cropping, docking, and dewclaws, oh my, Dog Health, Responsible Breeding, Responsible Ownership

Repost by request: Cropping and docking part 2: Docking

Yesterday we looked at cropping (ears). As you may have seen from the comments, there’s a much stronger feeling against cropping than there is against docking.

This is really interesting, considering that docking actually removes more tissue, bone, and of course a whole bunch of the dog’s spinal cord; cropping just removes skin (and tissue and nerves and so on). Please don’t think I’m minimizing cropping; but in terms of physical trauma there’s no contest.

The reason, I think, that we tend to accept docking much more easily and even anti-cropping people will still dock their puppies is simply because it happens so early.

Docking is typically done when the puppies are just a few days old. Some breeders bring the puppies to the vet but most experienced breeders will dock the puppies themselves. This is done for the same reason that private croppers do ears – because very few vets are as much an expert on the breed as the breeder is, and experienced breeders are MUCH better than their vets at predicting growth. Several breeds are flattered most by tails that relate to the size of the adult dog – for example, that the tail end as high as the head, or in a specific proportion of the height of the dog. I was once in on a discussion of poodle tail length and it was like listening to an algebra class – the length of the tail and the size and shape of the tail pom in proportion to the dog’s body length, height, the rest of the groom, etc. is considered vital not just to the look of the dog but to the entire type and “poodliness” of the dog. It takes an experienced breeder to translate the fractions of an inch of a newborn puppy to the size and shape of the adult dog and to adjust each tail a centimeter up or down to meet the size and shape of the eventual dog.


Another reason breeders usually dock tails themselves is that even if the tail doesn’t relate to the size of the adult dog, tails in the show ring go through fads and fashions in the same way that grooming or markings do. These differences are usually completely invisible to a layperson but to breeders they are like a neon sign. A breeder can say that tails seem to be a half-inch longer or shorter this year and adjust the docking to meet this.

Vets usually dock tails surgically – by cutting. Depending on the breed a suture is placed in the end of the tail or it is glued or it is just left alone. Breeders who dock generally either tie off the tail (put a length of suture material or string or elastic or dental floss, depending on what they prefer, around the tail and then tying it tightly to cut off circulation to the tail) or band the tail (use a very strong, tight rubber band and an elastrator tool). Some cut the tails, others crush and twist them off; there are as many methods (and people firmly devoted to theirs as best) as there are breeders.

So WHY is this “no big deal”? I would imagine that if you were walking your adult Irish Setter around and someone walked over and cut off his tail (an inch from his anus) with a branch lopper, you would not think it was a minor event. But we’ve all bought the idea that it doesn’t matter because we’re cutting off such a little teeny thing.

Ask breeders who dock tails how they justify doing something so traumatic to the dog, and you will invariably get the same response: it doesn’t hurt them. The puppy’s nervous system is too immature to feel pain. The puppies barely squeak. They nurse and go to sleep right away. It’s over in a second. They will either follow this or preface it by saying that it’s in the standard, it’s the historical look of the dog, the dog just looks better this way, I love the little bunny butt, and so on.

I think that in addressing this we have to leave the aesthetics alone for a while, because they’re very much an individual thing. Some people think no tails are adorable, and it’s not like I can say “No they’re not!” Even if I believed that, appearance is pretty much by definition an “eye of the beholder” quality.

And I think that most people would agree that aesthetics only get to rule in a situation where there is no harm either way. I think short hair is attractive, I cut it. I think no nose is attractive, people would get a lot more heated about that.

Unless, of course, everyone thought that removing the nose was painless and harmless as long as you did it before the baby was a week old.

That’s pretty much exactly where we are in dogs. We may not like the idea of docking on a philosophical level, but we’re not going to make a big deal about it, because it “doesn’t hurt.”

Well, this is very tragically wrong.

Let’s look at the evidence for “it doesn’t hurt” one piece at a time. If you need specific studies referenced, let me know and I’ll give you my bibliography, but for the sake of time and flow I’m just going to write it out here. I promise that nothing I’m going to say is not backed up VERY CLEARLY by peer-reviewed studies.


1) The puppy’s nervous system is too immature to feel pain.

False. In fact, puppy pain response is so well established that it’s one of the tests used to determine whether the puppy is fit and vital. A study comparing traditional injectable, short-acting, and epidural anesthesia methods for performing c-sections on bitches demonstrated that short-acting was safer than injectable and epidural was safer than inhaled in no small part because the puppies’ PAIN RESPONSE was intact and immediate on the epidural bitches, acceptable in the short-acting-anesthesia bitches, and sluggish in the injectable-treated bitches.

