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Why do they cut dogs tails?

Some dog breeds naturally have short or missing tails, but others have theirs docked shortly after birth. Tail docking is the process of removing portions of a dog’s tail, usually within the first 5 days of life. This practice has been around for centuries, but in recent years it has become controversial. Opponents view it as an unnecessary cosmetic procedure, while proponents argue that it serves practical purposes. Understanding the history, purposes, procedures, and ethics surrounding tail docking can help inform this debate.

What is tail docking?

Tail docking refers to the amputation of portions of a dog’s tail. Typically, vets or breeders will dock puppies’ tails within days after birth, often without anesthetic. Docking can involve removing only a few vertebrae or nearly the entire tail. Traditionally, the procedure was done with scissors, razor blades, or other tools without pain control. However, some modern veterinarians use anesthetics and analgesia. Docking happens in puppyhood partly because there is less nerve development at that age, resulting in less pain and stress.

The amount of tail removed depends on the breed and often follows breed standards. For example, traditionally the Pembroke Welsh Corgi tail is docked to about 2–5 cm, while the Australian Shepherd tail is usually half to a third of its natural length. However, practices vary by geographic region, and docking styles have evolved over time.

Why is tail docking done?

There are several reasons tails are docked, though not all are agreed upon as still relevant today:

Appearance and breed standards

One of the main reasons for tail docking is cosmetic appearance. Many breeds traditionally have docked tails in accordance with breed standards set by kennel clubs. Dogs were historically docked to meet standards for dog shows and competitions. Today, breed standards often still call for docking, though it is no longer required for show dogs in many countries. Supporters argue meeting breed standards helps preserve historic traits, while critics argue visual appearance is a frivolous reason for amputation.

Hygiene and health

Some proponents believe docking improves dogs’ hygiene and health. Shorter tails are thought to stay cleaner and have less risk of injury. However, there is little scientific evidence that docking prevents injury, infection, or improves cleanliness and health. Some claim properly docked tails heal more easily than undocked tails later injured. But poor docking can cause lifelong pain, infection, and other problems. Overall, most veterinary associations find little evidence for health and hygiene benefits.

Working purposes

Docking is traditionally done on some working dogs to prevent tail injuries. Herding dogs such as Australian Shepherds work closely with livestock and risk injuring tails. Hunting dogs like English Springer Spaniels can also damage tails in thick brush. The theory is docking removes the weakest part of the tail prone to injury. However, many argue proper training diminishes tail damage risks for active working dogs. Additionally, most dogs with docked tails today are not true working dogs.


Docking also made it easier to distinguish between breeds when only their rear was visible, such as for herding dogs. Removing tails also made it easier to identify dogs at a distance. However, many say docking is unnecessary for identification today.

Tax purposes

Some claim tail docking originally helped avoid a tax once placed on working dogs with tails in England. However, there is debate around whether this tax truly inspired docking. Many mention it only as a rumor.

Fighting purposes

Sadly, some fighting dogs have traditionally had tails docked to prevent opponents from grabbing them. But docking does not seem to make a notable difference in outcomes and does not prevent cruelty. Thankfully, dog fighting is illegal in most places today.

When did tail docking begin?

The origins of tail docking are uncertain, but the practice dates back at least 2,000 years. Historical records suggest tail docking goes back to ancient Rome and Greece. Possible purposes included preventing rabies, identifying dogs of nobility, and avoiding dog taxes. However, the exact origins and initial purposes are unknown.

Tail docking seems to have become more popular during the Middle Ages. Breeds like the Schnauzer and Poodle were depicted with cropped ears and tails as early as the 15th century. By the 17th century, tail docking was routine in England. The practice spread along with the expansion of the British Empire. In the 1800s, docking became fashionable for many dog breeds in Victorian England. It remains closely associated with breeds developed in the United Kingdom.

Today, tail docking continues based heavily on breed standards and traditions. However, attitudes are shifting toward more selective, ethical docking or avoiding it altogether. It remains common in the United States but is now banned or restricted in many regions.

Which dog breeds traditionally have docked tails?

Many dog breeds traditionally have their tails docked. Some of the most common examples include:

Herding dogs

– Australian Shepherd
– Pembroke Welsh Corgi
– Schipperke
– Shetland Sheepdog
– Miniature American Shepherd
– Old English Sheepdog

Hunting dogs

– English Springer Spaniel
– German Shorthaired Pointer
– Vizsla
– Weimaraner
– German Wirehaired Pointer
– Brittany


– Jack Russell Terrier
– Yorkshire Terrier
– Australian Terrier
– Norfolk Terrier
– Parson Russell Terrier
– Welsh Terrier
– West Highland White Terrier

Other common breeds

– French Bulldog
– Miniature Schnauzer
– Boxer
– Dobermann Pinscher

Again, docking practices can vary between breeders, regions, and changing attitudes. Not all dogs of traditionally docked breeds will have their tails removed today.

How is tail docking performed?

There are a few methods used to dock puppies’ tails:


A rubber band or restrictive device is placed on the tail to reduce blood flow. The portion beyond the band eventually atrophies and falls off. This method has fallen out of favor due to cruelty concerns.


Scissors or a scalpel blade amputates the tail. This is a rapid method but can cause more tissue damage if poorly executed.


