Re-post - Tail amputation

Oh those beautiful tails.  Elsa dropped her ball in this shot and needed to do a very fast maneuver to recover it.  You can see the tails part in the move.  

I am a non docking advocate.  Elsa is our first non docked dog; my first dog was an Airedale (docked), we have had several other poodles and a Jack Russell (all docked) until Elsa.  Elsa has changed everything.  

When I talk to people about docking; many just want to know "why?"

Some "reasons" for docking include; balance, injury risk and standard (conformation show ring) requirements.  Common sense and ethical treatment of dogs should outweigh any of the so called "reasons," in my opinion.  Just because something has been done in the past; does not mean that we should continue the procedure without question.  Many customs performed ritualistically throughout history have since been modified or completely eradicated.  Often owners of docked dog breeds do not even realize that their dog's tails has been amputated; it has been going on that long.  People just think that they come out with short tails; that it is just how they look.

The term "docking" itself, may be a part of the problem.  Doesn't docking just sound like a harmless word?  Call it what it is, amputation of the tail and you get some attention.  Amputation?  Yes, docking means to amputate a portion of tail.  Depending on the breed specification or current fashion will factor in on how much is amputated.  Anything from the tip to the whole tail can be removed.

There are those of you out there reading this blog and shaking your head at all the fuss being made over the simple docking of tails.  I have read many articles from docking advocates promoting the procedure as nothing; a simple procedure that doesn't even hurt.  Times are changing, things are moving to more ethical treatment of animals and that my friends should also include our dogs.  We should not be chopping tails off for fashion.  The only reason that tails are amputated is so that the dog looks like what the book says.  There is absolutely no reason to remove tails, in fact it is barbaric in my opinion.

As a dog trainer who specializes in behavior I can say that dogs need their tails.  Having had docked dogs before Elsa has opened my eyes.  I never liked the fact that my dogs were docked but I had no choice; they had been done way before I met them all.  Now that I have had a dog with a full tail; I will never have another without.  (Unless of course I rescue one with a docked tail.)  Elsa moves her tail completely different from any of our dogs before her.  Her tail is gloriously fluid. 

I am much more aware of tails than I have ever been.  I have seen huge "mixed messages" from dogs who have little or no tail to communicate with.  Witnessing a mis-communication due to a lack of tail is just sad.  What a mess we've made for these poor dogs.  Humans have convinced other humans that it is best to chop them off.  But we have gone through the breeds and singled out who loses their tail and who gets to keep them with no rhyme or reason.  Sad, just sad.

Wolves have long tails and wolves live in the forest.  They hunt, kill and fight without damage to their tails.  How could we possibly use the "working dog" card to support chopping tails off?   Dogs are much more capable of hunting maneuvers when they have  their tail for balance.  Many of the new "hunting line" breeders are leaving tails intact because they understand the physical need for the tail.   They breed for structure and workability, not fashion.   But shouldn't the fact that dogs are born with tails be enough of an argument for them to keep them?  You would think right?

I am seeing a shift, it is slow but it is happening.  Elsa has actually helped.   She has educated many on the attributes of having a tail.  She not only is perfectly normal with an intact tail but shines even brighter with it.  Watching her use her tail as another appendage is truly fascinating.  Plus her athletic ability is no doubt far superior because she has the use of her full tail.

If you get nothing other than something to ponder from this blog then I have at least offered that.  If we keep going through our life just doing and never thinking; then nothing will ever change. Change requires actions, which requires thought.  Some people had no idea dogs had their tails amputated; others know and turn a blind eye.  But there are many people who just never think about it, time to stop and think.  Dogs are born with tails for a reason; who are we to amputate them as unnessesary?  

When I decided to do a blog about tail amputation I contacted a Veterinarian who I follow and respect, Dr. Karen Becker.  I asked if she would offer a statement with regards to canine tail amputation.  The following paragraph is her statement.   Thank you Dr. Becker.

The only time I believe any body part should be cut off is if it's causing an animal's quality of life to be impinged. Removing parts because they may be a problem in the future is presumptuous, in my opinion. Removing ears and tails means we are cutting off part of the dog's sensory input system unnecessarily, in the name of vanity, to meet a "breed standard." All vets have seen animals have anesthetic complications, infections and long term neuropathic pain associated with these procedures. It's a matter of whether we're willing to acknowledge the importance of our profession spearheading an ethical reform on the issue, or not.

