There are plenty of dog breed standards that include a docked tail as a necessary requirement, including the German Wirehaired Pointer and Australian Shepherd. The American Kennel Club is an iconic organization that’s been around for more than 135 years and recognizes 196 dog breeds and maintains breed standards. In that vein, the AKC has officially supported tail docking to maintain a breed standard for more than a decade. Their official statement on the matter, found on their FAQ page, seems to be:
Docked tails are tails that have been shortened/cut off when the dog is young (although dogs aren’t the only animal we do this practice on). Sometimes, tail docking is achieved by restricting blood flow to the tail until it falls off. This is usually achieved by placing a ligature (like a rubber band) tightly around the tail. Another method involves a veterinarian surgically removing the tail, often without anesthesia or stitches.
History of Docked Tails
Tail docking has been around for centuries; ancient Romans have been said to start the practice, as they believed that docking a dog’s tail would prevent rabies, strengthen their back, and increase their speed. This would make the dog better at fighting and baiting, popular forms of entertainment throughout history and sadly, a reason for tail docking all around the world.
The Holy Roman Empire may have fallen but the practice of tail docking has continued for centuries. American Puritans thought that dog tails were possessed by demons and would cut them off. And 18th century England had a tax on non-working dogs (as working dogs provided vital functions on farms). To distinguish between working and non-working dogs, working dogs had docked tails. This prompted many people to dock their non-working dogs’ tails to avoid the tax and a dog with a full tail became a symbol of wealth.
There are plenty of modern reasons for tail docking, even though many countries and regions around the world have banned the practice. One such reason, as previously mentioned, is breed standard and looks. The American Book of the Dog was an 1891 book edited by G. Shields that declared tail docking (and even ear cropping) gave some breeds a ‘proper look’. This idea is still pervasive, as AKC breed standards for roughly 62 different dog breeds still include tail docking.
Convenience and health are also reasons given for docking tails. Some claim that tail docking keeps a dog’s back end/anus clean. Others say that docking a dog’s tail also prevents injuries and possible attacks, as you can’t injury a limb you don’t have and attackers can’t grab a dog by the tail if they don’t have one. This reason is also supported by the AKC, which stated that:
Why You Shouldn’t Dock a Dog’s Tail
In the centuries since tail docking started, humans have learned a lot about dogs, disease, and science. We now know, for example, that the best way to prevent rabies is through vaccinations and that the risk of a dog injuring their tail is extremely low. Tails also help protect a dog’s privates and research does suggest that puppies do actually feel more pain than adult dogs so the lack of anesthesia during a tail docking can cause suffering and agony. We also know that tail docking risks possible medical issues like infection, necrosis, and self-mutilation. These issues are significantly more likely when the procedure wasn’t done by a veterinarian.
Docking a dog’s tail also causes locomotion and socialization problems, as tails help with a dog’s balance and interaction with other dogs. The tail serves as a continuity of the dog’s spine (which is a whole other reason not to dock) and it helps a dog run, turn, and even swim. Body language is a big part of a dog’s ability to communicate with other dogs and a lack of a tail could cause miscommunication issues. And humans are able to interpret how dogs are feeling by how their tails move, meaning we lose out on better understanding our dogs if we dock their tails.
Ultimately, we now know that docking a dog’s tail no longer serves a purpose and we better understand why tails are so important for dogs. Not every dog with a docked/bobbed tail had it removed as a puppy, as some dogs are born with ‘bobbed’ tails and there are medical reasons to dock a tail (like a severe infection/injury). But voluntarily docking a dog’s tail can cause more issues than solve them.
In my opinion, the breed standards put out by the AKC should be revised to not include tail docking for the relevant breeds. As time goes on, our understanding of the world evolves and we should be able to evolve with it. Tail docking done for any reason other than to save a dog should be avoided.