Another argument is that the myelin around the puppies’ nerves is not fully developed, so they do not feel pain.

Again, this is false. This is the argument that subjected countless human babies to major surgeries without anesthesia, a practice that has (thankfully) ended now as we better understand the way nerves work. Myelin insulation makes the nerve impulses move faster, but its absence in no way prevents the animal, human or otherwise, from feeling pain. Human babies have pretty poor myelinization, but anybody who puts a baby into a bath that the baby thinks is too warm or too cool knows EXACTLY how well those skin receptors work. Even extremely premature human babies can feel and learn to anticipate heel sticks, which are not terribly traumatic.

Puppies know when they’re hot, cold, hungry, they know enough to want to put their heads up on something to feel more comfy when they sleep. An extremely light touch near a puppy’s nose will trigger rooting and sniffing. If they can feel when you move one of their whiskers, how on EARTH could they not feel it when you cut a third of their spinal cord off?


2) The puppy barely squeaks.

Again, this is no evidence. Vocalization is not just “I feel pain” or “I don’t feel pain.” Newborn animals, and this includes humans, will often react to pain by stopping a vocalization. When Zuzu fractured her skull, she barely cried. But there’s no way I’m going to say that based on that experience skull fractures don’t hurt. When the pain is sharp or shocking, baby animals will actually withdraw, quiet down, stop moving around, as their brains look for a way to deal with the pain and get comfort.

Which leads to

3) They nurse and go to sleep right away.

This is a CLASSIC example of a self-comforting behavior, a defense mechanism. Babies that are hurting nurse and sleep. An experienced mom can tell the difference between the frantic nursing of a hurt baby and the quiet and relaxed nursing of a content baby, but could you see that difference in a newborn puppy? I don’t think I could. But as an experienced human mom, I can tell you that the times that my kids have been in the most pain – Zuzu with her head, the time Tabitha fractured her tibia, and the time Honour put a tiny upholstery tack up her nose and the ER doc couldn’t get it and kept pushing and prying for over an hour and made her nose swell and bleed like bonkers (lesson to all moms: MAKE THEM PAGE THE ENT DOCTOR, who will get it out in less than two seconds), once the initial crying was over all three of them did nothing but nurse and sleep. They slept limp and hard; they were difficult to rouse. They slept on the x-ray table, every single one of them.

I tell those stories because I think the moms out there know this and recognize it in their own kids, not because I think dogs are humans. But can we generalize it to dogs? I think, demonstrably, yes. Many studies show that nursing and sleeping are a displacement mechanism across the animal kingdom, used as an adaptive behavior when the baby animal is in physical pain.

4) It’s over in a second.

This is the one that is the most poorly understood. We think that once the tail is gone, it’s gone. The pain is over.

But here’s the thing: You’ve removed a body part that is packed tight with nerves. When you cut those nerves, they do not just seal themselves off and sit there happily. They “know” where they’re supposed to go and how long they’re supposed to be, and when the cut ends try to heal they form massive, swollen tangles called neuromas. Neuromas are one of the causes of chronic amputated-limb pain in humans, and one of the reasons that many humans with amputations never really feel healed.

Neuromas have been studied pretty extensively in relation to the animals that are routinely killed within a few months of being docked – sheep (tails), pigs (tails) and chickens (beaks). In lambs, neuromas are found in the tail area even six months after docking (when the lambs are routinely slaughtered for food). In pigs, neuromas are present in the tail at full-market-weight slaughter. In chickens, neuromas are found when the chicken is a year and a half old, even though the beak was cut back when the chick was a day or two old. There are only a few small studies involving neuromas in docked dogs – because, of course, we don’t slaughter dogs – but the one study that examined three docked dogs euthanized for behavior problems found neuromas in the tail of all three, though they had been docked years before.


We can’t ask dogs whether they hurt. But we can say that we see neuromas associated with pain in humans, who can be asked, and we can say that docked dogs have neuromas that persist for years. Dogs are VERY stoic about pain, and they do not complain until the pain is pretty major. So while I’d never say that docked dogs remain in terrible pain forever, I think it’s quite plausible that they always have a bit of an ache, an itch, a twinge, far more often than we’d imagined.

So this is the situation. We have an aesthetic choice being made because it doesn’t hurt the dog. If we can demonstrate pretty clearly that it DOES hurt (and I think that’s inescapable) and there’s a strong possibility that it CONTINUES to hurt, at least a little, then how can we justify it?

