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Everything You Need to Know About Tail Docking

From 2007, tail docking was banned in England and Wales, however certain dogs remained exempt, meaning they can still be docked legally. These exemptions make enforcing the tail docking law more difficult, it also makes things a little unclear for owners – just like the Dangerous Dogs Act.

In the UK, only a veterinary surgeon is lawfully able to carry out the docking procedure. The problem with tail docking is that breeders often illegally carry out the procedure to make puppies ‘fashionable’. Pest control is one of the major problems that these dog breeds face after they have been transformed into something which is not in their behavior.

A new scheme is being introduced to vets to help tackle illegal docking however, ‘The Practical and Legal Approach to the Docked Puppy’ should help clamp down on rogue breeders, educate dog owners and give vets a simply guide on what to do if they are presented with a docked puppy.

Which Dogs are Eligible to Be Docked?

Firstly, which breeds are exempt from the docking law?

  • Hunt point retrieve breeds of any type or combination
  • Spaniels of any type or combination
  • Terriers of any type or combination

However, dogs of these breeds can only be docked if they are going to be used as working dogs.

It is the responsibility of the vet to check that the owner of the dog has sufficient evidence that the dog will be engaging in one of the following types of work:

  • Law enforcement
  • Activities in the Armed Forces
  • Emergency Rescue
  • Pest Control
  • Gamekeeping (e.g. retrieving during shoots)

If a puppy is one of the above breeds and is going to be used in one of the above fields of work, they are eligible to be docked by a veterinary professional. If an owner wishes to have the tail of their puppy docked they must be able to provide evidence that the dog will be worked in one of the above professions.

Before the docking procedure takes place, both the owner and the vet must sign a legal document – this document can only be signed if the vet sees:

  • The mother of the puppy to be docked (to prove breed)
  • A declaration from the owner (supplied by the vet) confirming they are the owner, the information they are provided is true and legal, etc.
  • Evidence that the dog is to be worked in one of the above professions (for example; police identification, proof of workplace, a firearm license, etc.)

If all the above criteria are met (breed, profession, evidence) the puppy must first be microchipped before they can be docked – after the microchipping, the vet and the owner of the puppy complete a certificate that legally authorises the docking of the tail.

An example of the certificate that must be completed by both the vet and the owner can be seen here.

This process ensures that tail docking is only carried out when necessary to protect the dog during work – but it doesn’t stop people docking tail illegally. What is being done about that?

What are Vets Doing to Clamp Down on Illegal Docking?

If you have bought a puppy whose tail has been docked – you are not liable for prosecution and should help your vet as much as possible.

It is the breeder and the person who docked the puppy’s tail that are liable – if you present your puppy to the vet they may ask you for the details of the breeder and/or the person who docked the tail. Again you should not be concern as you are not liable, your help could be vital in reducing the illegal docking of tails.

If you give the breeder’s details to the vet (unfortunately the owner of a docked puppy is not obliged to pass on these details), they may then pass them on to a local authority, the police or the RSPCA.

If you are the breeder of a puppy that has been docked – you are liable for prosecution. If you present this puppy at the vets, they are not obliged to report this illegal activity, but will likely contact the relevant authorities to ensure this illegal docking ceases. In the realm of criminal defense, experience and local knowledge are invaluable. New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney offers comprehensive services that cover everything from minor offenses to major felonies, ensuring that each client receives personalized and effective legal assistance.

If you want to know more, you can see the advice given by BVA AWF to veterinarians here.

Your Thoughts

Your thoughts on Twitter:

What are your opinions on tail docking? Do you think it should be banned outright or is it still a viable procedure for working dogs? If you were a vet (or are!) what would you do if presented with a docked puppy? As ever, we’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave them in the comments below.

About James Watts

BSc Bioveterinary Science. Editor of PetSci. When I'm not writing, learning, discussing, or reading about animals, you know it's the weekend! Currently developing PetSci HealthTrak, the fast and easy way to monitor your pet's weight and calorie intake. HealthTrak offers a simple way to track your pet's progress, helping them achieve a healthy weight and a long, happy life.

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  1. Good to learn about tail docking! I wish they were that strict here in the US! I think there is almost never a good reason for a dog not to have his or her full tail.

  2. I agree with the vet. You list one of the categories of animals that can be docked as those used in law enforcement, and yet many dogs with tails are used in that capacity. So…. is it just for human vanity that tails are docked, ears cut, etc? Probably.

    • I can see why tail docking might be an option for law enforcement – as it gives criminals something to grab and potentially harm the dog – although I would definitely not grab the tail of a police dog 🙂 But I think that you’re right, in most cases it is unfortunately just a vanity thing

    • Ear cutting – yes definitely just vanity. There is no actual scientific evidence that is reduces the frequency or severity of ear infections.

      Tail docking…I live in UK forest/heathland in a house with a large fenced in garden and am an experienced dog owner who works from home (writer) and would like a regular run partner, intelligent, affectionate companion and security for my home. Am in fact the perfect owner for example for a Doberman. However, the ‘natural’ tail of these dogs is very spindly towards the end and dogs (not specifically this breed) have been known to hurt themselves running through the gorse on the forest.

