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Breeders of working breeds such as Terriers and Spaniels have a long traditional of tail docking. There are several reasons a breeder may dock their puppies tails, but there are also guidelines that must be met to ensure the welfare of the dogs. In 2007, tail docking was banned in England and Wales for any dog not bred for work.

Tail Docking: What and Why?

Tail docking is the removal of a portion of a dog’s tail, usually leaving a handful sized stump. The practice was first introduced for working breeds to minimize the risk of tail injuries. Terriers and Spaniels especially do benefit from the procedure since they spend a lot of time in dense vegetation or in tight animal burrows.

Common tail injuries for working dogs include:

  • Abrasions
  • Lacerations 
  • Happy Tail Syndrome
  • Limber Tail Syndrome
  • Nerve damage
  • Sprains
  • Fractures

Hygiene is another reason certain breeds were traditionally docked. Those with heavy feathering can suffer from faecal matting even if bathed regularly. Before the ban was introduced, docking was also done in accordance with Kennel Club breed standards.

Patterdale Terrier Coats

The Law on Tail Docking Procedure in England

Since the introduction of the ban on tail docking, there are several strict guidelines that must be met for tail docking procedure to be legal.

AGE: The puppy must be docked before they are five days old. This is because their nervous system has not yet fully developed, so the procedure will cause very little discomfort. 

WORK: The breeder must provide documentation to prove the puppies have been bred to work. This can be in the form of a gun license or a letter from a landowner to confirm the dog is used for work on their land.

CERTIFICATE: Only a qualified veterinary surgeon can perform the procedure and a certificate must be produced to confirm the dog is microchipped and was docked for work purposes. The certificate must be signed by the veterinary surgeon and the dog’s owner. The vet must also see the mother of the litter before the puppies are docked and confirm they are a working breed.

TYPES OF WORK: There are only certain breeds who can legally have their tails docked for working purposes:

  • Hunt, Point and Retrieve
  • Law Enforcement
  • Search and Rescue
  • Armed Forces
  • Legal Pest Control

INJURY: Tail injury that cannot be treated is the only other legal reason why a dog may have their tail docked. 

In Scotland, docking was banned completely in 2007, however, a review was made in 2017 to allow working dogs to be docked in accordance with regulations. Their tails must not be docked by more than a third. 

Northern Ireland introduced similar regulations in 2010, banning docking for all dogs except those certified to work.

Side Effects of tail Docking

The biggest downside of having a dog with a docked tail is that they cannot communicate effectively with other dogs. Their tail is used to display playfulness or submission. Without a tail, interactions can be misinterpreted and lead to aggression.

Dogs also use the tails to aid bowel movements, so some dogs may struggle to toilet if they have a docked tail. Regular exercise can keep the necessary muscles supple, which will help prevent any difficulties.

You might also like to read about the working Patterdale terrier.

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