The Truth About Docking a Dog’s Tail (and Whether It’s Ever Necessary)

Tail docking has become a highly controversial issue, condemned by animal rights activists as cruel and unnecessary, and advocated as necessary for working dogs or dogs prone to tail damage. The jury is divided in the Rover Q&A community on the subject of rear docking. Half of the respondents think it’s cosmetic and the other half see cases where it might be necessary.

We spoke to the founder of Pet Wellness Academy, Dr. Katie Kangas, and holistic vet Dr. Patrick Mahaney for the facts behind the modern pairing. We also heard the true story of a pet parent who needed an emergency tail docking due to an injury, and how other dog owners react when their dog doesn’t have a tail.

Why tie a dog’s tail?

The tail dock has some interesting roots. In the past it was believed to reduce the risk of rabies and strengthen the dog’s back. The most common reason for docking in recent history is to reduce the risk of injury to working dogs: dogs that hunt, guard, or work in the fields.

“The reason for this is that these dogs have long, powerful tails that get whipped and bloodied when working in the fields or hunting,” says Dr. Kangas. “Because some breeds have short, soft fur, there isn’t much protection on the tail.”

The practice is banned or restricted in 36 countries; In the United States, clipping must be performed by a licensed veterinarian, but some veterinarians voluntarily refuse to perform this procedure because it is believed to be largely cosmetic these days.

Docking is performed on a newborn puppy before it is a week old, without anesthesia or when the dog is old enough to undergo general anesthesia, usually around 8 weeks of age. It is considered a painful procedure and is disapproved by the American Veterinary Medical Association on cosmetic grounds.

Between 50 and 70 breeds are known to have docked tails, including:

  • boxer
  • rottweiler
  • pit bulls
  • German shorthaired pointer
  • schnauzer

Some dogs even have their tails “raised,” such as some Pembroke Welsh Corgis and the Stump-tailed Australian Shepherd.


Many people no longer see a need to dock except for controversial cosmetic reasons.

dr Kangas sees two main reasons why pairing isn’t as common as it used to be:

  • Purebred dogs are not used as traditional working dogs but as pets. “They’re more like members of a family who don’t necessarily have the same lifestyle that you would need to fit in with,” says Dr. Kangas.
  • Changing views to minimize operations. “More and more people are foregoing surgery for things that could be considered cosmetic rather than functional,” says Dr. Kangas.

dr Mahaney says there are some benefits to having a shorter tail, although they don’t apply to most dogs.

“There are fewer body tissues (skin, muscles, vertebrae, blood vessels) and hair to damage or become dirty,” says Dr. Mahaney. “But most dogs don’t have mobility issues that prevent them from standing or walking, and they have normally functioning intestines, so they can keep a clean tail.”

dr Mahaney also believes that docking in modernity is mostly for cosmetic reasons.

“In purebred dogs, tail docking is done to meet breed standards set by an organization like the American Kennel Club,” says Dr. Mahaney.

tail docking

Technically, tail docking is not considered docking for medical reasons.

Ben and Ashley Wade had to amputate their Australian Cattle Dog's tail after it repeatedly attacked it.

Ben and Ashley Wade had to amputate their Australian Cattle Dog’s tail after it repeatedly attacked it.

“There are definitely medical reasons for tail docking,” says Dr. Kangas. “There can also be reasons to dock preventively. Tail docking is much more dangerous than tail docking when the dog is a newborn.

Southern California couple Ben and Ashley Wade found out firsthand what a tail injury that requires amputation looks like. They loved their Australian Cattle Dog Wiley’s furry, raccoon-like tail, but a case of severe anxiety during a recent move caused Wiley to repeatedly attack his tail in a manner that required amputation.

“At first it was just a hole and we thought we could clean it up and fix it,” recalls Ashley Wade. “But every opportunity he got, he found a way to make it happen. He punched him into things on purpose, we even put a bitter apple patch on him and he struggled and gagged to keep chewing. To get his tail, he bit it to the bone and the tip of his tail died off.

In fact, the images are too gory to share here. Wade struggled to find a vet who could help him.

“I called several vets and they said they didn’t do a facelift, even though I told them I could see the bone and tissue falling off,” says Wade. “I tried to tell them it wasn’t cosmetic and a lot of them hung up.”

After Wiley's tail was amputated, many people assumed his tail was docked for cosmetic reasons.

After Wiley’s tail was amputated, many people assumed his tail was docked for cosmetic reasons.

As a former veterinary assistant, Wade knew what she was talking about. Eventually he found an emergency vet clinic to perform the procedure and now Wiley is fine.

“At first he was clumsy and tried to lick it, but once he realized he couldn’t chew his tail anymore, he relaxed,” Wade adds.

One thing the Wades are still trying to get used to is the dirty looks and nasty comments from other pet owners who assume they cut off Wiley’s tail for the looks.

“We get a lot of negative feedback on Wiley’s tail,” Wade explains. “People need to realize that every dog ​​is different. Don’t be negative or mean to another person if you don’t know them or the situation.

The essential

Coupling for cosmetic purposes is a hotly debated topic, with many dog ​​owners and veterinarians strongly opposed to the practice and even advocate banning the procedure. Although the number of dogs requiring docking for functional or medical reasons is decreasing, these cases still exist. As Wade’s story explains, it’s risky to assume that all dogs with docked tails did so just for looks.

Top image via Flickr CC/Carol By Cannon

The information in this article is not a substitute for professional information. vet Help.

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