Dr. Bonnie Franklin: History of Dogtail Docking, and the Long and Short of It | Four-legged friends and more

When did dog tail docking start? The ancient Romans believed that amputating the tip of a dog’s tail and/or parts of its tongue could protect it from rabies, which was then rampant throughout Europe.

This practice ceased when the true cause of rabies was discovered by Louis Pasteur in 1885 and a vaccine was created.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, it was believed that removing a dog’s tail would strengthen its back and increase its speed to make it better at fighting. It also gave the opposing Fighting Dog something less to grab.

In the 17th century, many “pleasure/companion dogs” owned by upper-class landowners in England had dogs with uncropped tails.

Dogs with intact tails were taxed. Generally lower class “working dogs” had their dogs’ tails docked because they could not pay the tax. So many herding/working dogs; the “ratters”, burrows that controlled the population of rats; and some of the other big and small game hunting dogs, such as pointers, which were used by the lower class were docked to avoid paying the tax.

Yet many breeds of English hunting dogs were undocked, as hunting was considered a leisure or recreational sport by wealthy landowners. A dog with an undocked tail was a status symbol bragging that an upper-class individual could pay the tax. The upper class also believed that the tail helped a dog run faster while hunting.

The dog tax was repealed in 1796, but tail docking continued for hunting and working dogs thereafter.

The American Veterinary Medical Association cites the earliest references recommending tail docking “when the tail was too long for the size of the animal, therefore liable to injury”. Tail docking was also done for sanitation.

In hunting dogs, tail docking was eventually done to avoid injury, especially to the tip of the tail by underbrush, ticks, nettles, burrs, grass barbs, foxtails and fences.

Tails have been tethered to sheepdogs to protect them from livestock, getting caught in fences, slamming into farm/livestock gates, or getting trapped in farm equipment, wagons and carts.

Long ago, the tails of watchdogs were docked to prevent thieves from holding them by the tail. Long-haired dogs had their tails docked so their tails wouldn’t get dirty when they hit the ground.

In the 21st century, the main proponent of tail docking in the United States is the American Kennel Club. Dogs shown in AKC competitions are judged in part on their conformity to the breed standard defined by the AKC. Docking is included as standard for over 50 breeds.

Tail docking was banned in the European Union in 1998. The procedure is not allowed or severely restricted in many countries, including most European Union member states, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland and the Virgin Islands.

In 2007, the UK banned cosmetic tail docking. Dogs may not be shown at any event where the public pays an entry fee.

In 1976, the AVMA endorsed restrictions on tail docking for cosmetic reasons, and the California Veterinary Medical Association, in a 2010 statement, said it opposed tail docking. tails of dogs when done for cosmetic purposes only. The CVMA also encourages the elimination of tail docking from breed standards.

More than 750,000 puppies have their tails docked in the United States each year. Tail docking seems to have emerged for a variety of reasons, but for some breeds it was proposed primarily to improve appearance.

Books from different eras, such as The American Book of the Dog in 1891 openly refer to the docking of certain breeds to create a “pleasant appearance”. Rules for purebred dog shows in the United States formalized the docking tradition in the mid-1950s.

The AVMA opposes cosmetic tail docking, basing its opinion on data and the essential question not being “How harmful is the procedure?” but rather “Is there sufficient justification to perform it?”

Performing surgery for cosmetic purposes suggests that the procedure is not medically indicated. In the opinion of the AVMA, this does not justify performing a surgical procedure.

Dogs have not been shown to have higher self-esteem from having their tails docked, which is the driving force behind the majority of cosmetic surgeries in humans.

It is natural for most dogs to have a tail based on their descent from a tailed species. However, there is no strong evidence that naturally clipped or surgically anchored dogs have any physical or psychological benefit.

In some breeds, selective breeding and nature have caused tail docking. Genetics have created natural tails and short tails in breeds such as the Old English Sheepdog, Australian Shepherd, French Bulldog, Boston Terrier, Welsh Corgi, English Bulldog, and Brittany Spaniel.

Some breeders prefer leaving a genetic mutation such as C189G, which creates a natural bobtail in 21 breeds, and selective breeding for other genetic mutations, which can also create a docked tail over surgically docking a tail .

The removal of a dog’s tail for medical reasons is not called “docking”. This is called amputation. The most common reason for a dog’s tail to be amputated or partially amputated is trauma in which the tail cannot be repaired or regain function.

Amputation can also occur if a puppy’s tail is deformed and therefore could negatively affect the puppy’s health.

Tail docking in the United States is a personal choice. Many breeders feel that docked tails protect their herding/ranch dogs from tail injury and help avoid fly attacks by keeping their hind ends clean. Some people think that their pet dogs (pets) have such long and strong tails that they can clean a coffee table in seconds when they are adults so that they have their tails docked like puppies.

Other people want the AKC to research their breed and breeders know this and sell what people want and expect. Breeders assume consumers want puppies that look like they’ve seen online, on TV, and at dog shows.

On the other hand, many consumers are unsure if a breed’s tail is docked or naturally docked (born that way).

From designer dogs to working dogs and all dogs in between, all are loved with either short or long tails.

— Dr. Bonnie Franklin is a rescue veterinarian who grew up in Santa Barbara. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from a joint program of Washington State and Oregon State Universities, a Masters in Wildlife Biology from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and works as a consultant to the U.S. Forest Service. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.