This Tail Docking Discussion, And What It Means To You
(c) 1999 Steve Peacocke
I have recently, as a private citizen of this country, placed a submission before a
government select committee on the Animal Welfare Bill. One of it's aims of this bill is
to ban tail docking for all breeds of dogs in New Zealand, even hunting dogs. If you are
like many dog owners in New Zealand, you've never thought about the reasons behind tail
docking, you've never had to
The SPCA have launched a media campaign with such emotive headlines as: "Every day
helpless puppies lose their tails in the name of fashion."-"Some puppies tails
are hacked off with a kitchen knife."-"Others are painfully docked with a
tightly wound rubber band". The SPCA have certainly gained public support to outlaw
this practice and even the veterinary profession has been vocal on banning tail docking
except where a vet may decide that it is in the dog's interest to dock. So why don't we
ban tail docking if it's such a barbaric practice? The answer is plain and simple, it is
detrimental to the health and welfare of some breeds of dogs not to dock their tails -
i.e. it is cruel not to dock. Let's examine the reasons behind why docking is done today.
Let's examine each argument that I have heard to date
Docking puppies is cruel and painful.
The tail bone of a pup at less than 3 days old is still soft and the nervous system
undeveloped. Consider that a young lamb or calf is so developed at birth that they can
stand and walk besides their mothers within minutes of being born; a human, although not
able to stand for many months, is still fully formed at birth; a pup though is essentially
still developing after birth, the eyes, for example, do not open for many days. The pup is
still developing hearing, sight, and the nervous system for many days after birth. As a
hunter and scavanger, the dog has developed the ability to carry pups for only 63 days
before giving birth to allow to mother to venture from the den to obtain food. The pups
are still forming after birth, docking at this age causes only a momentary discomfort that
is almost instantly forgotten.
There is no reason to dock dogs tails.
The Hungarian Vizsla is a hunter, pointer and retriever with 1 third docked from the
tail. Although the remainder of the tail is strong, the third docked is thin and whip-like
and is open to damage in the field. The Vizsla holds it's tail horizontal to the ground
and wags it forcefully while charging through rough scrub and undergrowth. The unprotected
tip is docked to keep it from splitting and bleeding. Once damaged, the tail is extremely
difficult to heal, sometimes requiring amputation later in life when the dog must be
placed under general anaesthetic causing undue stress and pain.
Tail docking is completed only to win shows.
There is no rule made by the New Zealand Kennel Club that requires any breed to be
docked to allow it to show. The Hungarian Vizsla has been around since the 10th century
and earlier and even early records show a docked tail yet, other than a brief test at
showing early this century in Hungary, the first Vizsla to show anywhere in the world was
in the mid 1960's. Docking is performed to save the dog pain and hardship.
Tails are required to aid in swimming.
Many docked breeds including the Vizsla, and even fully docked breeds, are excellent
Tails are required for balance.
Despite this seemingly plausible argument, no dogs to my knowledge, have ever fallen
over due to the lack of a tail. Wobbly dogs are almost non-existent.
Tails are required for expression.
The tail is immediately seen by humans but the full body language is used by other
dogs. Even a fully docked dog can easily give the full range of emotions to both other
dogs and to humans. Arguments to the contrary usually go along the lines of "why then
are most aggressive dogs the ones with the docked tails?" When the word
"aggressive" is used people usually conjure up images of the American Pit Bull
Terrier (which is not docked), the Rottweiller and the Doberman. These latter dogs are
bred to be guard dogs and have their tails docked to prevent intruders gripping the tails
making the dog ineffective. Docking their tails didn't make them aggressive, they were
docked because they were trained to be aggressive.
Docking tails is "Cosmetic Mutilation".
This is the "catch-phrase" of the SPCA. It means nothing and is specifically
designed to bring emotion into the argument. It is hard to argue against as it contains no
facts to argue. It's like saying "I think you're ugly", it's designed to get an
Other hunting dogs don't have their tails docked.
The practice of docking some hunting dog's tails was done for practical reasons, if
there is no practical reason, why dock at all? The Labrador has a thick, powerful and well
padded tail throughout the full length, the Irish Setter and the Golden Retriever have
long course hair for protection the Vizsla, GSP and Weimeraner have no such protection.
There is also the question of the type of hunting done, the Labrador is the traditional
retriever with the likes of lowland ducks where tail damage is unlikely. The Vizsla on the
other hand hunts ducks on rivers and ponds; pheasants and quail through the rough; and
even deer in dense bush.
Other countries are banning tail docking.
While this is true for some countries, this experiment has proven disastrous for
working dogs such as the Hungarian Vizsla, the Weimaraner and the German Short Haired
Pointer. Most countries that have banned tail docking are currently considering, if not
totally reversing the law, allowing docking of hunting breeds for humanitarian reasons. In
Denmark, the Anti-docking law specifically excludes five hunting breeds, the Hungarian
Vizsla is one of those five. Even there, the law is being reconsidered due to the number
of reported tail damages in all traditionally docked breeds.
Now that we have discounted the main arguments against docking, let me place a few
arguments for docking. No-one I've heard, including the most vocal SPCA, the Vets, or the
Government, are even considering banning the docking of lambs tails. Why? Because
there are very valid reasons why lambs should be docked. Why then are we considering
banning docking the tails of the working gundog who has just as valid reasons? The
inconsistency of the veterinarian profession is extremely puzzling. They have decided that
they are against docking dogs, yet they will dock when asked by a breeder, even though
they have received no training in the procedure. They have also been known to perform
cosmetic surgery on dogs simply to improve the looks of a dog. How can then the veterinary
profession justify it's politically correct stand on tail docking? At the same time, I
stress that there are some very worthy vets out there but ask you to note that the remarks
are made about the veterinary profession in general. Docking pups at 2-3 days old, before
the nervous system has developed in the tail, causes the dog little to no pain and no
lasting health or psychological problems, this is generally accepted now by the scientific
community, along with the statement that few complete studies have been made on the effect
of docking, or indeed, not docking.
Not allowing docking on a traditionally docked gundog may cause pain and suffering from
constantly re-opening wounds to the tail. This demoralizes the dog and makes it shy from
the brashness required in the field. I urge you all to take a look at the submission that
I placed before the committee. I have placed it on the internet here. (on our Vizsla
Newsletter pages at http://www.trader.co.nz/vizsla). If you feel strongly enough, call
your local MP to let him or her know how you stand. They have had the ear of the SPCA for
long enough, let's tell them how dog owners feel.
-- Posted with permission from Steve Peacocke