At one time, dogs weren’t pets. Instead, they had jobs and consequently had a docked tail.
Dogs worked on farms and in the military and helped with hunting, fighting, ratting, and baiting. That’s not to say they no longer serve those purposes. But, let’s face it, most are pets.
One of the most ludicrous thoughts on this topic was that you would prevent it from getting rabies by docking the dog’s tail.
Mostly, it was done to avoid injuries from farm equipment. It would give another fighting dog something less to grip onto in pit fights. And let us not forget that people believed it increased the dog’s speed and strengthened its back.
Also, working and hunting dogs with docked tails weren’t taxed at one time. It never hurt to save a shilling or two.
Safety and cleanliness were the only reasons for a docked tail that made sense.
Working and hunting dogs without tails were less likely to collect debris or amass feces around their rump. They were also less likely to get injured by being caught in farm equipment, wagons, and carts.
Bobbed tail vs. docked tail? Some support the practice but believe tail bobbing is less offensive than docking, even though it is the same thing.
Breeds with docked tails
Fifty to 70 breeds have docked tails. Most are in the Terrier and Spaniel families.
The ones we are most familiar with include Airedale Terrier, American Cocker Spaniel, American Pit Bull Terrier, Australian Silky Terrier, Australian Shepherd, Australian Terrier, Bouvier des Flandres, Boxer, Brittany Spaniel, Cane Corso, Clumber Spaniel, Cocker Spaniel, Doberman Pinscher, English Springer Spaniel, German Short-haired/Wirehaired Pointer, Giant Schnauzer, Hungarian Vizsla, Irish Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier, Kerry Blue Terrier, King Charles Spaniel, Lakeland Terrier, Miniature Pinscher, Miniature Poodle, Miniature Schnauzer, Neapolitan Mastiff, Norfolk Terrier, Norwich Terrier, Old English Sheepdog, Parson Jack Russell Terrier, Rottweiler, Smooth Fox Terrier, Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier, Standard Poodle, Toy Poodle, Weimaraner, Wirehaired Fox Terrier, and Yorkshire Terrier.
Interestingly, breeds called “designer dogs” that at one time were called “mutts,” such as the Schnoodle (Schnauzer/Poodle mix), are making tail docking and ear cropping a part of their new “standard” look.
Breeds with naturally docked tails
In some cases, selective breeding and nature have taken care of tail docking. There are several breeds where puppies are born without tails.
The most familiar dog breeds with docked tails include Australian Shepherd, Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog, Brittany Spaniel, Danish Swedish Farmdog, Jack Russell Terrier, Schipperke, and Pembroke Welsh Corgi.
Many of those are due to a gene mutation called C189G. Breeding removed their tails.
How is dog tail docking done?
The most common canine tail docking procedure:
Rubber Ring Elastation is where a rubber ligature restricts the blood flow to the tail and falls off, usually within 24 to 96 hours.
Or, the tail is surgically removed using surgical scissors or a scalpel.
A reputable veterinarian will first give the puppy or dog a complete physical examination and blood clot test.
Next, the dog is tranquilized, placed on its back. General anesthesia is applied. The area is disinfected and shaved. Depending on the breed standard, an incision is made ¼” – 1″ from the dock (where the tail joins the rump), through the skin and the cartilage on puppies, or between two vertebrae on a dog.
The skin is then pulled over the exposed tissue, cartridge, or vertebrae and sutured.
Puppies, only 2-5 days old, get no general anesthesia.
Most veterinarians prefer to wait until the puppy is eight weeks old unless the procedure is done within the first five days.
Docked tail treatment
The non-absorbent sutures are removed within 5-7 days. On adult dogs, the base of the tail is commonly bandaged and removed within 2-3 days.
Usually, the puppy or dog will leave with a satellite dish attached to their neck, known as an E-collar, to prevent them from fixating where it hurts and eventually itches.
They also usually leave with antibiotics to prevent infection due to a suppressed immune system from the stress of surgery and the risk of infection from an open wound.
When is it too late to dock a dog’s tail? The longer the tail or the older the dog, the more traumatic this procedure will be, and it usually will take longer to heal.
Dog tail docking problems include excessive bleeding, the reasonable risk of anesthesia, infection, wound dehiscence (splitting open), and rectal prolapse.
Why dock tails?
First and foremost, think about why you want it done. Is your dog, not a working or hunting dog, necessary, or is it your vanity?
Usually, the senseless reasoning is that it’s my dog, my property, and I will do what I want.
How about it? It’s my dog; it’s my property. I don’t care what others think or do. I would never do anything to hurt, mutilate, or traumatize my pet. They love me unconditionally, and I would never jeopardize their trust and respect. My dog is perfect, just the way they are.
Dogs need their tails
There are legitimate reasons why dogs need their tails.
Tails are a primary form of communication between dogs. They use their tails for social cues. To other dogs, a dog without a tail looks fearful, as a fearful dog would instinctively tuck their tail between its hind legs as a sign of submission. Further messages are sent from upright tails, wagging tails, straight-out tails, and droopy tails. Don’t be shocked if your dog’s messages are misread.
Tails are used for balance.
Dog tails are used as a target to prevent more serious bodily injuries in a fight.
Tails are used as rudders when swimming.
Dog tails are used to keep insects off.
Tails are used to waft vital information, such as anal glands scents, to appear larger and more menacing.
Dog tails conserve body heat, such as when a dog curls into a ball and wraps its tail over its face.
Many veterinarians in the U.S. voluntarily refuse to perform cosmetic surgery on dogs, including docked tails.
They will do it only if there is an injury, health, or medical reason for the procedure.
That progressive change in thinking will make for happier and pain-free puppies and dogs in the USA.
Karen A. Soukiasian owns Good Dog! — Dog Training in St. Augustine, Florida. You can follow Karen on Facebook.