THE wild forebears of dogs first started creeping closer to human campfires perhaps 20,000 years ago ... and we've been loving them ever since. Especially, here in Whanganui, where there's a dog for every five or six people.

Our high rate of dog ownership can bring tension but also opportunity - Ross Fallen reckons it's a reason to have the best dog park in New Zealand, and that it would be a tourist drawcard.

I'm not one for gushing, but meeting a roly-poly white puppy with a tail constantly in motion really has changed my world.

Nicknamed Mr Happy by his parents' owners, his temperament was obvious from the first. He'd grown some spots and doubled in size by the time we trekked back to Northland to collect him two summers ago.


He has grown into his paws now and his tail measures a whopping 43 centimetres - he's a big, handsome mutt who is regularly admired by strangers.

But there are people who also profess to love their dogs and yet they mutilate them by removing their tails. They have lobbied long and hard to continue docking, and New Zealand shamefully lags behind our peers in outlawing the practice.

The veterinarians' association has moved ahead of our lawmakers. Since 2011, the vets' code of professional conduct does not allow them to remove dogs' tails for cosmetic reasons.

Last month the Ministry for Primary Industries announced that tail docking would be made illegal - followed by howls of protest.

Such has been the orchestrated opposition to docking by some dog breeders over nearly 20 years that MPI went to the expense of commissioning an independent review of the evidence. It concluded that - yes, banding the tail of a days-old pup does cause suffering and that there is no justification for the practice - no benefit to the dog or to the species.

The report objectively and thoroughly dismissed all the arguments thrown up by breeders about why they should be permitted to continue removing healthy tails. It's only a few pages and is quite readable, so have a look yourself (

There's a whole other dimension to this issue that I'm not seeing discussed.

My dog constantly communicates with his tail. It's not an optional appendage - it's a vital means to signal his intentions and state of mind. Watching him greet my partner after a week away, the dog's joy was utterly contagious - his big, strong tail wagged so hard you could hear it thump from across the room.


They're getting ready to go for a walk as I write, and the dog's tail is a big happy flag, signalling his anticipation.

Just as vital, he uses his tail to communicate to other dogs. He's a social creature and loves being with others of his species.

Meeting unfamiliar dogs on the beach the other day, I was keenly watching tails.

Even from a distance, it was evident what was going on and whether I needed to get involved. He was a happy, relaxed dog when he met the little schnauzer; a bit nervous and apprehensive when two big dogs bowled over.

Banning docking is the right thing to do, and embarrassingly overdue. It's not just about the unnecessary suffering while the tail dries up and dies after being banded, it also disables a dog, stunting his or her ability to communicate.

I've no patience for those breeders lamenting that this ban will be the "end of a breed".

Breed standards are an arbitrary concept imposed on a living form.

Standards have evolved over time anyway, and there is no reason - apart from human stubbornness - why they can't change to include all of a dog.

I had a fantasy about a perfectly obedient dog, entirely focused on me, always wanting to please me - but what I've got is a dog of strong character who is, as he regularly reminds me, his own person, with his own needs and preferences and opinions.

That doesn't mean he gets to do what he likes; just like me he has to adapt to fit the needs of others. But he's taught me as much as I've taught him, and I didn't expect that.

I've been very grateful to find some Whanganui dog trainers who are committed to force-free training, and who teach from a coherent framework of understanding dogs in general and as individuals.

I've been so impressed with everyone I've met who's associated with the Wanganui Dog Training Club - and their dogs - that we're about to join up.

-Rachel Rose is a writer, gardener, fermenter and fomenter. More reading and sources are online at