This shot is a bit tough to figure out.  It is shot from behind Luke with Elsa in front of him.  Her tail is still around his neck as she moves away.  

Constant physical contact is achieved with a full tail.  Even as Elsa moves away from Luke she is still touching him.  

The following interviews are from breeders who do not dock tails.  

One of Helen's dogs (Pankins) using her tail for some intense herding.  

Helen Grinnell King - author, agility competitor and structure specialist.

Helen's website, Recipe to win.  

When did you decide to stop amputating tails?

In the 1970s I bred harlequin Great Danes. I hated the ear cropping. Not only did I hate the blood bath and what we did to those puppies, we lost several very nice puppies due to the anesthetic. I hated that. It was then that I decided mutilating puppies for the sake of a ribbon or fashion was selfish and barbaric. I am so proud to say that my last harlequin Dane stud dog produced the first uncropped AKC breed champion harlequin Great Dane. I did not breed him but am still very proud of the decision of the breeder to not crop.

Fast forward to 2000. I bought my first Poodle as a pet. She was docked. After watching how limited her tail was, I decided that I never wanted another docked or mutilated dog again. I inherited two docked standards when a good friend died. Their tails were docked and dew claws had been removed. I vowed my next Poodle would have all of her body parts. In 2004 we purchased a Poodle that was indeed blessed to have all her body parts in place. The difference was incredible.

I also attended a seminar by Dr. Chris Zink in 2002 or 2003. She showed videos of dogs landing over jumps and explained how harmful it was to remove dew claws. I became a believer. It just made sense. I also hated the idea of putting little puppies through having their body parts amputated and the pain they must feel.

So, when I bred my own litter of standard Poodles in 2009, there was no question when it came to leaving on all their body parts. I am so glad I did. The owners LOVE the full tails and so do the dogs. I will never own another mutilated dog again! They USE their body parts and need them! I find it disgusting to remove their tails or dew claws to make buyers happy, win ribbons or for fashion.

What sort of response have you received from prospective puppy buyers?

I only sell to people who really want a dog with all of its body parts. I am afraid to sell to somebody who might try to dock when the dog is older because they like the look.

Have you shared your experiences with other breeders in an attempt to stop others from amputating?

Ad nauseam.I am happy and proud to say I have turned some away from docking and removing dew claws, but others refuse to budge in their practice of mutilating puppies.

What major differences have you seen in docked vs. intact tails?

Wagging is very different. The docked tails wag faster. I have three undocked dogs and I have never had an issue of them hitting their tails on anything. Poodle tails are very high so they don’t whack things when they wag. They use their tails as rudders in agility, running free and swimming. I also find that one of mine is actually afraid of docked dogs (the shorter the tail the more she fears them). Without a tail, it is difficult for other dogs to read their body language.

Is there any information you would like to pass on to others that might change their mind about amputating?

Full tails are not only functional, they are beautiful! There is new evidence that docking tails, cropping ears and removing dew claws sets up an immune response that can cause autoimmune issues as the dogs gets older. That alone should be enough to stop people from removing body parts on puppies!

Any comments you’d like to add? 

PLEASE give your puppies a break and STOP THE MUTILATIONS!!!! They deserve their body parts!

Both tails are very active in this shot but Elsa's is very obvious.  She is trying to catch Penny on a run by; her tail is helping to do a sharp turn.  

Laura Bernier 

When did you decide to stop amputating tails?
We stopped docking tails and removing dew claws 6 years ago.
Why did you decide to leave tails on your puppies?
One time, when I was at the vet have a litter docked, I heard the babies crying. It was terrible. It was at that time I noticed that it took them a few hours and a couple of feedings in order to get their vigor back. Around this time I was reading articles about docking and watching videos on how dogs used their tails. I was amazed at how much the tail was a participant in their locomotion. I came to the conclusion that the poodle community couldn't give me a valid reason why docking was done. The lore is that dogs were docked for hunting, so their tales didn't tangle in the reeds. I came to the conclusion that the risk of reed tangle was small and the need for the tail was immense.
What sort of response have you received from prospective puppy buyers?
I have found buyers are very accepting of natural tails. It's a changing world, all natural, organic, unaltered. Most of my pup buyers are working dog people or agility folks, they prefer a natural tail.
Have you shared your experiences with other breeders in an attempt to stop others from amputating?
Some breeders say only backyard breeders leave tails natural. They have tried to convince me to continue to dock, but I decided the dog world is changing and I believe a natural tail is better for the dog. When a body is insulted, whether by vaccine, amputation or injury, there is an immune system response. No one can convince me that is a good thing.
What major differences have you seen in docked vs. intact tails?
Puppies suffer from no human induced stress. They walk earlier and enjoy steady locomotion at an earlier age. The natural tails are so expressive.
Is there any information you would like to pass on to others that might change their mind about amputating?
Yes, why amputate something that is so lovely. For every reason one can give about the benefits of docking, there are 5 reasons not to. One of my pups just received his Thai championship. He has a natural tail. Docking for the conformation ring is old school. It's time the community comes full circle to see the whole dog.