This is where people start talking about the other reasons for docking, so let’s look at those:

5) Because it’s the historical appearance and meets the breed standards. And I agree with them! I am totally a traditionalist when it comes to purebred dog standards; I believe in them and I don’t want them changed for any but the most dire of reasons. I will defend the Pekingese club’s right to a short face until the day I die. But the standard MUST bend, I think it really must, when it comes to clear evidence of pain. You’ve GOT to rethink things when it’s not just the one in a hundred that hurts a leg because your breed is heavier than average, it’s 100 percent of your puppies having to be injured and then arguably feeling that injury for years to come.

In terms of historicity… that’s really a pretty poor argument. The dog must have existed before you started docking it, so (obviously) at one point, before it was docked, it was undocked. So not docking is earlier than docking. Going back to not docking is truer to the very earliest existence of the breed.

6) It prevents injuries in working dogs. This one is the argument I always cough into my hand at – to prevent injuries, we deliberately inflict an injury? And that’s OK? Carpenters usually have hands that look like they’re a complete mess, tons of cuts and scratches. Should we amputate their hands to prevent those injuries? This argument also falls on the grounds of the hundreds of thousands of working dogs who KEEP their tails – Border Collies, the livestock guardian dogs, Australian Cattle Dogs, Catahoulas, the list goes on and on. If tails are such a clear and present danger to the dog, then they should be gone on ALL dogs. The Border Collie people should be begging for vets to dock their dogs; the ACD breeders should have been yelling that their dogs’ tails are a liability in the stock pen. They’re not, so I have a bit of a problem with the idea that having a tail on an Australian Shepherd is really going to make it an unfit herding dog.

7) If you don’t dock, the dog gets caked with feces. OH MAN DO I LOVE THIS ONE. You hear it over and over and over again. It’s absolutely ridiculous immediately and it gets more ridiculous the longer you think about it. First, GROOM YOUR DOG. Any owner who lets his dog’s hind end get caked with poop has far greater issues than a tail removal would solve. Second, if Old English Sheepdogs are supposedly going to be walking around with three pounds of feces on their tails, where on earth is the Briard? Drowning under his own poo? And yet Briards get to keep their tails, but OES are supposedly super unhygienic if they have more than a single vertebra left. Third, GROOM YOUR DOG. Fourth, Yorkies would, according to one person I read, lose their current national popularity if they had tails, because they’d all be full of fecal material all the time. Oh, you’re RIGHT! That’s why Shih Tzus are so far down the list… at number 10. And that’s why Shih Tzus have rocketed up from number 23 ten years ago. And that’s why the -doodles and -poos are so universally hated… Oh, wait, what was your point? Hmmm, not really getting it. Fifth, GROOM YOUR DOG.


8 ) I’m going to close with one that was so gloriously crazy that it HAD to come from a Rottie breeder (and it did – now I love all you Rottie people, and I adore your breed, but right now a whole bunch of your club has their heads so far up where the sun don’t shine that it’s shocking they can appear in public): If Rotties had tails, they wouldn’t be able to trot anymore. The heavy tail would destroy the dog’s center of gravity and breeders would have to breed a super long, low croup because that’s the only way to hold up this heavy, long, did I mention heavy tail. The dog’s topline would get longer and longer and longer to support the long croup that has that elephantine tail behind it, and before you know it the dog can barely move.

Number one, somebody’s got a serious case of tail envy. I have never, ever in my life seen a dog’s tail that would actually be unsupportable by normal dog anatomy, but I guess in this breeder’s mind Rotties are the Dirk Diggler of tail growers, the five-legged wonders who can barely stand up under the weight of twelve more inches of tail.

Number two, if you have a tailed breed, don’t you feel kind of insulted by this? That the Rottie is the only true “endurance trotter” and the key to endurance is no tail? All you with undocked Pointers, with Goldens, with Danes, Beardies, Cattle Dogs? Did you realize that your dogs don’t have endurance? Oh, yeah, you German Shepherd breeders, did you realize that your dogs can’t trot?


That’s entirely too snarky a note to end this on, so let me just say this: We have to know where our preferences can and cannot rule. We have to draw a line beyond which we are no longer doing things in the best interests of our dogs. This has nothing to do with animal rights; it has nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has nothing to do with wanting to change breed standards to conform to some kind of “new” rule. This is one hundred percent about loving dogs. It’s about remembering that the dogs didn’t ask to be born and didn’t ask to live with us. We are living out our desires by producing, owning, training, showing, and manipulating dogs. That’s a high and sacred thing, and I can think of no better way to spend far too much time and money, but we have to know where our wish-fulfillment reduces quality of life for the dog.

