Tail Docking In Working Dogs

Like most professions, Veterinary Practice isn’t without its controversial subjects and today I want to discuss a topic that definitely divides opinion – Tail Docking. I’m aware that this is a sensitive subject and I had to think long and hard about whether to discuss this area of Canine management or not.

Ultimately though, I felt it appropriate to inform you as to why, how and when Tail Docking is performed. Even now it is a contentious procedure, and one that many Veterinarians are opposed to. I respect that everyone has their own opinion on this subject, and welcome any questions you may have. Maybe when you read the process involved you may even change your opinion, or at least understand its place in Veterinary practice.

To be honest, the majority of vets will never have seen it performed and will therefore never have considered it in any detail; there are only 3 veterinarians in Derbyshire currently that perform this procedure. I first came across tail docking in working breeds at a Veterinary practice in Chesterfield that I worked at, and even so it took me a good twelve months to decide whether I wanted to implement the procedure myself. Like everything else, I read up on the subject and looked at case studies and the circumstances around them.

After witnessing the injuries that occur to tails that are left long on a regular basis, I started to seriously consider the procedure as an option that I would offer. When injury occurs to a dog working out in the field, it isn’t usually a neat tear that occurs. It can be a jagged wound that takes a lot of stitching or it may have gone down to the animals bone and become infected; this can cause a lot of pain and suffering to a dog. Working breed dogs obviously are at greater risk of this type of injury and it is for this reason that tail docking is only performed on them and their offspring.

It isn’t something that is done lightly, and it is for this reason that there is so much legislation surrounding the procedure. Tail Docking is ultimately about minimising the risk of traumatic injury to dogs out in the field that often have to scrabble around in difficult terrain.

If performed by a Veterinarian tail docking is a perfectly legal procedure. The animal in question must be a working breed and used for this purpose rather than being a pet. Supporting documentation to confirm this must be shown, such as a shotgun license or a letter from the gamekeeper. At the time of the tail being docked, an official government document must be completed by the Veterinarian performing the procedure and by the dogs’ owner. This document must remain with the dog for the entirety of its life.

Tail docking is only performed if the pups and bitch are fit and healthy on clinical examination, and here at SLVC we only do the operation when the pups are between 24-48hours old; no later. This minimises the perceived discomfort which is experienced if the tail is larger, when it has had time to grow. In my experience, tail docking causes visible discomfort to the pups for approximately two minutes, after which time they go back to doing what they do best –sleeping.

The procedure itself leaves no open wound; the clamp technique which is utilised actually closes the skin over the wound. This ensures that healing is rapid, and the end result is aesthetically pleasing. Not only that, there is a lot less “down time” and veterinary management involved, which is a definite bonus in the eyes of energetic, inquisitive pups; they don’t want to spend valuable exploring time at the vets!

The way I think about it is this; I compare it to the (highly accepted) technique of tail docking and castrating lambs. The procedure in Lambs involves wrapping a rubber ring around the tail and testicles which causes the appendage to drop off over about a week in time. In my mind this must cause chronic discomfort to the lamb for a much longer period of time. Why this is deemed to be more acceptable by society as a whole, than two minutes of discomfort to a pup, I can’t answer.

So that’s the how’s, why’s and when’s briefly explained to you. I hope you have found the subject interesting, and will happily answer any questions you may have. Obviously, if you are the owner of working stock and are thinking of breeding please come in and discuss future options with the Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre team.

Until next time; stay safe, stay well, and be happy 🙂