Tail Docking, Part 1

Why are some dogs’ tails cut? Should they be? The Dog Trainer discusses (and debunks) 6 arguments in favor of tail docking. 

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #129

Docking is the practice of amputating part or all of an animal’s tail. The practice is controversial and several countries have banned it. Some dogs have been bred for bobbed tails and don’t undergo amputation. But in the U.S., Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, Cocker Spaniels, Boston Terriers, and several other breeds usually have docked tails. This week, I’ll discuss 6 arguments made by docking advocates. Next week, I’ll examine the case against docking.

Argument #1: Gundogs With Undocked Tails May Be Injured in the Field

True, you can’t injure a tail that isn’t there, but we have to ask whether injuries are prevalent enough in certain breeds to justify amputating the tail of every puppy belonging to that breed. A survey of German Shorthaired Pointers in Sweden, carried out after that country banned docking, found “a fair amount of injuries.”

Are claims about the benefits of tail docking for hunting dogs relevant to pets?

On the other hand, the study was conducted under the auspices of an organization that advocates docking. And a peer-reviewed study of a random sample of veterinary practices in Great Britain, where most docking is banned, found a total of 281 tail injuries  among 138,212 dogs over a two-year stretch. The authors concluded that about 500 puppies would have to be docked in order to prevent just one tail injury. But of course, docking is itself an injury. And even if gundogs were better off docked, which this study makes pretty doubtful, your pet Boxer doesn’t hunt through heavy brush for a living.
And one more thing about those German Shorthaired Pointers in Sweden: German Longhaired Pointers, who also work as gundogs, don’t normally have their tails cropped. Hmm.

Argument #2: Terriers in Tight Spaces Underground Need Short Tails

Although I have seen this assertion made, I’ve never found the reasoning spelled out, so I don’t know what bad consequence a long tail is supposed to have. This makes it hard to assess whether the claim makes sense. Is the problem that the dog’s tail might stick out of the rat hole? If so, why is that a problem? Is the tail vulnerable to attack? But presumably the rat or other prey is further down the hole or den, at the dog’s front.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).