Tail Docking, Part 2

Why are some dogs’ tails cut? Should they be? The Dog Trainer discusses  3 arguments against tail docking.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #130

Last week, I described the arguments and claims in favor of tail docking and concluded that they don’t hold water. But maybe even if docking doesn’t do any good, it also doesn’t do any harm. This week, I’ll discuss the 3 main arguments against docking.

Argument #1: Docking Hurts

In the U.S., docking is usually done by the puppy’s breeder. There are two methods. The puppy’s tail may be amputated surgically, or the breeder may fit a tight elastic band around the tail to cut off circulation. The tail dies and drops off.

Docking advocates assert that “long experience indicates that when carried out correctly, the procedure causes no pain or discomfort.” Supposedly the puppies are too physically immature to feel pain, so anesthesia isn’t used. By the way, the same rationale used to be applied to human infants; until the early or mid-1980s, they underwent even major surgery minus any anesthesia or postsurgical pain relief.


It’s also argued that because puppies often suckle immediately after docking, they must not be in pain. This claim is countered by studies showing that young animals and babies may eat more or have so-called “sleeping fits” after known painful experiences. In these circumstances, eating and sleeping may be “displacement behaviors,” normal behaviors that show up at unexpected times, as a response to stress. Or they may directly reflect a survival mechanism, since rest and nourishment both help animals recover after injury.

Puppies being docked shrieked and whimpered an average of 42 times during the procedure.

What about puppies specifically? A study recording the behavior of 50 puppies found that they “shrieked” an average of 24 times and “whimpered” an average of 18 times during surgical amputation of their tails. The puppies did settle down a maximum of 15 minutes later, so the pain may be short-lived. Still, 24 shrieks and 18 whimpers are a lot of puppy ow.


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).