Key Points:

Tail docking could be banned under a new code of welfare for dogs.

At three days old a puppy can legally have its tail cut off - something veterinarians and the SPCA suggest causes acute pain and possible serious complications.

The draft code was released yesterday and outlined the minimum standards of welfare and recommended practices for dog owners.

Tail docking would be banned - except when it was required to help a dog with damage, disease or malformation, and then it must be performed by a veterinarian.

Ray Greer, past-president of the New Zealand Kennel Club, sat on the code-drafting committee and said he was as surprised as anyone else when he saw the draft code yesterday.

"To be honest I am a little disturbed.

"If [banning tail docking] had come up in the writing group there would have been robust discussion over it."

Mr Greer said the Kennel Club supported choice and believed tail docking was a safe and common practice.

It was important for hygiene and prevented painful tail repairs later, especially in utility gun dogs.

The New Zealand Veterinary Association has spoken out against the practice.

Wayne Ricketts, the association's veterinary resources manager, said docking offered no welfare benefit and was carried out for cosmetic purposes only. Recent research showed young animals felt acute pain, and it could cause long-term muscle degeneration, he said.

The tail was also important for canine communication and behavioural development.

It will be up to Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton to decide whether to accept or reject the Animal Welfare Committee's final recommendations, due at the end of the year.