Should I Dock My Puppy’s Tail?

If you’ve ever gone to a dog park, you know that pet parents do all sorts of silly things with their puppies. They put ridiculous collars on them, dress them in overly fancy dog clothes, and even buy their pup’s costumes on Halloween. (Some are cute, I have to admit.)

Normally, though, you won’t find anyone changing the actual physical body of their puppy. Yes, dog ear-piercing is a thing, as well as giving puppies tattoos. (Both are risky and not something I would recommend.)

However, I’m not a fan of one trend among some dog owners, and that’s tail docking. Tail docking is the surgical removal (i.e., amputation) of all or part of a puppy’s tail.

The dog breeds that have their tails docked most often include Doberman Pinschers, Airedale Terriers, Poodles, Irish Terriers, Schnauzers, and several breeds of spaniel, among many others. (More than 70 breeds of dog have traditionally had their tails docked.)

I was reminded of tail docking the other day when visiting my local pet store. A puppy there had a bandage over its tail stump where it had recently been docked (and didn’t look very happy about it).

That got me thinking about a question I’ve heard several times over the years: should I dock my puppy’s tail?

The answer to this question is rather controversial. Yes, some veterinarians will dock your puppy’s tail, and there are no laws against it. (A least not in the United States.)

On the other hand, there is a growing voice among the veterinary and dog community against tail docking unless it’s surgically necessary. For example, when a dog has had a serious injury to its tail.

I realize that this is more or less a non-answer, so I’ve got more information below to help you make your decision. I urge you to read everything and take all of the info into consideration before you decide to go forward with this (almost always) non-essential puppy surgery.

Is it Cruel to Dock Dogs Tails?

This question, frankly, is a bit difficult to answer because different people will have vastly different opinions. For me, yes, I believe that docking a puppy’s tail is cruel. It’s painful, unnecessary, and will negatively affect them for the rest of their life. (Dogs use their tails for several things, including to express their emotions.)

On the other hand, some people believe that docking a puppy’s tail is okay, that it looks better, and that it isn’t cruel. I would disagree, as do a growing majority of veterinarians and dog experts. Still, if that’s your opinion, I will be the last to argue it with you.

However, there is a long history of veterinary opposition to docking a puppy’s tail for cosmetic reasons. In 1854, for example, tail docking was described as “indefensible” in the book The Dog

The majority of veterinarians do not support cosmetic tail docking in the United States, and in most parts of Europe, it’s outlawed. That’s not to say all veterinarians are against it, but the majority certainly are. 

The Veterinary Association of Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, for example, all have a stated policy against tail docking. In the United States, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommended tail docking be stopped in 1976. 

Why Do you Dock a Puppy’s Tail?

Today, the vast majority of tail docking is performed solely for cosmetic purposes. In other words, it’s done by owners who want to make their puppy and adult dog look a certain way. (Typically, they want their dog to appear more fierce or masculine.)

However, some tail docking is done on working dogs because it is believed to be helpful and prevent certain negative situations. For example, some guard dogs have their tails docked so that a human or another dog won’t be able to grab their tail in the event of a fight.

Hunting dogs typically have their tails docked because it’s believed that the tip of their tail can’t be damaged in the underbrush when they are on the hunt.

Lastly, some people dock the tails of their long-haired dog breeds because they believe it will keep them cleaner and more hygienic.

However, the truth is that several studies have been done over the years and found that the incidence of injury or risk is minor if a dog does not have their tail docked. 

Does it Hurt to Dock a Puppy’s Tail?

According to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), tail docking is a painful procedure. The reason why is that puppies, even at a very young age, have a fully developed nervous system.

That nervous system allows them to feel pain, including in their tail. Although they might not demonstrate that they are in pain, the WSAVA  says that  “there are biological markers that show pain is occurring.”

Other dog associations agree with the WSAVA, including the AVMA. As I mentioned earlier, they are opposed to tail docking and have said that it is painful in their literature. They also say that there’s no obvious benefit to performing the procedure.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) is also against tail docking and has been a proponent for the elimination of it as well as ear cropping.

In Queensland, Australia, a study was performed on 50 Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, and Bouvier puppies. After having their tails docked, the study reported that all of the puppies exhibited pain. The exact wording was that the puppies exhibited “repeated and intense shrieking vocalizations.”

One method of docking that’s considered quite painful is banding. A strong rubber band is placed tightly on a puppy’s tail during the banding procedure. After three or four days, the tissue (tail) beyond the band dies, and that part of the tail falls off.

One veterinarian, Jean Hofve, compared banding to “slamming your finger in a car door – and leaving it there.” (That sounds pretty painful to me.) 

What are the Benefits of Docking a Dog’s Tail?

Some people believe that docking a dog’s tail provides some benefit, although, as we’ve seen today, many studies have found the opposite

The biggest perceived benefit of docking a dog’s tail is the prevention of injury, specifically in guard dogs and hunting dogs. Also, some believe that docking a long-haired dog’s tail will keep them cleaner.

What is the Best Age to Dock a Puppy’s Tail?

If you’re dead set on docking your puppy’s tail, veterinarians recommend doing it between three and five days of age. 

Many people adopt their puppy long after this time, however. While you can certainly dock a puppy’s tail after the first few days of their life, most veterinarians will not perform the procedure.

Final Thoughts 

As a pet parent, the decision to have your puppy’s tail docked is 100% in your own hands. In my opinion, it’s an unnecessary and painful procedure, but that’s just my opinion. I will say that thousands of veterinarians agree with me, as do all major veterinary associations.

Remember that all the studies done on tail docking in dogs and puppies have shown that it provides little or no, benefit. Also, many studies have shown that it’s painful and causes a puppy a lot of distress.

If you still wish to have your puppy’s tail docked, it is best to do it when they are only a few days old. As I mentioned earlier, most veterinarians will not perform the procedure after that time.

I hope today’s blog about puppies and tail docking has been informative and helpful. I realize my opinion about the procedure is biased against it, and I want to say that I don’t mean to offend anyone. 

I’ve simply presented today’s information based on the research, studies, and data that I have found, seen, and experienced. Please see my other blogs if you have more questions or wish to learn more about being a puppy parent. Until then, best of luck raising your precious new puppy!