Is Tail Docking Medically Necessary or Cosmetic?

Docking or bobbing is the practice of removing a portion of a dog's tail. In recent times, this practice of voluntary amputation has gained controversy with those who view the procedure as medically necessary and those who consider it cosmetic.

History of Dog Tail Docking

In the early eighteenth century, docking was done in England to avoid a tax placed upon all working dogs with a tail. This tax was later repealed, but it did not stop owners from docking their dogs.

In working dogs, owners discovered that the docked tail had an advantage in that those with docked tails had less chances of hurting their sensitive and vulnerable tail on the job. In hunting dogs, a wagging tail was a hazard in the instance of getting caught on bramble or burrs. In fighters, ratters and baiters, a docked tail could not be bitten by the animal being fought. And in herders, the tail was docked to prevent cattle from trampling on it and getting caught on cattle gates.

Proper, Safe Docking Justified To Avoid Injury

Docking is practiced for three basic reasons in modern times. The number one reason that dog tails are docked is if they are dogs that will be used to work in situations that may injure or maim their tails. Like in history, the docking of the tail lessens the risk of a gundog's tail getting caught in a thicket or a herder's tail getting trampled. An injured tail is painful and slow to heal, due to little blood flow.

Another common reason for docking is hygienic purposes. For long haired breeds, such as the Yorkshire Terrier, docking prevents waste matter collecting in the hair hanging from the dog's tail.

Many people think that the third modern reason why dog tails are docked-to maintain breed standards when showing-is unjustified (as it isn't done for the dog's well-being, but to obtain a certain idealized appearance). The AKC claims it has no rules that require docking, but the fact is the "ideal image" many judges have for some breeds includes a docked tail.

Proper Docking Procedure Minimizes Pain

There are typically two methods to dock a dog's tail. The most humane way is constricting the blood supply of the tail with a rubber band until the end falls off in the puppy's first week of life, before their nervous system and pain receptors fully develop.

After the first week of life, the second method involves the removal of the tail with surgical scissors and anesthetic, as it can be painful while slowly healing. After the first week, a puppy should wait until it is old enough to receive anesthetic before the amputation process.