Tail Docking

One of the questions we are asked more and more often is whether or not we let our puppies keep their tails. We are proud to say we have never removed one of our Cockapoo babies tails, and we don’t plan to! Although most families are asking about tails to be sure their puppy’s will be intact, we occasionally get someone who does want their puppy’s tail docked. Let’s go through and talk about what exactly tail docking is, why it has traditionally been done, what the arguments for doing it are, why we don’t do it, and why we feel that it belongs in the “health” section of the website.

what is tail docking

Tail docking is when a portion of a dog’s tail is removed. It is done when the pup is only a few days old, often by a vet, and sometimes by breeders who actually do the procedure in house. There are generally two different ways it is performed:

  1. The first is to sever the tail by cutting between two vertebrae in the tail and then wrapping the skin back around and stitching. The length that the tail is cut to depends upon the breed standard.

  2. The other is to use what would basically be a very tight rubber band that cuts off blood supply to the tail until the unwanted part falls off several days later.

What is the thought behind tail docking?

Once people find out what is actually involved in tail docking, most people are pretty turned off to it. However, we do feel that it is important in making any decision to find out where the idea to do a procedure comes from. So let’s take just a minute to jump back and look at where tail docking got started.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (referred to from here on as the AVMA….I’m going to go back to them several times here!), there are three historical reasons for tail docking:

  1. Tail docking was first noted in Roman times when the belief was that removing the tip of the tail and the tip of the tongue could prevent a dog from contracting rabies.

  2. Tail docking also shows up in history when the dogs of poor families were docked to prevent them from hunting, which was considered to be a sport of the wealthy and royal. It was believed that a dog’s tail was a big help in making them successful in chasing game. This is ironic as the most recent reason for docking tails has been…

  3. The only continuing of these reasons for tail docking is that it is believed to make it less likely for a tail to get caught or injured during activities like hunting. Much of this is tradition, but actually history shows that this was probably only originally done for this reason in dogs who had a disproportionately long tail that got in the way…not to every dog.

With all of these historical reasons in mind, the truth is that the only situation that could apply to today at all limits the need to a small number of dogs…so why is it done to nearly all dogs of so many breeds? The answer to that is simply that it is almost always for cosmetic reasons. As far back as the 1800’s, there are books that state that docking is to create a pleasing experience…and veterinarians have been coming back at cosmetic tail docking for just as long. For example, in an 1854 book The Dog by Youatt & Lewis, docking was referred to as “indefensible”. The AVMA first appealed for a removal of docked tails from breed standards in 1976, and it is the official statement of the AVMA to oppose routine docking.

So, the only real reason today for docking a 3-5 day old puppy’s tail would be to conform to a breed standard. This is probably the most often reason the occasional family will give when wanting their new pup to have their tail docked. However, here is the deal with that—since Cockapoo's aren't recognized at this time by the American Kennel Club, there isn't an officially recognized breed standard. Clubs that are working for the building of a breed, like the American Cockapoo Club (which we are proud to be a part of!) are happy to recognize both docked and full tails! There is actually a movement among those who want the Cockapoo to be a recognized AKC breed of making sure the breed standard leaves tails natural in an attempt to make sure Cockapoos are always distinguishable from both routinely docked parent breeds. So, although there is no official breed standard, we are not at all outside of the recommendations for the breed by leaving tails just like they are :)

so it isn’t necessary in the cockapoo, and the a.v.m.a. doesn’t recommend…but is it harmful?

Many of those who are against tail docking look primarily at the fact that there just really isn’t much point in it, and when that is combined with it being a painful procedure, that is enough to seek out a puppy from a breeder who doesn’t dock. However, I would challenge you to realize that there is more to it than that!

First of all, tails are the prime body part in dog communication! Think about it, the first tell-tale sign of every dog emotion is THE TAIL! Whether it is wagging, tucked, straight up, off to one side……all of these are tied to a dog’s emotion and communication. This is true in both dog-dog communication and dog-human communication.

In addition, dogs use their tails outside of communication as well! From swimming to running, the tails serves as a “rudder” to help with directional changes and balance.

There is also some preliminary studies that are beginning to look into whether or not nerves are damaged during tail docking that may cause long term issues for a dog. Although it is still inconclusive, it is interesting that some are linking tail docking to a higher incidence of incontinence in dogs.

There are also issues such as a neuroma, which is an area on the tip of the tail that, due to the cutting of the nerves, never heals and is always painful for the dog. Cocker Spaniels do tend to have a disposition to this, which is another reason we think it is important to seek out a Cockapoo with an intact tail.

To Conclude:

The A.V.M.A. statement on tail docking ends with the following, and I think it’s a good way to conclude here as well:

Precautionary removal of the tail of a young puppy needs to be based on compelling evidence that the animal is at high risk of tail trauma due to congenital defect, breed and/or planned working activity. However, such a justification must be supported by evidence such as empirical data or impartial expert opinion based on extensive, directly relevant experience.

When you pick up your puppy and see that wiggly little bottom with his tail wagging in excitement to meet you....we think you'll thank us for leaving it there :)