      What we need to remember is no existing dog ‘breed’ has a ‘natural tail’ – they are a human creation via breeding. I am in favour of docking tails that could come to harm as this is a far more serious thing than docking at 5 days old.

  3. Hi James and PetSci!

    I am a 4 yr old blogging mini schnauzer from the US whose tail was docked at only a few days old. I can tell you from personal experience that it is horrible to deal with as a puppy and adult dog. Somehow they did it wrong (Mommy says it never should have been done, especially when we think it was NOT done by a vet) and so I have nerve damage permanently. My Mommy, who rescued me at 9 weeks old, has spent years trying all she could to make me comfortable and out of pain from it, including lots of vet visits.
    My tail would get inflamed and red just from me being excited to see her, so I would bite at it to make it stop, only making it worse. I have been on all kinds of medicines over the years to make it not ‘get me’. My vet even considered surgery to try and correct it, then we finally found a nerve medicine that has virtually made my issues disappear…it is called Neurontin. My quality of tail life is much better now, but do hope they ban it in the U.S. as well.
    If you ever need a dog’s perspective on this, or a dog’s Mommy who battled with the results of bad tail docking, we are glad to help. And of course, please visit my blog anytime. Here is a link to one of my posts that mention the tail docking issue:
    Thank you for your story on tail docking and have a great day!

    Pixel Blue Eyes

  4. Tail docking in working situations is used to prevent this: (Contains only one picture, mostly letters. Tried to find the least graphic one possible!)

    Done correctly by a vet, for the right reasons, it saves a dog a lot of pain. For the incorrect reasons, its nothing short of cruelty.

  5. my 1 year old englih springer spaniel has split her tail again this is the 6th time and not healing the vet has said itstime to dock to prevent any more strees for my dog and i agree its socrule with a full tail when they damage it

    • Yes this happen to my cousins springer I think if Done correctly by a vet it saves a dog a lot of pain and upset so when they had some more pup they got them all docked by a vet and got certificate to provide it’s all don’t legally

  6. are there any medical reasons behind tail docking or any kind of health issues in some breeds of dogs such as pitpull and doberman.
    is it necessory to dock their tails.
    i hv these breeds plz suggest

    • Yes most dog that get tail dock are work so need tali off as they be going in bushes and can get court and corse alot of pain or lose of tail of dogs that can had dock my waggle tails to hard and keep splitting the tip of the tail and will not heal and corse alot of pain the the dogs with I have seen happen to a few dogs it’s not nice to let your dog go thow the split tail away so I fully agree with tail dock by a vet and should have certificate to say it all legal

  7. I have read your article about tail docking and in the act it does not say that you have to do microchipping before the tails are docked as you say in the article.
    Also aren’t the pups a bit small and young to have the chip implanted at 2 days old ? The pups don’t have to be chipped by the vet who docks or a vet at all as long as they have been adeqitley trained and has been certified and the implanted chip is done by 3 months of age

  8. Docking for decorative reasons is obviously unnecessary. But for some breeds that spend a lot of time in woodland/undergrowth/brambles – particularly hunting dogs – it can be downright cruel not to dock tails. The open wounds and infections they get (and often, resulting amputations) from constantly whacking the tip of their tail in later life can cause huge pain and suffering. Much better to get it over and done with at a young age.

  9. Hi, I strongly believe tail docking should be legalised if there is a potential for the working dog to get injured regardless of the breed, i appreciate my opinions will rub people up the wrong way however it’s a blog and these are my thoughts.

    I have a working doberman and he is docked & cropped, i may add we had “maximus decimus meridius” done before it was illegal

  10. Hi..has tail docking been lifted in Scotland yet as it is a little unclear??

  11. I think tail docking of some breeds of dogs are good but not on others now they have stopped it some dogs don’t look right with tails. And the only place you can have this done it by a trained vet with paper work to prove it going to be used has a gun dog or working within a airport for sniffing out drugs. It should be up to the breeds if they want there dog tails done not a 3 party. Just because someone doesn’t agree with it you don’t have to ban it. I would but a dog with out a tail then a 1 with a tail. American cocker spaniels. Springer or cocker spaniel they don’t like right with tails. I wish they would lift the ban. Most places abroad you but those breed of dogs with no tails like Canada and other country’s . If I had my way I would import one

  12. I have been a campaigner against tail docking for many years and am still incredibly frustrated that this appalling and barbaric practice is still continuing in the 21st century. I have owned a springer spaniel, undocked, who never had a moments problem with his tail. Regularly charging through thick woodland. I now own two Labradors, one of whom regularly damages her tail due to over excited wagging! So, is it fair to remove a tail just because at some future date the tail might bleed a bit? This is a part of the dog’s spinal column. It contains vital nerves that, if damaged in poor docking, leads to incontinence. Why would you do that to a dog? A tail is also a vital part of dog communication and balance. It is being done purely for our own ideas of the cosmetic look of a dog and because we can’t be bothered to take care of a cut tail when it bleeds. Come on everyone… lets move forward and stop this awful practice.

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