Docking, or cutting short, the tails of very young dogs was a traditional procedure for some breeds, carried out either for aesthetic purposes or to reduce the likelihood of injuries.
In 2007, the practice was banned in Scotland for all non-medical reasons, but the debate continues. Read more on the background to this debate.
Rural business and sport
Colin Shedden, Scottish director of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) describes the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 as, "clear-cut legislation but also unfair."
Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association says, "The campaign for an exemption for working dogs is gaining momentum in Scotland now that people can see how seriously animals can be injured when their tails aren't docked. It is also clear that breeders are protecting their animals by taking them to England for at least a week before they give birth so they can subsequently be docked in England and then returned to Scotland."
Mr Hogg continues, "It makes a mockery of the current legislation and the Scottish Government needs to recognise that." And goes on to say that most owners of working dogs hold firearms certificates, so policing an exemption would be straightforward.
Clarissa Baldwin, chief executive officer of dog welfare charity Dogs Trust, says it, "opposes the docking of tails for any reason other than for medical purposes. Dogs Trust welcomed the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which made the removal of a dog's tail an offence in England and Wales unless the dog is a certified working dog and under 5 days old. The charity also welcomed the total ban on docking of a dog's tail in accordance with the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act."
Ms Baldwin adds, "Dogs Trust would like to see parity across the UK with a total ban across the board. The Act in Scotland is transparent whereas the English version offers too many loopholes."
Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said, "We support a total ban on the docking of dogs tails and believe that no dog should have its tail docked for any reason other than immediate veterinary need."
Mr Flynn adds, "We do not believe that current Scottish law should change in line with England and Wales, where it is acceptable for certified working dogs to have their tails docked, as this would be a backward step for animal welfare in Scotland."
Libby Anderson, political director of Advocates for Animals in Edinburgh, says, "Any dog could get injured whilst working ... not just its tail but its legs, chest and face. However if you dock a dog's tail you will certainly injure the tail, which can be extremely painful and sometimes never fully heals."
Vets and veterinary bodies
Separate surveys of vets' opinions have been conducted for the British Veterinary Association, BASC and for BBC Scotland Landward.
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) regulates veterinary surgeons and provides them with guidance through the RCVS Guide to Professional Conduct. In 2006, RCVS supported the ban on the tail docking of all dogs, working or cosmetic, "If all docking were made unlawful, it would be possible to gather objective evidence on tail injuries in injuries in working dogs."
An RCVS spokeswoman said, "the RCVS advises vets to respect the law on tail docking of dogs."
In anonymous responses to a BBC Scotland Landward survey in March 2009, practising RCVS members offered a variety of views on the ban and its welfare effects:
"Docking tails because 'they might hurt them' is like amputating limbs as they might get hurt."
"A lobby insisted that the incidence of tail injuries was low. The low incidence is because until recently these dogs were docked!"
"Absolutely wrong to dock for aesthetic purposes but agree with docking working dogs. They can get some nasty injuries and tails are bad to heal."
"Our black and white situation is much better than the English fuzzy one."
Dog owners and breeders
Some dog owners and breeders want to ease the restrictions for all "traditionally docked breeds of dog." This suggestion is not covered by the amendment recently under discussion at Holyrood.
The Council of Docked Breeds argues the issue is about freedom of choice.
To add your comment to this page, scroll down and write briefly in the text entry box. Comments will be moderated before publication. Please note the BBC Terms and Conditions of contribution.
Page first published on Wednesday 1st April 2009
Page last updated on Friday 3rd April 2009
Firstly , the welfare of my dogs in the shooting field is paramount to me , and I'm sure the same is true for all other "serious" gundog owners.Comments like those from Fionna Duncan are only an example of jumping on the "Anti-shooting/hunting" bandwagon and have no place in such a debate. Secondly , The Animal Welfare Act surely applies to "all" animals regardless of which part of the UK they live, so why the difference ?
I am currently carrying out a project which looks at the influence the Government has on animal welfare and have chosen tail docking as my issue. I have sympathy with those on both sides of the argument, however, working dogs are at a high risk of injuring their tails due to the nature of their work, surely tail docking is one way of safeguarding them against a higher level of pain and injury in the futue. As for those who argue that if the tail should be removed incase they injure it, why not remove the ears incase they injure them, this is a completely impracticle suggestion as dogs would not fundction without their ears, making this an invalid argument.
How would you like it if i cut your arm off! My rottie looks beautiful with her tail and has had no injuries related to it.