I would strongly argue that docking and cropping are doing nothing for the dogs and they’re causing harm; they are not necessary to the proper production of the dog as a breed; and for all those reasons they are ripe to be discarded.

For an absolutely lovely gallery of undocked Pembrokes, visit


All images are Wikimedia Commons. For credits, contact me. Please do not copy them from here and post elsewhere; go back to Wikimedia and download them with attributions.

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  • Reply Katie July 5, 2009 at 10:34 am

    Joanna, do you happen to have any information at your fingertips about the impact of tail docking on the dog’s body in motion? I watch my dogs running and jumping and doing their thing and they use their tails a great deal. I’m curious what kind of effect docking has on their movement and whether it’s been studied.

  • Reply Julie July 5, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Hi Joanna – this is my first comment here, and I first want to say how much I really enjoy reading your blog! So much of it really resonates with me in the “Oh, so THAT’s why….” sense. My question is, do you know of any evidence of abnormalities in undocked tails of breeds where many individuals have natural short or bob tails? When my family got our current dog, an Australian Shepherd, we asked the breeder when we went onto her waiting list if she would leave our puppy’s tail undocked (our previous Aussie was a rescue and did have his tail, and we felt it would be kinder to not dock as we were just looking for a pet). Of course she explained to us that it wouldn’t be possible because by the time she knew which puppy would be ours, it was long past docking time, but she also said that she always docks tails because in breeds where the tail is “meant” to be short, tails left on can develop spinal abnormalities and be health risks to the dog. We bought the story at the time because our previous Aussie DID have problems with his tail (extreme sensitivity to touch and a sore that had difficulty healing, but maybe just due to not-so-great vet advice now that I look back). Now, with an undergraduate biology degree and half a Ph.D. behind me, I’m pretty skeptical about that reasoning. The only thing I can think of is that if tails are removed for generations, genetic abormalities that WOULD have developed are never seen and cannot be watched for and selected against. What do you think? Have you heard any evidence of this?

  • Reply C.P. July 5, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Thanks for writing this. You’ve given me a lot to think about, particularly as my personal preference seems to tend towards dogs with docked tails.

  • Reply Pai July 5, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Thanks for these posts. My childhood Rottie was undocked, and she had such a pretty sickle tail. I don’t think it ruined her look or movement at all, and I honestly think most other pet owners wouldn’t really care either one way or another.

    But I can also understand falling in love with the ‘look’ of a cropped and docked breed, and feeling that losing that look would be losing something important to the breed. I didn’t know that docking could cause lifelong pain, though, so now I’m more conflicted over the issue than I was before.

    (Off-topic: Have you seen this new ‘ethical breeder’ magazine that’s coming out? I thought it might be something you’d be interested in:

  • Reply Pai July 5, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Thanks for these posts. My childhood Rottie was undocked, and she had such a pretty sickle tail. I don’t think it ruined her look or movement at all, and I honestly think most other pet owners wouldn’t really care either one way or another.

    But I can also understand falling in love with the ‘look’ of a cropped and docked breed, and feeling that losing that look would be losing something important to the breed. I didn’t know that docking could cause lifelong pain, though, so now I’m more conflicted over the issue than I was before.

    (Off-topic: Have you seen this new ‘ethical breeder’ magazine that’s coming out? I thought it might be something you’d be interested in:

  • Reply Holly July 5, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Having many friends with pointing breeds (GSPs, Vizslas) that hunt their dogs as well as are conformation show dogs, they are very much against any proposed ban. When hunting the tails can be damaged and if so, in an adult, they do not heal well and are usually amputated. I do not have first hand knowledge about this, just what I have been told by MANY well respected people in their breeds. I do wonder how the Pointer, with a full tail, does so well. I have seen many GSP puppies thrive after being docked without issues. It is much easier healing than watching puppies heal from cropping.

    I will not raise a breed that would be cropped or docked myself as I know that dew claw removal is enough for me. I do not do it myself, the pups all go to the vet for this, but I follow my breed standard and I have seen a dog severely injured when one was caught in a chain and was ripped.

  • Reply micaela July 5, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    Thank you for writing this, J! Miss EllieMae tends to bang her tail on quite a LOT of stuff and I’m always half-amused and half-terrified (of injury) when I hear those loud thunks. The WeimLabX we used to dogsit always had a sore or two on his tail from thwapping it against stuff, and it drove his people a little nuts so I’ve always wondered about tail-cropping pros/cons. As someone who had a cat declawed over 20 years ago (and regretted it every day afterward), I’m in agreement with you about keeping dogs (and cats) as close to their natural state as possible, and just grooming them as necessary for everyone’s health & peace of mind.