Rebecca Buchanan 

When did you decide to stop amputating tails?

A better question is why did I ever amputate tails, and the answer is, I didn't.  I fostered dogs for a breeder who did.  If he finds people he likes and trusts, he allows them to foster his breeders for him.  The dogs get to live in a family, rather than a kennel, and when the time comes for them to retire, they remain in the home free of charge.  The first 3 litters are his, the 4th, we split, and the last, if I wish to breed again, is mine.  He knew I was opposed to tail docking from the beginning, but the puppies were his, and I had no say in the matter.  I did make him come personally and take the puppies to the vet because I refused.  We discussed the matter several times, but he is old-school, and adamant, and has never changed.  Of course, once I had a choice, I did not get it done.
Why did you decide to leave tails on your puppies?

I admit, my initial objection to docking was primarily emotional.  I knew that the process was painful and unnecessary, and I suspected it had consequences, but really couldn't present a coherent argument for my case, so I started researching the matter.  I read statements from a lot of veterinarians who were opposed to it.  Usually, they spoke of issues with urinary and fecal incontinence, or of problems communicating with other dogs, or of diminished physical ability.  Oddly enough, the communication problem was not one that I observed to be an issue.  Communication in dogs is full-body language, and the tail is only one part.  I never observed intent misunderstood between my Rotties and other dogs.  

Typically, the method used to dock tails is to cut, without anesthesia, through muscle, bone and spinal cord (which extends further down the tail in a neonatal puppy, and recedes as they mature).  Also, the immature nervous system of a neonatal puppy is lacking some of the protections that are acquired as the puppy grows and matures, so that if anything, a neonatal puppy feels more pain than an older dog, not less. 

What sort of response have you received from prospective puppy buyers?

The response I have received from puppy buyers is overwhelmingly, "Why do they do that anyway?  Fashion?  That's stupid.  I like her tail!  I think cutting it is cruel and unnecessary."  I do write into the contract an agreement that the tail will never be cut, and I provide information on why it is not beneficial to the dog.  
Have you shared your experiences with other breeders in an attempt to stop others from amputating?

 I have tried.  Those who are not open to change shut me down without actually listening.  Mostly I concentrate on educating the general populace, and giving the information to anyone who will listen.  I believe that tail docking is a barbaric practice, and will eventually be abolished.  I find that veterinarians are increasingly reluctant to carry out the operation, and my own vet was thoroughly delighted to see an entire litter of Rotties with tails intact.  I believe that the veterinary community is most qualified and has the most influence to make the change, so I have concentrated my efforts there.
What major differences have you seen in docked vs. intact tails?

Wow.  Advocates of tail docking tell you that puppies are not affected by it.  They cry, and then go back to normal living almost immediately.  What I have experienced is that when you pick up a neonatal puppy, they wriggle and fuss and want mamma.  This is normal behavior.  If they are awake, they crawl toward mamma and milk.  But puppies who have had their tails docked react very differently.  When picked up, they panic and scream in terror.  My friend who docks tails views this as normal, but I can tell you it is NOT normal.  It does not normally occur in undocked puppies.  My question is, if they are not affected by it, and if they don't remember it, why do they panic when picked up by a human?  They do not react that way to being touched by their mother, or each other, only when being handled by humans.  I am sick to death of teaching neonatal puppies that it is OK to be picked up by a human.  
Is there any information you would like to pass on to others that might change their mind about amputating?

Please consider the benefits of not amputating!  Once the operation is done, it cannot be undone, and the benefits of a tail and the lack of trauma cannot be overstated.  To remove a tail has no benefit, and many negative affects.  Incidentally, I do not even remove dewclaws.  Some puppies do not have them at all.  For some they are the same as other breeds, closely connected to the leg and not a problem.  If they must be removed, they can be removed later as needed.  In my opinion, there is no good to be achieved, and no need to traumatize a three day old puppy, even for that.
Any comments you’d like to add? 