I do not agree with tail docking for aesthetic reasons, as yes dogs are meant to have tails, but to be perfectly honest, if hunting dogs could have been bred to have shortened tails, they would have been because such horrible things happen when their tails catch on barbed wire. Unless the farmers remove their barbed wire I think tail docking for working dogs is perfectly acceptable. Far better that the dog grows up without a tail than grows up with one and has to have it removed at a later date due to injury, as this can cause severe stress to the animal. As a puppy it is not fully aware of what is happening. For those who make the point of long ears getting caught on things, yes they do, and there are some nasty injuries there as well, but it would be impossible for the dog to function without ears and so that argument is pointless, beacause dogs can function with a docked tail. Our family owns several working dogs for use in the pest control business and we have many times that the stars that the jack russell has a shortened tail, because the rate at which she hurtles through barbed wire is terrifying. I think the debate should be less about the tails and more about the barbed wire, why aren't people shouting about that may I ask? is barbed wire not just as cruel?
some of the comments are interesting but for those who have never owned a hard hunting spaniel you do not what you are talking about. docking in working dogs came as a result of injury not beauty.
We own a field trial champion who has been placed 2nd,3rd and 4th in the Cocker Championships over the last 5 years. In order to comply with this ban yet uphold the requests that are essential in this society we have to make the unnecessary journey from one end of the country to the other every time she has a litter of pups. We leave her in the capable hands of a good friend who has them legally docked and chipped before we return to England when the pups are old enough to bring them back home again. So, why do we bother to go to such extremes? Because we want to attain the high standard of breeding lines that have been achieved. We want our pups to have the best possible opportunities in life and this means selling them to the top trainers worldwide. These experienced handlers simply do not want an undocked pup. The demand for docked working dogs is evident. People won't stop buying dogs, they will simply cross the border to get them. Either way, Scotland looses. Reputable breeders, who have selectivley bred over the last 30 years to better the breed standard, are now suffering. Yet those unconcerned by health issues reap the benefits. Is this act of animal welfare really a benefit to dogs overall or are we just allowing the standard of breeding to deteriorate?
Of course Spanials hurt other parts of their body when hunting but surely it is common sense that a hard hunting spanial has its tail docked as there is more chance of injury to its tail. Is'nt it better to be sure that your dog does not have the possibility of a very painfully removal and extended recovery period of a tail when in adulthood?
I 100% support docking of working dogs for working reasons only not for show, but purely on the grounds to prevent injury when working. That said I cannot for the life of me understand how england and wales have an exemption, yet Scotland have a total ban, it makes a mockery and I agree with Simon Taylor who has put "The exemptions that apply in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland were made by intelligent people aware of the needs of the countryside and the people and animals that live there. What a pity the same cannot be said of the people who make the laws in Scotland. " here here
Another example of legislative ignorance and lack of consultation that resluts in a law that is not fit for the purpose. Needs to be changed to allow exemption for working dogs.
IT IS IGNORANCE AND PREJUDICES AS THAT SPOUTED BY "ENGLISH SPANIEL OWNER " THAT MADE THE SCOTTISH GOVERMENT PASS THIS LAW WITHOUT EXEMPTIONS. LABS, AND HPRS HUNT AND WORK IN A COMPLETLY DIFFERENT FASHION TO SPANIELS, BUT I HAVE WITNESSED TAIL TIP DAMAGE ON LABS THAT HAVE BEEN TAUGHT TO HUNT IN COVER SIMILIAR TO WHERE SPANIELS WORK. A WORKING COMMITEE RESEARCHED AND ADVISED ON BEHALF OF HOLYROOD THAT THEY MAKE A WORKING DOG EXEMPTION , BUT THEY IGNORED AND PUT IT TO A OPEN VOTE IN THE HOUSE.THE TERM TAIL DOCKING IS MISLEADING AS THE TAIL ON A SPANIEL IS NOT DOCKED BUT SHORTENED BY A FEW INCHES TO REMOVE THE TIP WHERE THE BLOOD VESSELS ARE DAMAGED. I HAVE A SPANIEL DOCKED LEGALLY PRIOR TO LEGISLATION WHO IS 5 YEARS OLD , WORKS ALL SEASON, HAS A 10" TAIL AND HAS NEVER HAD ANY DAMAGE. I HAVE A PUP, ONE YEAR OLD, STILL BEING TRAINED WITH AN UNDOCKED 15" TAIL THAT IS CONSTANTLY BLEEDING ,WHEN HUNTING COVER. SHE WILL NEED A PAINFUL , EXPENSIVE OPERATION TO REMOVE THE TIP AND WILL SUFFER THANKS TO THIS RIDICULOUS LEGISLATION. I DO NOT BELIEVE IN TAIL DOCKING OF DOCKS FOR APPEARANCE OR AESTETIC PURPOSES. THE SOONER THIS LEGISLATION IS REVIEWED THE BETTER
Fionna Duncan, Scotland
I do not believe for one second that all the pro-docking people want to dock their dogs for health reasons! All dogs risk injurys in dense terrain, Spaniel's ears are at risk, but no-one suggests chopping them off (Thank God). No - this is more about habit and tradition, the dog doesn't 'look' right to the hunting/shooting crew, and the Rottie and Dobe don't look 'hard' enough to the guard-dog lovers. The dog needs it's tail. It was born with it for a reason. It's all about human perception and preference, not about the welfare of our dogs.
