The Whole Truth About Tail Docking
As a trainer, I have the joy of working with a wide variety of dog breeds. With this, I have also learned much about the different purebred show standards - some of which include tail docking.
This practice, controversial to say the least, is a left-over from a time when some dogs were used exclusively for sport or work. Because their tails and ears were especially vulnerable, cropping or docking was viewed as a preventative measure.
Today of course, the dog's place in society is very different. "Sports" like dog fighting are illegal and working dogs aren't just working dogs, they're companions too. There are now laws to protect dogs from cruelty and abuse. Accordingly, MANY countries (Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, India, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Poland, Scotland, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey) have banned the practice of ear cropping and tail docking which are now done purely for aesthetic reasons.
Unfortunately, the US has yet to join the ranks of countries which recognize the practice for what it is - cruel and unnecessary - probably because there are so many falsehoods on the subject floating around.
Here are just a few I'd like to dispel!
Myth: Dogs are anesthetized during the tail docking procedure.
Truth: Only adult dogs (which may bite or flee unlike a puppy) are anesthetized! Typically the procedure considered "non-therapeutic docking" is done on very young puppies with no pain killers. And worse yet - it's done with a device that is similar to a dog's nail clippers - but for tails!
Myth: Some dogs don't actually need their tail.
Truth: If the very fact that they are born with a whole tail hasn't convinced you it serves some purpose for the dog, let's hear what the Animal Welfare Divisions has to say about a dog's tail...
The tail is not a limb but is an appendage; it is the distal section of the spinal column and comprises 20 (6-23)caudal or coccygeal vertebrae, muscle, nerves and blood vessels. The muscular structure and activity are an integral part of the normal bodily shape and function, especially in the perineal region."
Removal of the tail in an immature puppy may lead to improper development of these muscles (Canfield 1986) and even if in a mature dog, the reduced support for the rectum and anus can lead to rectal dilatation or sacculation and faecal incontinence. Certainly some breeds such as the Old English sheepdog and Doberman Pinschers are known to show urinary incontinence. A relationship has also been suggested between tail docking and submissive urinary incontinence in puppies.
The tail in a dog is used as a counter-balance in various locomotory activities. A dog with a tail is able to express its emotional state, assertion of social status, acceptance of a subordinate or equal position, or willingness to fight. It has been suggested that the absence of a tail may, in some instances, predispose a dog to unwarranted aggression (Wansborough 1996) and this particular viewpoint merits investigation.
Myth: Because a puppy's nervous system is still developing when tail cropping is done, they can't feel it.
Truth: Some advocates for tail docking have suggested that the practice is okay for very young dogs (as opposed to grown dogs) because their nervous system is still developing. They believe that because the nervous system is not fully matured, the puppies can't actually feel the pain of an amputation. Unfortunately for the puppies that have gone through this though, scientists say this is not the case.
The initial pain from the direct injury to the nervous system caused by cutting or crushing the tail of a neonatal puppy would be intense and at a level that would not be permitted to be inflicted upon a human (Wansborough 1996) - Animal Welfare Division
(To the idea that a puppy's immature nervous system prevents them from feeling pain) We know this is no longer correct, in fact the contrary occurs. Anatomical studies have shown that the density of cutaneous nociceptive nerve endings in the late foetus and newborn animal may equal or exceed that of adult skin (Anand and Cart 1989). Nociceptive impulses are conducted via unmyelinated and thinly myelinated fibres. The slower conduction velocity in neonatal nerves resulting from incomplete myelination is offset by the shorter interneuronal and neuromuscular distances that the impulse has to travel. Puppies are usually subjected to this pain and trauma at 2 to 5 days of age when the level of pain would he much greater than an adult would experience because the afferent stimuli reaching the dorsal horn from a greater density of sensitized cutaneous nociceptors will exceed that of the adult and the strength and frequency of painful stimuli reaching the brain will he greater because inhibitory pain pathways will not be developed. Australian veterinarian, Robert K. Wansbrough
Myth: You can tell a puppy doesn't feel pain, because they don't cry for long and they want to nurse when the procedure is done.
Truth: First off - dogs do not behave in the same way humans do while experiencing pain. A dog that displayed signs of pain or weakness may be picked off by predators - ESPECIALLY puppies. They have evolved to behave in a stoic fashion. Second, while puppies do not behave the way a human would if you cut off a finger, they DO react. Puppies almost always cry out or scream in pain during the procedure. The idea that they must not be in pain anymore once they begin nursing is also based on the notion that a puppy would act as a human. The truth is - puppies receive a rush of endorphins (the feel-good hormones) while nursing. If anything, the fact that puppies generally return vigorously to nursing is a confirmation that they are in pain. They are using what they can to bring relief.
Myth: Injury to undocked hunting dogs occurs often.
Truth: While pro-docking activists may use sensational and gruesome images of tail injuries in undocked tails, these types of injuries could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered common. In fact, while it is argued that "hunting dogs with undocked tails are often injured" there are no statistics to support this statement.
Myth: Undocked dogs are less attractive.
Truth: While unfortunately, many US dog show competitions still insist on tail docking in certain breeds, I can tell you first hand that the breeds typically subjected to the procedure are born beautiful and need no cosmetic surgery to be so!
See evidence below: :)