Overwhelmingly, the arguments I have seen in defense of tail-docking come in the form of assertions that have no documentation to back them up, and most of which I have, in my own observation, seen to be false or groundless, for example:  "Docking the tail gives them better balance and agility."  Well, no.  Medical science says otherwise, and the experience of other breeders and myself indicates the opposite.  

"If a Rottie wags its tail around a toddler that club will knock the child right over!  Have you ever seen a child knocked down by a Rottweiler tail?"  My answer:  No, but I've seen them knocked down by collie tails and lab tails, and Great Dane tails, and I don't see those being cut.  My toddlers fell on their butts, got back up (sometimes using collie fur as a handhold) and went on with life.  A Rottie tail is no more dangerous than a Dane tail.  And Bella's is less dangerous than our German Shepherds' tails.

"What about working dogs, who might be injured in the course of searching through rubble for earthquake victims?"  Well, legs and paws also can be injured, but we don't cut those off as preventative measures.  The purpose of the tail is to balance and stabilize the back.  I take my dogs into the back country.  We climb mountains, navigate rushing rivers, climbing rocks and deadfalls.  In fifty years, I've never seen a debilitating injury to the tail as a result, but I have seen the difference a tail can make in situations where strength and balance are paramount.  
Personally, I will give my working dog the benefit of the improved balance, strength and agility that a tail affords.

Those who argue against tail-docking overwhelmingly either come from the veterinary community or have documented research to back their position.
  I will take documented medical and scientific research over un-proven and easily refutable assertions any day.
In my opinion, the sooner this barbaric practice is a thing of the past, the better!  I believe future generations will look back on this one and be appalled at the cruelty we have perpetrated in the name of fashion.  May eyes be opened to see and hearts be drawn to compassion toward all these creatures that we are responsible for!

Jasmine Hale

When did you decide to stop amputating tails?

The first time I realized how painful and life changing tail docking is was when I bred my first litter of Corgis. 3 of the new owners had requested the tails to be docked. The other 3 asked if theirs could be left natural.  I took the puppies to the vet at 5 days old and assisted the vet in the procedure. The vet shaved the fur of the tail, sterilized the area, and cut the tail off with scissors.  All the while as the puppy was screaming and trying to escape the pain. No anesthetic is used. The pup can feel everything.  Depending on the vet they may or may not stitch up the tail. The vet then placed the bleeding puppy in a box and it stopped screaming.  It just lay there shivering and bleeding, going into shock. Whoever tells you that the puppy can't feel anything is obviously lying.  As the weeks went on and the puppies started walking.  The 3 with docked tails were weak and could barely stand.  While the ones left naturally were running and playing already. The docked puppies fell over often from loss of balance and grew slower as well; their bodies having to use extra energy to mend their mutilated tails. All the while I felt terrible for allowing this to happen. After seeing and experiencing all of this I swore never to let my puppy's tails be docked.

What sort of response have you received from prospective puppy buyers?

After I explain to people what the process is they are normally very happy to leave the tail on. However there are always a few that refuse to purchase a puppy because it is not "cute" with out a mutilated tail.
Have you shared your experiences with other breeders in an attempt to stop others from amputating?

I have shared my experience with other breeders.  Though most are scared to change because they think they won't be able to find the pups homes. A few have switched over and it is growing and they are very happy they have stopped docking. 

The following links are articles on the subject of tail docking.

Top Two Painful Procedures Your Puppy Should Never Have To Endure - Healthy Pets with Dr. Karen Becker. 

Cutting off a dog's tail can lead to aggression.  -

Welfare complications of tail docking dogs - AVMA 

Concerning tail docking - RSPCA

Canine tail docking - AVMA

The link below is for the Council of docked breeds; I didn't even know of it's existence until I started researching for this blog. 

Council of docked breeds

Taken from Dog Language by Roger Abrantes.

Dogs with docked tails find it more difficult to maintain balance under speed and they are obviously inhibited in their tail expression.  A German Shepherd or Siberian Husky with a full length tail finds it easier to perform tight turns at high speed than, for example, breeds with are traditionally docked, such as the Rottweiller or Old English Sheepdog, which appear clumsy.


In conclusion, I leave you with this.  I am not trying to ban docking; stopping it at the top will not stop the procedure from being done by those who are determined.  Change is required to save our dog's tail.  A wave of change is coming; will you be on that wave?