Tail Docking in an Adult Dog

Impact of Tail Docking on Puppies and Dogs

Dog with docked tail
Lynn Koenig

Tail docking is, essentially, amputation or partial amputation of a dog's tail. Along with ear docking, it is usually performed on very young puppies (typically Dobermans, German shorthaired pointers, and schnauzers of certain breeds). While there are historical reasons for this procedure, dockings today are almost always undertaken for cosmetic reasons often related to showing purebreds. 

Veterinarians do not recommend this procedure for adult dogs, and very few recommend it for puppies.

Any form of docking would be extremely painful for adult dogs. 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.

History of Tail Docking

The ancient Romans believed that tail docking (along with other procedures) could protect dogs from disease and improve hygiene. In some countries, dogs' tails were docked to prevent injury during hunting. The belief that docking could protect dogs from illness or injury continued into the 20th century, and many working dogs' tails were docked for that reason.

Over time, a tradition grew of docking certain breeds' tails and ears for cosmetic reasons. For a long time, more than 70 breeds were routinely docked; the procedure was essentially required for show dogs.

Today, docking is understood to be a cruel procedure.

As a result, docking is no longer required in most major dog shows around the world, and many undocked dogs have won in their categories. In the United States, however, docking is still relatively common.

How Tail Docking Is Done

In most cases, tail docking involves 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. The procedure is done without anesthesia or sedation on a puppy that's usually 2 to 14 days old. 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.

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 Complications

Tail docking is extremely painful; 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.

American and International Laws and Perspectives on Docking

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."

While tail docking is legal in the United States, it is limited or even banned in other countries. In the United Kingdom, tail docking is limited to veterinary surgeons, and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons calls it "unacceptable mutilation." Cosmetic tail docking is illegal in Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Germany and Denmark, and many European countries including Cyprus, Greece, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Austria ratified a European Convention that prohibits cosmetic tail docking.