Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tail Docking

So today I wanted to talk about something that I get asked a lot. It's not unusual for someone to come up to me, weather it be at the park, Petsmart, or any other place where I take the dogs, and ask, "Why did you dock his (Axle's) tail?" Well, honest answer: I didn't. He came that way. I adopted Axle from the shelter (Tennessee Animal Rescue & Shelter Inc.) when he as about 2 years old. He had already had his tail docked by the time he was picked up as a stray. Now most of the time people will dock their pure-breed dog's tail for aesthetic reasons. Breeds like Boxers and Dobermans usually have their tails docked as early as 3 days old. And some breeds like Corgis can have a nautraly occurring 'bobbed tail' (they are just born that way). There are two ways that tails are docked. One, they can be clipped off with a scalpel, or two, they are tied with a ligature so the blood supply is cut off, and and the tail will eventually die and fall off. The first way is more common and the second is being more widely outlawed. 

Now Axle is most certainly not a 'pure breed' dog. He's a mix of Red Heeler (Cattle Dog), Akita, Pit Bull, and maybe some others... (maybe... this is what we are guessing... I've had people ask me if he was a Pointer or a Spaniel before. I can maybe see the pointer if I squint my eyes really hard, but Spaniel? Not to sure about that one... but anyway). Axle probably had his tail docked when he was just a few days old. Many people used to believe that new born puppies could not feel pain. This is probably because their nerves are not developed yet and will display a delayed reaction to their surroundings (It is now known that they do feel the pain, but it is slightly delayed.) 

Axle's docked tail 

Docking was done in the past for a plethora of reasons such as, preventing injury to fighting or working dogs, people thought it made the dog stronger and faster (go figure), and for some reason, people thought it could prevent rabies. Today its done mainly for cosmetic reasons (some people still do this to true working dogs to keep burs from getting stuck in their tails, along with other health reasons). People also dock out of tradition, or to make their dogs look 'better'. This is also done to many show dogs to fit the 'breed standards'. Many countries have banned the docking of tails and cropping of ears. It is seen as crue and unnecessary in this day and age by many people. And there are still others that deem it does no harm to the dog at all, and that it is more than acceptable to remove a 3 day old puppies tail and cut their ears into a more appealing shape. 

Now some breeders and vets will do this procedure without the use of anesthesia. It is becoming less popular, but it is still practiced. People who oppose the docking of tails argue that it is first off, cruel and unnecessarily painful, and that it also gives the dog a handicap. Dogs use their tails and ears for communication. A low slung or tucked under tail displays fear or submission, while a high held wagging tail signals playfulness. Dogs can also show agression, dominance  and wide variety of other emotions with their tails. Dogs with docked tails can have a harder time communicating with other dogs. This could be devastating in some situations.

My stance on the issue? I would never dock a puppies tail myself. Do I love Axle any less because he doesn't have a tail? No. Would I love him any more if he had one? probably not. I've never known Axle with a tail. But I love him the same with or without. The fact that he doesn't have a tail doesn't seem to bother him too much though. He does seem to have a few balance issues, but Im not sure if that has anything to do with his tail (or lack there of), he may just be a clumsy dog. (There are some people that argue a dog's tail helps them balance.)

I'm not a vet, I'm not a dog behaviorist. I have not studied dog psychology. But I do know that animals in fact feel pain, have emotions, memories, and fears. Any dog owner will tell you that. Axle was probably too young to remember having or losing his tail. He will however, look back at the nub that is left behind like he is expecting a tail to be there. This may be because he sees other dogs with tails, or because what is left of his tail is still long enough for him to wiggle slightly. I don't know the answer. But I know that he is a happy, healthy, well loved and cared for doggie. 

Some people have approached me angrily about this issue with "how could you?" and others think his looks are more favorable without his tail, "Nice looking dog, how'd you dock his tail?" And I respond as neutrally as I can to both questions, "It wasn't me."  It was already done when I adopted him, so it's not really something I can argue about in regards to him individually.  I didn't adopt Axle because he had a docked tail. And I still would have adopted him if he still had one. The best I can do is try to educate people on the issue and hopefully they will understand that no, I didn't do this to my dog. And they shouldn't either. 

Do you have a dog with a docked tail? Do they have any issues or disabilities from not having the extra apendage? What is your stance on the issue? Politely leave us a note in the comments below! 

NOTE: If you are wanting to research more about tail docking, pleased be warned that many of the images that come up are very graphic. Please Google with caution. 


  1. When I worked at the animal shelter there were a few Pit bulls that got their tails docked off. They made the decision to do it because they had the "happy tail" so bad that they were always splitting the tip open and bleeding everywhere. Some of them even broke the tip of their tails. :( I will say they made sure to put the dogs completely under before removing them. I honestly think it's silly to cut dogs tails off. It's just for vanity reasons. Dogs don't care about vanity, ....but humans seem to think it's okay. My mom has always had Great Danes and always had their ears done. Her last dog though, the vet pretty much had changed his stance on it and wouldn't do it for her. Now, my mom would never get it done. She realized how painful it was for the dogs. I guess if you are "showing" dogs it's different. I would never do it unless it was for health reasons. Your doggie is adorable.

    1. Ah yes, I know the 'Happy Tail' syndrome. A friend of mine has a 4 year old AmStaf mix, who has broken her tail twice just from wagging it too hard. Its amazing how much force some dogs have just in their tails.

  2. I have a corgi (mix) with a non-docked tail. I love that he has a full tail - he's a little more fox like that and that I can se his full range of emotion (haha, get it?) My friend wants to adopt a boxer that already has his tail docked, but I don't think I'd go searching for a dog with or without a docked tail like that. If they already have it, fine, it's done, I can't change that, but if I have a choice, I wouldn't do it to them myself either.

    <3 katherine
    of corgis and cocktails

    1. Haha! I love Corgis! They are just so sweet, and so much personality for such little dogs! There are a few Corgis that we see at the park from time to time. We call them the 'Itty Bitty Short Lege-ed committee'. We are always happy to see them.

      And I agree completely. When I started looking for a dog, Axle just happened to be the one I picked. Tail or not, hes mine and I love him just the way he is.