Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelly Bridgeman: All dogs deserve a tail

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Should puppy tail docking be banned? Photo / Thinkstock
Should puppy tail docking be banned? Photo / Thinkstock

Animal lovers will be sickened by the details given in No conviction for pair who chopped off puppies' tails with knife in which two people were found guilty "of causing [five] three-day-old [Jack Russell] puppies unnecessary or unreasonable pain or distress by docking their tails with a hot knife".

The barbaric practice of cosmetic tail docking has been banned in many countries. In New Zealand tails may "be docked surgically by a veterinarian for the dog's health, or cut off using a band by someone approved by the New Zealand Kennel Club".

Overseas dog breeders are capitalising on the fact that we are out of step with the rest of the world on this animal welfare issue. According to the latest Animals' Voice magazine, "New Zealand is one of the few countries that still allow tail docking of dogs. Breeders from overseas import pregnant bitches to whelp in New Zealand, dock the puppies' tails within the first four days after birth and then export the bitch and puppies once the puppies are old enough".

It's offensive to think that people send their unborn puppies here to have a pointless procedure that causes unnecessary pain and suffering, and has no benefit to the animal. What country would want to foster that sort of tourism? We're world famous for bungy-jumping, mud pools, LOTR scenery - and allowing newborn puppies to be disfigured.

A campaign launched by the SPCA, New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA), its Companion Animal Society and the New Zealand Companion Animal Council encourages concerned citizens to lobby the Minister for Primary Industries to ban tail docking.

"All puppies are born with tails, but some breeds have them cut off or shortened - docked - when they're a few days old. It's done purely for cosmetic reasons and tradition. Dogs need their tails to communicate and to balance, so why do we insist on altering their appearance when it has no benefit to them?" says the website.

The UK-based Council of Docked Breeds (CDB) is dedicated to "[p]rotecting the option to choose" whether to dock a dog's tail. Its justifications for tail docking include avoiding damage to tails, "hygiene reasons" and "to protect breed standards" - that is for cosmetic purposes: to make the animal's physical appearance conform more closely to the breed's ideal.

The CDB claims that working dogs can damage their tails while moving through heavy vegetation, and therefore docking effectively pre-empts this situation. Although I'm not a farmer or a hunter this strikes me as akin to, say, chopping off your toe for fear of getting a toe injury - and not necessarily the most well considered approach to animal care. Furthermore, the NZVA says that a "recent study ... concluded that approximately 500 dogs would need to be docked in order to prevent one tail injury".

In regard to hygiene, the CDB asserts that "[l]ong haired, thick coated breeds ... are docked to avoid the hair around the base of the tail becoming fouled by faeces". On the other hand the NZVA says "there are studies that show that atrophy and degeneration of the tail and pelvic muscles [that may be associated with docking] result in an increased risk of faecal incontinence, perineal hernia and possible urinary incontinence".

Of course, docking to conform to breed standards is uniformly condemned by animal health and welfare organisations. Causing any animal pain or suffering for cosmetic reasons is never acceptable. Yet as discussed in Paws for thought dogs have undergone all sorts of cosmetic procedures for the sake of their owners' sense of misplaced vanity. Reports of dogs having facelifts, "mammary lifts" and even "testicles" implanted may make docking seem less strange but certainly not more acceptable.


What's your view on docking? Is it ever justified or is it always a cruel practice?

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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