    I do think a lot of the arguments against docking can also be used as a basis for supporting a change in the breed standards of the brachyocephalic breeds… but I know that’s a big ol’ can of worms and you don’t agree with me 😉 Just pointing out how this can be as slippery a slope as the argument that cropping & docking are done due to personal aesthetic preference.

  • Reply Kristi July 5, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your article — a friend posted it on Facebook. So much of your information about the mutilation of dogs echoes information about mutilation of baby humans, in the form of circumcisions in boys and girls — right down to the argument that babies nurse and go to sleep afterward.

    I am not a dog owner or breeder, but thank you for your thoughtful and articulate article.

  • Reply Cynthia July 6, 2009 at 8:20 am

    I rally enjoyed this article…… In The Netherlands (and a large part of Europe) docking/cropping is illegal and showing a docked/cropped dog formally is not possible (unless you have a vets-note, stating it was for medical purposes…..but this is very rare).
    Tbh I like the docked look in some breeds, but knowingly harming a dog, just for esthetics goes against all my principles, same goes for de-clawing a cat….I mean come on, they evolved with certain body parts intact for a reason. The silly arguments given that it’s to prevent injuries or that a dog can’t carry the weight of it’s own tail in laughable.
    I hope that your country also inforces a ban, in my point of view this is animal cruelty……..

    • Reply bestuvall June 26, 2015 at 6:18 pm

      yes and in the Netherlands few dogs have their testicles cut off or their ovaries and uteri removed for the owners convenience and as you say ogs certainly would have NOT evolved at all without those body parts intact. there should be NO ban unless it includes the castration of all dogs ( both sexes) as well . There is no real reason to do major surgery on a dog to remove the reproductive organs other than myth and owner convenience..with a few exceptions instead we have laws that require juvenile castration of both sexes with a few exceptions..

      • Reply Joanna Kimball June 26, 2015 at 6:43 pm

        Bringing up castration doesn’t really add anything to the argument; you’re also resurrecting a conversation from 2009.

  • Reply Marie July 6, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    Check out this link on a breeding program that produces naturally short tailed boxers:

    If the ACK would agree to open the books for some breeds then breeding for naturally short tails would be possible thus negating docking. But that would entail some actual logic on their part. (and we also know a few breeds could use a larger gene pool to help out with erradicating specific health defects, but I digress)

    I had to listen to a litter of yorkies be docked just the other day. We have them take the mother OFF the premises because of their crying. And we use anestetic. Yeah sure it doesn’t hurt.

    As a trainer with a heavy interest in dog behavior I think leaving tails and ears alone better helps them communicate with their body. Sure not having tails or standing their ears up doesn’t mean they can’t communicate at all, I just think it changes it to a degree. Plus having a tail for the other dog (and their people) to see can be very helpful. So why mess with it?

    Of course I am also for letting brachycephelic breeds have more nose as well. Kinda like they looked when they were developed in the first place. We have morphed some of them way to extreme.

    Fabulous articles on the subject. Thank you!!!!

  • Reply Kimba July 11, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Hi Joanna,
    I reared an Aussie puppy for a friend from one of the first undocked litters in the UK. She is a natural bobtail with a half tail, and when she was born it was all coiled around itself like a pig’s. As she grew up the tail gradually straightened out, until it looked more or less normal at 8 weeks when I picked her up from her breeder.

    However, even now you can feel a definite kink in the tail, just below the tip. She is a natural bobtail with a half length tail, so I don’t know if that has anything to do with it.
    You can see her and her new owner’s full tailed red merle bitch on this website:

    I have also heard that breeders are getting screw tails and kinked tails in Dobermanns now that docking has been banned, but I can’t find any photographic evidence.

