The Painful History of Tail Docking

Today, there are many dog owners out there that consider cutting their dog's tail off. Some think that it is convenient; some think that it is beneficial to a dog's health; and others believe that it is stylish. However, these conceptions are always done under the false pretense that docking (aka cutting) a dog's tail is safe. This is actually far from the truth.

Where Does Docking Come From?
In the United States, tail docking is standardly done at a very young age. Tail docking was believed to have been started by the people of Ancient Rome. During this time, people believed that snipping a dog's tail- as well as his tongue- would decrease the risk of contracting rabies (a fact that was disproved centuries later). Rabies, however, was not the only reason that a dog's tail was cut during these times. The Ancient Romans docked canine tails in an attempt to increase the strength of their backs and increase their speed, so they would be more efficient at ratting, fighting, and baiting. For the Romans, barbarism was a sport, and a dog's well-being was an afterthought. As time progressed, people started to change their reasons for tail docking. By the onset of the industrial revolution, tail docking was primarily done to working dogs to keep them safe from potential hazards. Some countries, like the United Kingdom, even levied a tax to any owner that had a working dog that still had his tail. Many people viewed tails as unsanitary, unnecessary, and even unnatural. However, there has never been any real evidence to support these claims.

Movements Against Docking
Luckily by the 19th century, the docking craze was being questioned, and there was even a small movement against it. One of the leaders of this movement was veterinary surgeon William Youatt. Over the years, Youatt had published a number of scientific, veterinary books, some of which include Canine Madness, The Horse, The Pig, and Cattle, Their Breeds, Management, and Diseases. When he came out and said that docking was "indefensible," there was little that opponents could say. Youatt's reputation and influence was undeniable.

Despite Youatt's words, docking continued on into the early 1900s. Fortunately though, there was a significant drop in its frequency. In 1995, docking came to an all-time boiling point with the publication of Robert Wansbrough's "Cosmetic Tail Docking of Dog's Tails."

In this scientific study, Wansbrough says, "Cosmetic tail docking cannot be justified on scientific or medical grounds...[The tail] is an anatomically and physiologically significant structure which has many biological functions that should not be underestimated. Tail docking can predispose the dog to detrimental consequences including intense, initial pain and continuing pain related, neurological problems." Docking has been shown to have negative impacts on the back, the anal glands, and a number of other areas. During one chilling section of the study, Wansbrough gives insight into the way human amputees still feel pain in the phantom limb (this occurs in 90% of amputees) and relays to the audience that dogs also feel this pain.

In addition to pain, docking hinders a dog's communication skills. A dog's tail is capable of expressing a number of different emotions, including happiness, sadness, agitation, and anger. Removal of the tail only makes it more difficult for dogs and humans to communicate, which can be extremely frustrating for a pooch.

In many countries like Italy and Sweden, tail docking has been made illegal.
Docking Is Illegal in Many Places
In many countries across the world- Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, etc. - docking has been condemned and made illegal. They view the entire practice as archaic and unnecessary. New Zealand has been the latest country marked with a docking controversy. Currently, docking is legal. However, and an uprising appeared in 2013 to strike the practice.

Regional president of the New Zealand Veterinary Association was quoted in national newspapers saying, "Dogs need their tails to communicate and to balance. Altering their appearance by cutting off their tails has no benefit to them... It's high time the Kennel Club came into this century kicking and screaming and made it unnecessary to have dogs' tails docked."

With all of the swirling controversy, docking has remained legal in the United States. Certain states- like New York and Vermont- have made attempts to pass bills condemning the practice. Unfortunately, this is not a subject that many people feel passionately about. It's a strange phenomenon really. In this country, there has been strict crack downs on dog fighting (ask Michael Vick) and animal cruelty. But for some reason, people have lost focus on this painfully clear cut issue. For anybody out there considering tail docking, think twice about it; your dog will feel better if you do.

By: Tim Snyder
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