Tail Docking in an Adult Dog

Dog with docked tail
Lynn Koenig

A reader asks: "I have Great Dane/Lab mix. He's a terrific dog, but he's got a tail that is like a whip. We do what we can to keep him calm, but it's impossible to keep a dog from wagging his tail. It hurts when his tail hits us, and he's smacked the kids across the face a few times. We're considering getting his tail cropped/docked, but we don't know if there is an age limit. We would leave his tail alone if it wasn't hurting anyone, but it is.

My daughter has already gotten one black eye from being whacked with his tail..." full forum post

How Is Tail Docking Done?

Tail docking is done by snipping off the tail with surgical scissors or scalpel, cutting through skin, muscle, nerves, cartilage  and vertebrae). Sometimes the end of the tail is sewn with a stitch.  (If docking is down by a breeder, it's rarely stitched.) The procedure is done without anesthesia or sedation on a puppy that's usually 2 to14 days old.

Another method involves putting a band or ligature on the tail to cut off blood supply which then causes it to fall off. The end of the tail dies after a few days and falls off, and the ligature then is removed.

A third method utilized by breeders involves clamping the tail and then twisting the end of it by hand until it eventually comes off.

Tail Docking in Adult Dogs

All these procedures would be extremely painful for adult dogs.

Older puppies and dogs must have general anesthesia because at this late stage it's considered a tail amputation. This is a major procedure since the tail is too large and the nerves and blood vessels are much too developed to do a traditional docking.

It is not recommended to undertake this surgery on an adult dog because it is very painful and the tail doesn't heal properly due to lack of growth.

Unless there's a pressing reason to undergo the procedure, like a severe or repeated injury to the tail, it's very ill-advised. Some vets say it's actually like amputating a limb.

Tail Docking Complications

In addition, there are several potential consequences associated with tail docking including:

  • Formation of neuromas: Neuromas are bundles of swollen nerve fibers that try to grow at the site of the amputation and can cause severe pain.
  • Disruption of balance: Dogs use their tail to balance out their weight, both on land and when swimming.
  • Stress: Some puppies have been so stressed by the procedure that they've died of shock.
  • Impact on communication: Dogs communicate with other dogs by wagging -- to the left means fear and stress, and right signifies that they're relaxed. It's easier for other dogs to read these signals with a long tail.

AKC and American Veterinary Medical Association Positions

The American Kennel Club (AKC) publicly states that it "recognizes that ear cropping, tail docking, and dewclaw removal, as described in certain breed standards, are acceptable practices. . ." However, the official position of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states that it "opposes ear cropping and tail docking of dogs when done solely for cosmetic purposes."

This 2006 blog post generated interesting discussion about tail docking in dogs. Read more about the important distinction between cosmetic/elective tail docking surgery and medical reasons (e.g. repeated or non-healing tail injuries) for tail docking.

You are invited to submit your stories and opinions about tail docking in dogs in our new Reader Responds section.

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