  • Reply Viatecio July 12, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    I tried to post this earlier, but it must have not worked (or it was moderated out for whatever reason), but just so I can put in a differing opinion:

    Very interesting viewpoints. I tend to agree with the poster in the cropping thread (“k.b.,” I believe he called himself?) about legislating this. It should be a personal choice as to what you want done with your dog. California has legislation out there for a mandatory spay/neuter law and no one seems to realize that dogs can live just fine with their reproductive organs…it’s just that most people don’t have the level of responsibility to let them do for for many and various reasons. I have never met a docked/cropped dog that was distressed from having no tail, just as I have never met a (indoor-only!) declawed cat that was depressed because it couldn’t scratch the couch. The government is not living with my dog…I am. The choices I make for my dog reflect on the quality of care I give it; certainly outward appearances are regarded as ‘first impression’ kind of things, but surely more people are focused on general health and vitality then “She has a docked/cropped dog, how utterly CRUEL she must be to have something like that.” I’m more apt to turn in someone with a walking skeleton on a leash than someone walking a fit, healthy, happy docked/cropped dog. Same instance with such things as brachycephalic or achondroplastic breeds: with things like these, I do wish more emphasis would be placed on health, but I am not going to blow the whistle on their owners just because they choose to perpetuate a breed characteristic that plainly causes suffering amongst some dogs. Docking and cropping do not cause such suffering to the extent a lack of muzzle does.

    And what about dogs who came that way for one reason or another? Are their owners to be penalized because of someone else’s views? We all agree that millions of dogs out there need homes; does it say more that you rescued a dog, or does it put a black mark on you when you rescue a ‘MUTILATED’ dog, when it appears that you WANTED one like that? Simply put, are foster children more deserving of adoption than crack babies?

    Legislation to ban docking and cropping is, the way I see it, a bunch of nannies sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong. Animal laws vary widely, from banning training tools for apparent “cruelty” to banning things such as this, to breed bans and the mandatory speutering law currently under review. There is simpy no standard on paper to which we can be held when it comes to animal care: what is abuse to one person (say, the appearance of a prong collar on my dog), is clearly quite the opposite to others. If someone wants an uncut dog, by all means do not get anything done (strangely, the people who are against cosmetic mutilation have nothing wrong with mutilating or removing reproductive organs either, but I digress), but don’t go telling me how you think I should like my dogs. It’s freedom of choice, or what little of it I have left, and that’s part of what makes this such a great country.

    • Reply bestuvall June 26, 2015 at 6:21 pm

      everything you said and more I live in CA..

  • Reply Vicki in Michigan July 15, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Something I have always wondered about …

    Dogs have tails for a REASON. They use them. Tails are not merely decorative, they are important. For communication, for balance, for …..

    So — what are they losing, with no tail?

    Do not Pems have a rep for being snarkier (than Cardis) with other dogs?

    I have to wonder……………. How much of that can be put down to continual miscommunication, due to inability to wag (high, low, inbetween, fast, slow, whatever)……………………..

    • Reply bestuvall June 26, 2015 at 6:21 pm

      my guess would be none temperament has nothing to with erect ears ( which most dogs have) or having a tail

  • Reply Katie September 3, 2010 at 1:05 am

    Back when the AVMA had their shining moment of remembering that they were supposed to be about the well-being of animals and not about the well-being of dog show politics, we were having a discussion about tail docking the dog club when one of our Rottie-owning members came in.

    We asked her how she would feel if she weren’t allowed to own a docked Rottie anymore, and she flat out said she wouldn’t own Rotties with tails because they’re not real Rotties.

    I just cannot wrap my mind around this. She’s devoted to and loves this breed, but a tail is a deal-breaker? It unmakes what is Rottie about her Rotties?

    My pitties have hard whippy tails. “Happy tail” is certainly not unheard of. Mushroom in fact had some tail tip issues when I got him. His tail is excessively long, and man is it painful when it smacks into bare legs, but I can’t imagine him not having it. When I watch my dogs run- they use those tails so much!

  • Reply Question for those in UK/NZ etc - Page 3 - Poodle Forum - Standard Poodle, Toy Poodle, Miniature Poodle Forum ALL Poodle owners too! September 30, 2010 at 9:03 am

    […] Jak, I would be interested to know WHY you like them? And why it is "normal" to dock a Dobermann or Boxer, but not a Dane or Labrador? I have a French friend whose Boxer is both docked and ear cropped – she says it would not look "right" otherwise. The poor creature has lost two of its most important means of communication with other dogs – and to them probably looks permanently dangerous. Good blog on docking here: Repost by request: Cropping and docking part 2: Docking|Ruffly Speaking […]

  • Reply Sue Alexander October 9, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    Many docked breeds were historically in the position where they risked signficant pain and injury as adults if they did not dock as pups. I know of two working GSDs (police services dogs) who had to be retired due to tails getting caught in car doors, breaking and then being amputated. I know also of acouple of working GSDs who were docked in the nineties due to concerns about working life injuries. It isn’t what I would have chosen to do, but I get it; these are extremely valuable dogs when they are trained and working (in the order 70 to 90 thousand a year to train and a maintain a working GSD on a police force-careers ending because of broken tails as an avoidable in service accident wouldn’t make sense to many forces). I understand that it doesn’t make sense to everyone, but if you were faced with a rottie in the 1890’s who would likely break a tail while pulling a milk wagon, and that would kill your dog, the tail docking is the lesser of two evils. Again….still not saying I would do it, but if you compare the historical reasoning to the reasoning that we have today, I really do understand it.