A docking iron clamps and sears the tail, cauterizing the wound. This helps control bleeding but is obviously painful without anesthetic.

Again, techniques vary by region, veterinarian practices, and changing norms. The procedure is typically done within 5 days of birth but timing matters less for humane methods with proper pain control. Docking should only be performed by trained professionals with anesthesia – not by breeders.

What are the risks and concerns over tail docking?

Critics argue tail docking is an unnecessary, inhumane procedure, especially when done without anesthesia by breeders. Concerns include:


Docking obviously causes puppies acute pain, especially without anesthetics. However, some studies suggest it may also cause chronic pain later in life. Neuromas or nerve damage are possible risks that could cause lifelong discomfort.

Infection and health complications

Poor docking can lead to bleeding, swelling, damage, infection, and other health problems, especially with unsanitary tools. Docked dogs may be at higher risk for incontinence and impacted anal glands.

Animal cruelty

Performing unnecessary cosmetic surgery on puppies is viewed by many as unethical animal cruelty. Unnecessary tail amputation alters dogs’ natural state for humans’ visual preferences.

Communication issues

Dogs use their tails to communicate emotions like happiness, unease, anxiety, or aggression. Docking can inhibit natural communication.

Lack of benefits

There is little scientific evidence that docking benefits dogs’ health or hygiene. Arguments it prevents tail injury in working dogs also lack robust evidence.

Overall, veterinary associations increasingly view tail docking as unnecessary and potentially inhumane. However, views within the veterinary community still vary, especially between different parts of the world where practices differ.

What are the arguments in favor of tail docking?

While losing favor, tail docking still has its staunch defenders within parts of the veterinary community and dog breeding worlds. Common arguments include:

Breed standards and tradition

Docking preserves traditional breed characteristics and standards established over decades or centuries, part of responsible breeding.

Appearance preferences

To some, a docked tail improves a dog’s overall look and locks in desired traits tailored for each breed’s roles.


Docking could reduce risk of infection, feces sticking, and other hygiene issues, though limited evidence.

Injury prevention

For active, working dogs, docking may help avoid tail injuries or breaks from livestock, brush, or other hazards.

Owner preferences

Many prospective owners prefer dogs with docked tails for appearance reasons or tradition. Banning docking reduces consumer options.

Happier pets

Dogs are less likely to injure, infect, or break docked tails, avoiding pain. Shorter tails may also reduce surgical needs later in life.

Population control

Docking helps distinguish purebred dogs and identify them for breeding programs.

Livelihood impacts

Banning docking can negatively impact breeders, who may see decreased demand without the option.

However, most major veterinary associations and animal welfare groups disagree, viewing docking as largely unnecessary and inhumane in most cases. But it still has its defenders.

Is tail docking legal?

Laws and norms surrounding tail docking vary greatly depending on the region:

United States

Docking remains legal in most parts of the United States but is prohibited in some cities and states, like California and Maryland. American veterinary associations discourage docking but still permit it under certain circumstances, respecting breed standards and traditions.


Docking was banned nationally in Canada in 2018 except for working dogs. Banned breeds include Great Danes, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and more.

United Kingdom

The UK banned docking for cosmetic purposes in 2006 except for some working dogs. Breeds like Corgis and Spaniels can still be docked by veterinarians up to 5 days old.


Docking was banned in Australia in 2004, with an exemption for working livestock herding dogs. Only veterinarians can dock, and pain relief is required.


Many European nations have banned docking, including Germany, Switzerland, Greece, Finland, Denmark, and more. However, rules vary across the continent.

New Zealand

Docking was banned in New Zealand in 2018 except for working dog breeds proved to benefit from docking.

Overall, public sentiment in most Western nations has shifted toward restricting unnecessary tail docking, especially without anesthesia. But practices and attitudes still vary worldwide.

What about dogs born without tails?

While less common, some dog breeds are born naturally “bobtailed” with very short or missing tails due to genetics. Examples include:

– Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog
– Brittany Spaniel
– French Bulldog
– Boston Terrier
– Pembroke Welsh Corgi
– Schipperke
– Jack Russell Terrier

These dogs often have bred bobbed tails purposefully into their lineage to meet breed standards. However, unlike docking, missing tails are naturally occurring from inherited genes, not amputation after birth. Care should be taken not to confuse the two practices.

Are dewclaws similar to tail docking?

Dewclaw removal is sometimes compared to tail docking but has some distinct differences:

– Dewclaws are often considered unnecessary vestigial appendages today, while tails clearly serve functions.
– Dewclaws are more prone to tearing and injury on active dogs. Evidence tail docking prevents injury is weaker.
– Removal is still controversial but has more veterinary health justifications than purely cosmetic docking.
– Dewclaw removal also happens in puppyhood when less developed. But procedures without anesthesia remain controversial.
– Arguably both practices should be re-examined for necessity and done only when ethically justified. But clear differences exist.


Tail docking remains a controversial practice but deeply ingrained in some breed traditions and standards. While procedures have improved and pain management advanced, docking healthy tails purely for cosmetic reasons faces increasing ethical opposition today. However, the practice persists in many parts of the world, and debates continue around necessity, ethics, and impacts. Overall, there are no easy answers, but progress continues toward docking only when medically warranted and humanely performed. Like any complex issue, examining perspectives on all sides paints the fullest picture.