We stopped docking our working springers at least fifteen years before the ban in Scotland, and since then have only once had an injured tail on a springer. We have actually had more tail injuries on our setters, who are traditionally not docked.One just has to learn how to cope with the occasional injury without resorting to dockingWhen we stopped docking in the 1990s we were surprised to find there were actually unexpected advantages, our dogs spent a lot of time in and near water, and we found they could swim better and turn more quickly in water with the use of their tails. And of course the tail is a means of expression for a happy working dog. I'm glad to see spaniels with full tails. And for show and pet spaniels there is absolutely no justification for the way in which they were docked leaving just a pathetic stub - at least the working spaniels kept about a third of the tail to wag.I welcome the ban on docking.
dogs do hurt there tails so surely it is better to prevent suffering and dock early than have dogs suffer surgery and amputation. my dog was out of comission for 3 weeks following her amputation.
I would have thought that they could at least trim the hair on the working spaniel's tails so that they are smooth and wouldnt catch in trees and bushes. That would be a start. The dogs look so nice with their tails. They actually look ugly with the short stubby docked tails.
I support the docking of spaniel dogs. I have over the past 30 yearsenjoyed the companionship of 8 spaniels 3 blue roan cockers and 5 springers. the first 5 were docked and I had no problems with theit tails but my last 3 are not docked and I have problems with 1 of the cockers. This bitch thrashes her tail against the wall and furniture. Every time she is in kennels th end of the tail breaks down and bleeds. On the last visit the tail was taped to try and prevent such extensive damage when she is catching the tail against the wire netting. The expense at the vets was only one problem, trying to keep dressings on the dogs tail was ridiculous, the vet was very reluctant to dock the tail and the tail now is very delicate with little coverage of hair. Thank you for listening to my problem
Docking is a tradition and tradition is created mainly with good reason. Do we and the dogs have to go through a painful learning process again to learn why docking was done to working dogs. Yes, ensure that it is carried out by a resposible/licsenced person. Working dogs are no longer a necessity, but a luxury which still carries an instinct to work and are prone to injury whilst doing so.
English Spaniel Owner
So, we extend the docking back to working dogs such as English Springers? Why not take it further - why not remove the tail of any working dog such as Setters, wolfhounds, and labradors? These dogs all work, and all suffer the occasional instance of tail damage. The reason for not doing this is of course people are just obsessed with tradition and have a aversion to change, no matter how good it is. It does not benefit the dog. Studies have shown that dogs with docked tails are impaired in their communication with other dogs and are more likely to be involved in aggressive encounters.
my 15month cocker pup in her first season had damaged her tail every time she faced cover.it resulted in amputation,she was bandaged for close to 3weeks and confined to short walks in case stitches burst.we also have had the added expense of surgery as opposed to a 2 second dock when a day old pup.
I own a 17 month old working cocker dog - from working stock. He is a pet and his tail is undocked. I love his long waggy tail. However, he sometimes comes out of undergrowth and dense bushes whimpering and turning in circles obviously having hurt his tail. His instinct is to go into these places and I am concerned that he will do himself some damage or, in some ways even worse, will stop doing what comes naturally to him. My opinion, as someone who loves long undocked tails but who also owns a tail wagging spaniel - is that spaniels should be docked.
The exemptions that apply in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland were made by intelligent people aware of the needs of the countryside and the people and animals that live there. What a pity the same cannot be said of the people who make the laws in Scotland.
Just watched the programme and totally agree with the ban on tail docking. The ban is there to protect animals, crossing the border to have it done in England should also be banned. This is an extremely painful procedure and its more often than not done by pet owners and not vets, thus causing more unnecessary suffering and mistakes that can cause the dog to suffer the rest of its life. Youn wouldnt like someone cutting off your arm just incase it got injured, so why cut off the tail? Cosmetic reasons seems to be the only true reason.