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Dog Tail Docking

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Tail Docking

Docked TailA ban on docking dog's tails came into force on Friday, April 6, 2007 in England, and March 28 2007 in Wales. This new legislation has come after several years of long debate on the Animal Welfare Bill. Many other countries across Europe have already signed up to the bill in all its entirety but the British government has taken several years to finally take the new legislation on-board. The Animal Welfare Act calls for a ban on the docking of a dogs' tail. The British Parliament has passed the Bill with the exemption to the ban for working dogs. Scotland has accepted the Act with no exemptions.

This news upset the Council of Docked Breeds, (CDB) who have been working in conjunction with the UK Kennel Club since 2004 to oppose the Act and retain the right to the tradition of docking the tails of certain breeds. The CDB were looking to win the battle when on October 14 2005, the Regulatory Impact Assessment that accompanies the Bill stated:

"Sincere views were held by those who both support and oppose a ban on cosmetic docking and our preference is that there should continue to be freedom of choice."

The lobbying machine in opposition to the ban, The Countryside Alliance (CA) and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) did however come away victorious with the news that working dogs could still be docked. A disgruntled Peter Squires of the CDB said:

"In early 2006 we were surprised at receiving many letters from previous supportive Conservative MP's now suggesting that they will only support docking for working dogs, classifying the docking of non-working dogs as, 'the appalling act of docking for cosmetic reasons.' We have no doubt that they were heavily influenced by the Countryside Alliance and the BASC, who had previously supported the CDB all breeds campaign."

The CDB then lost a valuable ally as the Kennel Club shifted their stance away from the retention of tail docking to a ban on electric shock collars in 2006. Loss of the KC support left the CDB in a weak position.

The emotive issue was discussed at the second reading of the debate on Tuesday 10 January and through this debate several MP's views were that legislation on tail docking should remain intact.

"There are people on both sides of the fence examining animal welfare issues, and not all objections made on the basis of animal welfare are right."
James Duddridge MP (Second reading debate, 10.01.06)

"I have been referred to at least three senior veterinary sources that have come to the conclusion that tail docking is not cruel because young puppies do not have the same nervous systems as grown dogs."
Ed Vaizey MP (Second reading debate 10.01.06 Column 232-5)

Tail Docking...Pain or Pleasure?

Tail docking involves amputating most or part of a dog's tail. This is often carried out illegally by breeders using scissors, nail clippers, a Stanley knife or rubber bands, (cutting off the blood supply to the tail). Even when carried out by a veterinarian, neither anaesthetic or analgesia is generally used. The UK Kennel Club registers approximately 200 dog breeds and out of these, up to 60 breeds are traditionally docked.

The tail consists of 6-23 vertebra enclosed in muscles, 4-7 pairs of nerves and supporting tendons and cartilage. Some breeds have a small portion of the tail removed whilst others such as the Rottweiler, Boxer or Doberman may be left with 1-2 vertebrae. This procedure involves the cutting through of skin, muscle, bones and cartilage and all without any form of pain relief.

The Department of Companion Animals, Queensland , carried out a detailed study of 50 puppies aged between 3-5 days old undergoing docking. The puppies were Doberman, Rottweilers and Bouviers that traditionally have the tail docked very short and so requires a suture to assist healing. The outcome of the report was as follows:

"All pups appeared distressed by the amputation of the tail. Relatively continuous mild vocalisations during the preparation of the tail turned dramatically to repeated and intense shrieking vocalisations at the moment the tail was docked. The intensity of vocalisations decreased slightly (but was still above the intensity made during preparation of the tail) in the period between amputation and placement of the suture (if appropriate). At the moment of piercing the skin for a suture placement, vocalisations again returned to levels comparable with the amputation. Similar intense vocalisations were noticed when pressure was placed on the suture material as the knot was tied. The average number of shrieks made during the amputation of the tail was 24, (range of 5-23.) The average number of whimpers made during the amputation of the tail was 18, (range of 2 -46.) All pups exhibited some degree of bleeding from the stump following docking."

When the pups were placed back into their box they stumbled around and made uncoordinated limb movements and whimpered for some time. They had to remain separated from their mother for some time to prevent the mother licking the mutilated pup. The pro-docking organisations claim that the puppy does recover from the procedure so no harm is done. Some puppies however do not recover when the amputation is carried out illegally as the RSPCA discovered when eleven puppies died from shock and blood loss, after having their tails cut off with a Stanley knife.

