Can You Dock the Tail of an Adult Dog?

Profile of a standing black and rust doberman pinscher.
Doberman pinschers commonly have docked tails.

Getty Images/JamesBrey

Tail docking is a surgical procedure that is commonly performed on newborn puppies but may also be done on adult dogs. This procedure is a controversial one but may be considered necessary for some dogs. Knowing why tail docking is done and how to prevent unnecessary pain and complications is important for any dog owner to understand.

What Is Tail Docking in Dogs?

Tail docking is a term used to describe the cutting off of the end or tip of a dog's tail. It consists of cutting between the bones in the tail to shorten its length and the amount of the tail that is cut or "docked" will depend on why it is being removed to begin with. Tail docking is a surgical procedure recommended to be done by a veterinarian, regardless of the age of a dog, but is sometimes done on newborn puppies by breeders at home. It is also known as a tail amputation even if only a portion of the tail is removed.

Why Do Puppies Get Their Tails Docked?

Historically, puppies had their tails docked as newborns because the ancient Romans thought it would prevent rabies and make them better at hunting. We know there is no factual evidence for either of these claims so today it is typically done in puppies for one of two reasons - appearance or to prevent injuries. Certain breeds of dogs are known to look a certain way and tail docking is sometimes done to achieve this look. Other breeds have tails docked as puppies to help prevent tail injuries in the future. This is especially true with hunting breeds or in breeds like viszlas and doberman pinschers that naturally have very long, slender tails if they aren't docked. These dogs may hurt their tails while running through bushes and trees or from excitedly wagging their thin tails against a hard surface. They will be docked as puppies to help prevent these injuries from occurring when they are adults.

There are over 60 dog breeds that commonly have their tails docked as newborn puppies. These include doberman pinschers, rottweilers, various spaniels, Yorkshire terriers, German shorthaired pointers, poodles, schnauzers, viszlas, Irish terriers, airedale terriers, and others.

Why Do Adult Dogs Get Their Tails Docked?

If an adult dog needs its tail docked it is because it has an injury or other medical reason for the amputation. Dogs can injure their tails or develop issues with them, such as tumors, that are out of your control but require them to be docked as adults. Tail docking in adult dogs should not be done simply for aesthetic reasons.

Is Tail Docking Painful?

Tail docking is painful even in puppies. Cutting through skin, muscle, nerves, and between bones is never a non-painful procedure, even if a puppy is only 2 days old. It will still feel the procedure but many breeders do it without anesthetics or sedation since the puppies are easily restrained. This is a controversial procedure but still widely accepted by many. Adult dog tail docking is even more painful though and should never be performed without anesthesia and by anyone other than a veterinarian.

Concerns with Tail Docking

Tail docking is not without complications, even if performed by a veterinarian. Tail docking in puppies is much less difficult then tail docking in an adult dog but regardless of the age of the dog when the tail docking is performed, it is at risk for bleeding, unmanaged pain, and anesthetic complications. Other issues can also arise in adult dogs that have their tails docked.

Puppy tail docking only requires a cut of the scissors and a few stitches or some skin glue but it is recommended to numb the area prior to the procedure if anesthesia is too high of a risk. Not all breeders choose to do this though.

Adult dog tail docking requires general anesthesia and is a more complicated procedure since the bones are fully developed. It is only performed by a veterinarian. Infection, re-injury, and difficulty in healing can all occur since it is difficult to bandage a tail, keep it clean, and prevent a dog from sitting on it.

Legal concerns also exist with tail docking. In some countries, tail docking is illegal so even breeds of dogs that are known for having docked tails will have long tails due to the legal constraints. This is due to the lack of necessity of tail docking in puppies and is seen as an unethical and purely cosmetic procedure unless it is deemed medically necessary by a veterinarian.