    • Reply rufflyspeaking October 10, 2010 at 5:31 am

      Here are the two huge problems with the “It was to prevent injury” argument – first, you’re not preventing an injury, you’re causing it proactively. You’re cutting off the tail at birth (giving the animal 100% chance of traumatic injury) rather than risking a small chance of cutting the tail off as an adult. Just because it’s easier for the BREEDER to do it at birth doesn’t mean it’s easier on the dog. It’s just smaller parts; same process. If dogs were born the size of baby elephants, I think we’d think twice before snipping a tail off with branch loppers, but there isn’t actually any real difference between the two, except for our perception.

      Second, there’s no real consistency in terms of breeds that are docked or not docked. If tails are such a problem when carting, then why do all the Swiss carting breeds keep theirs? If tails are such a problem when hunting game, why have Danes never been docked? And so on and so on. For every pointer, there’s a setter; for every Doberman there’s a Malinois.

      • Reply bestuvall June 26, 2015 at 6:26 pm

        the same argument can be made of castration we are told we are “preventing” something that rarely happens.. and we buy it hook line and sinker.. we refuse to sell dogs with the “contract” and we pass laws that require castration as “preventive” or as “responsible thing to do” NO bans please.. it is my dog.. my choice..

  • Reply Jaq Bunn October 10, 2010 at 8:55 am

    Love this article but cannot agree with you supporting the ‘right’ of Pekingese breeders to produce short-nosed dogs. These dogs are deformed to the point of being unable to breathe adequately. That is unacceptable and can’t be supported by anybody.

    • Reply rufflyspeaking October 10, 2010 at 9:18 am

      I’d agree with you, IF they were actually deformed to the point of being unable to breathe adequately. The brachycephalic face is MORE LIKELY to experience stenotic nares and elongated soft palate, but by no means doomed to it. There are a huge number of Pekes – the large majority of the show-bred dogs – who don’t have any trouble breathing. Pekes are a disgustingly healthy breed overall and mostly die of extreme old age and sheer orneriness.

      Brachycephalic breeds – from Boxers to Pekes and back again – must always be bred carefully and breeders have to watch the nose width. Most do. They must also be willing to intervene quickly if a puppy begins to show narrowing. Again, most do. It’s not a breed for the careless or ignorant, which sadly it does attract because it’s a shock value breed. Anything that’s the biggest or smallest or hairiest or nakedest or flattest face or longest face attracts a bunch of people who like it for that reason and don’t take the time or spend the effort to understand the difficulty of breeding that extreme a dog. Any dog at the edge of the phenotypic range for the species has associated cautions. It’s not just faces. Sighthounds have liver issues because of their extremely low body fat. Dwarfed dogs have spinal and growth plate issues. Hairless dogs have dentition issues. Blue dogs have alopecia issues. One trait got a lot of attention on TV, but brachycephalic syndrome kills many, many fewer Pekes than cancer kills Goldens or Boxers, or bone cancer kills Rotties.

      The fiercest advocates for basic health information and good baseline decisions are the breed clubs. Stenotic nares was a front-page issue for the UK Peke club YEARS before Pedigree Dogs Exposed came out. Unfortunately, they cannot change the brains of careless breeders.

  • Reply Clair Litster-Huckle October 10, 2010 at 10:35 am

    An interesting article, I have two undocked Weimaraner’s the older dog was born before the UK docking ban was in place but I went to a breeder who would not dock because I wanted the tail.
    But he has in the past had some serious problems with his tail he bashed it and kept bashing it he was on Antibiotics for 6 weeks and had to have polsterplast around the end of his tail to cushion it because every time he wagged it would split open and he would spray blood every where, luckily his tail was saved but it took a long time and a lot of money and even now he still has problems.

    Some dog breeds carry their tails differently to others they also have different fur and tail types in my case the Weimaraner has a very long whippy tail that has a very short fur coverage on it they also carry it very high. So if they hit it or get it caught it’s going to get damaged, and if it can’t be fixed then a tail amputation is quite a major surgery. But then you look at the Rottweiler tail this breed has been a historically tail docked breed they have a thick tail with thick fur coverage almost like the tail of the Labrador, although it often curls up over the back of the dog this tail is not so prone to damage.