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The pro-docking lobby claim that puppies aged between 3-5 days old do not feel pain because their nervous systems and sensory organs are immature. This view lacks credibility especially as evidence given to the House of Commons Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2004 by an expert from University of Birmingham Centre for Biomedical Ethics said:

"Very young animals are likely to feel more pain than older animals."

Studies have proved that cutting the tail tip of mice increases sensitivity to pain in later life, an effect known as hyperalgesia. In fact puppies do feel pain and sensitivity to pain for many months after docking. Rarely mentioned is the fact that tail docking can have far reaching health issues. Due to the relationship between muscles in the dog's tail and the pelvic area, docking can affect muscle function around the rectum and pelvis thereby carrying a risk of faecal incontinence, acquired urinary incontinence and hernias. The tail is an extension of the dog's spine including various muscles and tendons. An example of this is the rectococcygeus muscle on the hind wall of the dog's rear, near to the anus. This muscle is attached to the base of the tail as well and supports the anal canal and rectum along with the Levator ani muscle. These two muscles also assist in movement of the tail and when the dog has a bowel motion. Docking the tail must obviously affect these muscles, a fact that is backed by studies showing that breeds such as the Boxer have a predisposition to perineal hernia. The females in docked breeds such as Rottweilers, Doberman, and Old English Sheepdogs suffer more from urinary incontinence after docking than undocked dogs.

There is the issue of movement, communication and balance. The tail supports the back and aids balance. The tail is used when dogs communicate with each other. The tail expresses the dogs state of mind to another dog, showing whether it is friendly, dominant, or submissive. The British Veterinary Association refers to the tail as:

"a vital form of canine expression"

Is it any wonder that dog to dog aggression between docked and undocked dogs is on the increase?

The pro-docking groups argue that working dogs must be docked to prevent injuries to the tail but studies have shown this not to be the case.

In the Royal School of Edinburgh small animal practise, out of 12,000 dogs registered, only 47 cases were attending due to tail injuries. In Australia out of 2000 dogs attending an animal emergency clinic only 3 were there because of tail damage. Defra's Animal Welfare Veterinary Team reviewed tail docking to prevent injury in 2002. They pointed out that basic first aid would treat most cases of tail injuries. This hardly equates to it being an adequate reason to dock a working dog's tail especially as Defra also reported that:

"True working animals constitute only a very small portion of dogs within the UK."

The Defra Animal Welfare Veterinary Team also showed more inconsistencies that prove docking; "working dogs" is carried out for cosmetic reasons and tradition rather than to prevent injury. The most obvious inconsistency to the pro-docking argument is that Foxhounds and Sheepdogs (Border Collie) are in fact the most common working dogs and these dogs spend their lives working in scrubland and rough vegetation and through woodlands yet are not docked. There is also no evidence to show that these dogs suffer from excessive tail injuries. Then one must consider the plight of the fox that seems to manage to move through dense undergrowth at speed and with ease yet it sports a delightfully bushy tail!

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What the Veterinary Associations Say:

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, (RCVS) stated in 2005:

"The RC has for many years been firmly opposed to the docking of dog's tails, whatever the age of the dog, by anyone, unless it can be shown truly to be required for the therapeutic or prophylactic reasons. Docking a dog's tail for reasons which are other than the aforesaid is capable of amounting to conduct disgraceful in a professional respect."

The British Veterinary Association, (BVA) states:

"The BVA is opposed to the docking of puppies' tails. BVA believes that puppies suffer unnecessary pain as a result of docking and are deprived of a vital form of canine expression. Chronic pain can result from poorly performed docking. BVA would reiterate that surgical operations should not be undertaken unless necessary for therapeutic purposes and docking should be banned as a procedure other than for medical reasons."

The British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) made a statement on the draft proposal of the Animal Welfare Bill in 2004:

"The BSAVA is very concerned that there may be some exemptions to a ban on the docking of dog's tails. BSAVA considers that scientific evidence shows clearly that docking is a painful procedure and that there is no credible evidence of its necessity in any dog."

The Animal Welfare Veterinary Team of the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, (DEFRA) review of tail docking 2002:

"The arguments put forward by those who wish docking to be continued are unsound from a scientific viewpoint, are contrary to accepted standards for the welfare of the dogs and serve only to contribute to artificial physical breed standards."

