Dog Tail Docking

Back in college my Golden Retriever, Magic, was nicknamed “Tail of Doom” because of her propensity from knocking every single thing off of a coffee table in one swipe.

So many dog breeds consistently have their tails docked that many people do not even realize that it has been done. How many of us have ever seen a Boxer dog with a natural tail? I’m sure many people think that the Boxer is born with a short stubby tail.

I had a moment the other day at the dog run, when I saw a Boston Terrier with a natural tail and I realized that I can’t remember ever having seen one before. The dog was adorable
and I wondered why Boston Terrier tails are docked. This dog didn’t seem to have any problems or issues with having a long tail instead of a nub. So why are we habitually docking them?

A quick bit of research gave me the most prevalent answer: tradition. Because it’s part of the “breed standard” it continues to be done. Many working dogs had their tails docked to prevent them from being injured in the course of the dog doing his job. But, in this day when most dogs are pet dogs do we really need to continue medical procedures that seem unnecessary?

The best pro-docking argument I found was here:

Why Are Dog’s Tails Docked?

1. To avoid tail damage

A number of working gundog breeds have to hunt game through heavy vegetation and thick brambles, where their fast tail action can easily lead to torn and bleeding tails which are painful and extremely difficult to treat. Docking the end of the tail eliminates the risk of injury.

Working terriers are docked for the same reason. In addition, terriers which are bred to hunt below ground for purposes such as fox control, have their tails docked to a length which is more practical when working in a confined space.

Other non-working breeds which have an enthusiastic tail action, are also liable to damage their tails, even in the home.

Since docking was banned in Sweden in 1989, there has been a massive increase in tail injuries amongst previously docked breeds. Within the 50 undocked Pointer litters registered in that year with the Swedish Kennel Club, 38% of dogs suffered tail injury before they were 18 months old and in 1991, the number of individuals with tail injures had increased to 51% of the group.

2. For reasons of hygiene

Long haired, thick coated breeds like the Yorkshire Terrier and Old English Sheepdog are docked to avoid the hair around the base of the tail becoming fouled by faeces. Even with constant grooming and washing, such fouling is unpleasant. If allowed to get out of hand, it can lead to severe problems of hygiene, or even flystrike and subsequent infestation by maggots.

Hygiene problems can be greatly reduced or eliminated altogether by docking.

3. To maintain breed standards

Breeds which have been docked over many generations have been selected for specific qualities of build and conformation, but not for tail length, shape or carriage.

If left undocked, it is unlikely that the best dogs would carry good tails. In seeking to maintain the quality of the breeds, breeders would therefore be left with a diminished number of suitable sires and dams. The genetic pool would be reduced, greatly increasing the risk of hereditary diseases taking hold. Some breeds could even disappear for ever.

I’m not sure I buy into the whole “genetic pool would be reduced” argument, but the statistics from Sweden are interesting. I’d love to hear from people that have experience with docking vs. not docking. I’m of the mindset that people should be made aware of the pros and cons and let them choose whether or not their breeder gets their puppy’s tail docked.

As for Magic’s Tail of Doom, I wouldn’t have docked it even if it meant saving years of spilled beverages.

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