Tail docking of working dogs

Owners and breeders of some working dogs are requesting a change to the law in Scotland so that a controversial veterinary procedure can once more go ahead.

Changes in legislation since 2007 mean vets may only operate to shorten a dog's tail in order to treat an existing injury or ailment.

Dougie Vipond on the taildocking of working dogs. Broadcast on Landward in April 2009.

Gamekeepers and shooters say that working dogs such as spaniels and terriers run the risk of injuring their tails while running through gorse and scrub.

Opponents of a re-introduction of tail docking for working dogs argue there is a lack of evidence for tail injuries sustained by these dogs. Others argue that the surgery is not minor and causes pain to the dogs, and that slow-healing wounds can require further, more serious, operations leading to, in extreme cases, extermination.

In England and Wales, an exemption from the docking ban exists for certified working dogs up to five days old. Petitions and political moves at the Holyrood parliament want to make the law similar in Scotland.

Video archive : taildocking in 2007

Before the ban came into place in 2007, Landward filmed a litter of spaniel puppies destined to be working dogs undergoing a then-legal docking procedure at a vet's practice in Scotland. Before you choose to watch, be aware that this video shows the procedure in some detail.

According to vets, the procedure was not complicated. Some vets chose to inject local anaesthetic before snipping the tail short using surgical scissors. The wound was then stitched to make healing as rapid as possible. An alternative technique applied a tight band which restricted blood flow to the tail end.

Since 2007

Bans on the docking of dogs' tails came into force across Britain in March and April 2007. The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act, passed at Holyrood in 2006, deems the operation a "prohibited procedure".

Legislation for England and Wales, the Animal Welfare Act 2006, differs in allowing tail docking for certified working dogs in their first five days of life. The law in Northern Ireland has not changed since 1993 - vets there can still dock.

No such exemption exists in Scotland. Taking an animal out of Scotland for the procedure is itself an offence. There are also restrictions on exhibiting a dog with a docked tail.

Penalties for allowing or conducting tail docking include fines of £5,000 and up to six months imprisonment.

Other animals

The Act covers, from birth, all commonly domesticated vertebrate animals under human control. The range of prohibited and permitted procedures varies by species, to allow accepted livestock management techniques.

Spaniel dog

Ongoing discussions

The proposed amendment in Scotland can be summarised as equalising the law with that current in England and Wales. Working dogs north of the border would be covered by a similar exemption.

Ted Brocklebank, Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, has voiced support for a working dogs exemption to the ban and petitioned the Scottish government to amend the Act.

The Scottish Government remains opposed to all docking of dogs' tails. A spokesperson told Landward reporters of its disappointment at reports of pregnant bitches being taken to England to give birth to their litters, adding that any dogs moved prior to sale are covered by regulations protecting animals during transport.

The Scottish Executive has put money towards research by the Royal Veterinary College and University of Bristol. The UK and Welsh Assembly governments are co-funders. The project, entitled Risk factors for tail injuries in dogs in the UK, is expected to be published in a reviewed scientific journal in 2009.

For a summary of government actions before and since the 2007 ban consult this PDF published by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre.

Some views of veterinary organisations, animal welfare groups and dog owners are available on this tail docking debate page, where you will be able to leave your own comment.

Page first published on Thursday 26th March 2009
Page last updated on Friday 3rd April 2009

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