Working Dogs Are Exempt

That working dogs are exempt from the ban has been criticised as unnecessary and unenforceable by the RSPCA. David McDowell, RSPCA Acting Chief Veterinary Adviser says:

"However docking is dressed up, it remains a painful and cosmetic amputation, which is all about tradition rather than the dog's welfare. These laughable regulations will be difficult to enforce and are littered with opportunities for abuse. The Government seems to believe Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Yorkshire Terriers, for example, are working dogs and so are able to be docked for that purpose."

Mr. McDowell went on to say:

"It seems that Mr McDowell and the RSPCA don't like it when things don't go exactly their way. We aren't happy with a tail docking ban in any form, but we have had to accept the exemption for working dogs as part of the new law, brought about by the democratic process we are all subject to."

Also classed as exempt from the ban is a crossbreed, which has angered Pauline Baines, Founder of the Anti Docking Alliance (A.D.A.) who had this to say:

"Crossbreeds should not have been exempted as most breeds originated from crossbreeds and these regulations indicate breeds such as Spaniels crossed with Setters may end up with docked tails. Likewise a Bedlington Terrier crossed with a Spanish Water Dog could be deprived of a tail for no logical reason other than it might get a tail injury whilst at work. Injuries to other parts of the body during work seem to have no consideration in these exemptions and the fact that removing part/all of a dog's tail in the first place is 100% injury."

This comment made by Pauline Baines raises the question of, are we now going to see one breed deliberately crossed with another breed so that the resulting litters may be docked?

These crossed dogs are already being recognised by the newly formed American Canine Hybrid Club who are registering around 200 litters a month. This latest craze will eventually hit the United Kingdom as more and more people may turn to crossbreeds just to have a dog with a docked tail!

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The pro-docking organisations claim that by banning docking, dogs will suffer more injuries to their tails and that breeders will see a huge drop in the demand for puppies of traditionally docked breeds. Where docking has been banned with no exemptions in countries such as Sweden , tail injuries to working dogs have increased. In one breed, the German Shorthaired Pointer, 35% of dogs had injuries to their tails by the time they were 3 years old. However there are no statistics to say whether the injuries were serious or mild. The majority of tail injuries can be treated with basic first aid. There are also no statistics to say whether the dogs suffered injuries to the rest of the body such as ear or foot injuries that are quite commonly seen in working dogs.

The Dog's Trust Veterinary Director, said:

"While the Animal Welfare Act brings a lot of good news, unfortunately in England and Wales, there has not been a complete ban on the cruel practise of tail docking. There is overwhelming evidence that docking dogs' tails is unnecessary, causes pain and suffering, and deprives them of a natural form of canine expression and we are hoping that this is something that may be looked at in more detail during the second legislation implementation."

The exemption for working dogs allows a dog that is likely to perform certain specified types of work to have its tail docked by a veterinary surgeon. The veterinary surgeon will be under strict guidelines and must have seen specified evidence that the dog is likely to work in specified areas. The dog must also be micro-chipped before the vet can issue a certificate.

The Animal Welfare Act

The United Kingdom was the first country in the world to have parliamentary legislation for animal welfare in the world. In 1822 Richard Martin's "Act to Prevent the Cruel and Improper Treatment of Cattle" was passed by Parliament.

Under the 1911 Protection of Animals Act it has been illegal to be cruel to any animal but this act was outdated and so evolved the Animal Welfare Act that has already been adopted by many other countries across the world. The Act has been designed to protect not just companion animals but all animals in the United Kingdom . Owners and keepers of animals are now legally obliged to ensure that the welfare needs of their animals are met.

Dog owners now have a "duty of care" to be responsible that their dog's needs are met. If someone breaks the law, an improvement notice can be issued and/or the owner will be criminally prosecuted.

The Animal Welfare Act is currently primary legislation. Secondary legislation will detail specifics regarding the new law, and Codes of Practice will follow. Secondary legislation will be looking into the docking issue and will define the circumstances when it is acceptable to dock a dog's tail.

The Dog's Trust Chief Executive, Clarissa Baldwin said:

"We had high hopes for this long awaited Act, particularly the duty of care which will provide a much greater protection to the welfare of the 6.5 million dogs in the UK."

Doberman without a Docked Tail
One very happy, balanced, confident and physically superior Doberman...
WITH TAIL INTACT - as nature intended.

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