, 2007). The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) were in favour of this ban, with the view that docking is not justified as benefitting the animal and results in avoidable pain. (BVA, 2016). Scotland also placed a ban on tail docking in 2006, however this involved a complete ban, including all working and non-working dogs alike (Veterinary Record, 2016). But in 2016 the ban was adapted to exempt working spaniel and hunt point retriever breeds, resulting in a similar stance to England and Wales. From a veterinary perspective, BVA were disappointed by this result and stated that it was a ‘retrograde step for animal welfare’ (BVA, 2017).
When assessing the negative impacts of docking, there is some evidence that it affects the dog’s ability to communicate effectively with other dogs. It was found that dogs were less able to differentiate between a short/wagging tail and a short/still tail, compared to if the tail was long (Leaver and Reimchen, 2008). Therefore, it is suggested that dogs with short tails are less able to display social cues, which may result in misinterpretation and negative behavioural consequences, such as aggression. Pain is another major argument against tail docking, and there is debate, particularly between veterinary surgeons and breeders, over whether acute and/or chronic pain exist post docking (Bennett and Perini, 2003). This can be difficult to assess in puppies as it is suggested that the afferent nervous input from the tail may be poorly developed and so there is discussion over whether such pain would be present.
The arguments for tail docking include preventing tail injuries, improved hygiene for long haired breeds and to maintain breed standards (CDB, no date). In particular, working dogs are often required to hunt through brambles, which can result in painful tail wounds. In a study evaluating the risk of tail damage, it was found that docked dogs were at a significantly higher risk of tail injuries than undocked dogs (Diesel et al, 2010). However, it was also calculated that 500 dogs would need to be docked to prevent one dog from sustaining a tail injury. A similar study found that undocked working dogs in Scotland were at greater risk of injury than those docked and supports the evidence that there may be some benefit to tail docking.
There are clear differences in opinions between individuals and associations and there is evidence to support both arguments. From a veterinary perspective, the BVA and BSAVA both oppose the procedure on all dogs, including working breeds, and it is a topic which will remain under debate.
1) Bennett P.C., Perini E. (2003) ‘Tail docking in dogs: a review of the issues’, Australian Veterinary Journal 81 pp. 208–218.
2) British Veterinary Association (2017) Reintroduction of tail docking retrograde step for animal welfare in Scotland. Available at: https://www.bva.co.uk/news-campaigns-and-policy/newsroom/news-releases/reintroduction-of-tail-docking-retrograde-step-for-animal-welfare-in-scotland/ (Accessed 5 February 2018)
3) British Veterinary Association (2016) Policy position: tail docking of dogs. Available at: https://www.bva.co.uk/uploadedFiles/Content/News,_campaigns_and_policies/Policies/Companion_animals/Tail_Docking_Policy_Statement.pdf (Accessed 4 February 2018)
4) Council of Docked Breeds (no date) The Case for Tail Docking. Available at http://www.cdb.org/case4dock.htm (Accessed 4 February 2018)
5) Diesel, G., Pfeiffer, D., Crispin, S., Brodbelt, D. (2010) ‘Risk factors for tail injuries in dogs in Great Britain’, Veterinary Record 166, pp. 812-817
6) Leaver, S. D. A., Reimchen, T. E. (2008) ‘Behavioural responses of Canis familiaris to different tail lengths of a remotely-controlled life-size dog replica’, Behaviour 145, pp. 377-390
7) Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (2007) Tail docking in dogs. Available at: https://www.rcvs.org.uk/news-and-views/news/tail-docking-of-dogs/ (Accessed 3 February 2018)
8) The Kennel Club (2013) Tail docking. Available at: https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/our-resources/media-centre/issue-statements/tail-docking/ (Accessed 4 February 2018).
9) (2016) ‘Scotland to allow docking of working dogs' tails’, Veterinary Record 179, pp. 369-370.
Tail Docking of Puppies (England & Wales)