    Now I love the tails on my dogs and think that they are very useful to them in balance and communication but I don’t agree with the docking ban, I think in some cases its better to dock a puppy when it’s young and less likely to remember the experience and any possible pain, (can you remember how painful something you did to yourself when you were very little was? because I know I can’t)

    I was also brought up on a farm and we used to band the tail on sheep, this hasn’t been stopped but is done for the same reason to stop the lamb from damaging it’s tail as it grows.

    Ear clipping is purely cosmetic and often makes the dog look odd to me, it is NOT something that we do to our dogs over here in the UK though.
    Tail docking on the other hand is not purely cosmetic it is also done for the health and safety of the dog.

    • Reply rufflyspeaking October 10, 2010 at 11:30 am

      Lambs are docked because of fly strike, which is not really something we have to deal with in dogs. Sheep don’t injure their tails any more frequently than any animal does – but since we changed them to grow a wool coat that would not ordinarily occur in nature, we need to protect them from fly strike. I personally wouldn’t dock a sheep unless I absolutely had to; for example in our area (NH, USA) flystrike is incredibly uncommon. In dangerous areas I am glad to see an increase in interest in short-tailed and hair-tailed sheep as a natural solution.

      An additional difference between sheep and dogs is that the worst-case scenario for the dog is that the tail gets docked. In other words, the worst possible consequence for not docking the tail is that the tail is docked later. Flystrike in sheep is often deadly and always incredibly distressing and painful, so for them the worst-case scenario is death. For me, that makes all the difference in the world.

      Weims have the same kind of tail that Danes do, or that Greyhounds do. “Happy tail” is something that owners have to deal with on a regular basis in those breeds, but we’d be appalled to see anyone docking them at birth. Those discrepancies – that a Dane breeder would be horrified by docking and a Weim breeder thinks docking is necessary, and it’s THE SAME TAIL – are what really start to unravel the “it’s necessary!” arguments.

  • Reply Cropping and docking part 2: Docking | Ruffly Speaking | Our Life + Dogs February 20, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    […] Repost by request: Cropping and docking part 2: Docking | Ruffly Speaking. […]

  • Reply LaBella July 20, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    My cousin was born with 6 fingers on both hands. Those extra fingers were amputated at an early age. His sister, my other cousin, had a son who was also born with 6 fingers, again, amputated at an early age. A former best friend had to have 2 fingers on each hand (pointer and middle on one and ring and middle on the other) amputated due to a genetic disorder..
    She was much older, I believe maybe 10 when it happened.
    The point is neither my cousin, second cousin, or former best friend experienced any kind of phantom limb pain in the removed digits.
    Most likely, there was indeed neuromas in each of these three people, yet none of them complained.
    A good example that happens to almost half the human population of America (depending on culture) is circumcision in newborn males. While there is a movement of men decrying the loss of their foreskin, the vast majority have the I never missed attitude.
    And because it is fresh in my mind, in your Pedigrees Exposed post you made a comment about the normative, stating in essence that the samples used for BT skulls were too small to truly give a correct picture on BT skulls through time. I would dare say the same thing applies here, if neuromas have only been found in 3 dogs. I have no doubt they are there in more. But is there a link between these neuromas and the behavioral issues that caused them to be euthanized? I don’t think we can claim that (not that you did, but it could be inferred).

    I have no dog in this fight, one of the reasons I chose my breed was because I didn’t HAVE to dock or crop, and the standard says uncropped preferred (though try telling that to judges, it’s hella hard to win uncropped even with a superior dog. Can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard too bad your dog wasn’t cropped).

    I am certainly willing to learn more, and change my opinion. I never had a problem with docking.. didn’t have a problem with dewclaws until I saw new research on the presence and absence thereof and front wrist issues in sporting dogs. My standard says nothing of dews, which are usually done just to give a clean front end, but I stopped doing them, and if I can find in my own research compelling reason other than possible pain from traumatic or amputation neuromas which MAY and CAN cause pain, but not always. And since people don’t always develop neuromas, I dare say dogs don’t always either.
    In any case, I have a course of study over the next few days to see what I turn up. As I said I have no dog in this fight. But I value education and being education, and it could well be I learn more to bring me against docking, in which case I have a basis on which that opinion was formed… Not that you don’t. But it’s not enough for me, I’m afraid. But I look forward to expanding my knowledge.

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