The History Of The Docked Tail

This article was written and presented by Susan (Holsinger) Duncan, at the request of the ATCA President, in 2009, at our National Specialty. As such, some of the information, as presented, may be out of date.

The origins of tail docking are varied and contradictory. The first references go back to Roman times, when dogs’ tails and parts of their tongues were cut off to prevent rabies. In Europe, aristocratic families often had hunting dogs. At first, hunters decided a shortened tail would help the dog with its quickness and agility. This trend became so popular that noble landlords began taxing the owners of long-tailed dogs.

Tail docking seems to have emerged for a variety of reasons, but for some breeds it was proposed primarily to improve appearance. Books from different periods openly refer to docking of some breeds as a matter of pleasing appearance (e.g., The American Book of the Dog, 1891, p. 619, 6695; 6696).

AKC has taken the position that, “In the case of new breeds, if the breed is cropped or docked, they are required to describe a natural tail. This would include the Glenn of Imaal Terrier and the Black Russian Terrier, Pyrenean Shepherd, Swedish Vallhund. Standards that have recently been revised to address natural tails are: The Clumber Spaniel and the Affenpinscher.”

The American Veterinary Association has held a position against ear cropping since 1976. Tail docking was added to their position statement in 1999. They strengthened their position in the end of 2008 to read:

“The AVMA opposes ear cropping and tail docking of dogs when done solely for cosmetic purposes. The AVMA encourages the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards. ”

Legislation in the US falls into 2 general categories. First there are stand-alone bills, which seek to ban cropping and docking. Then there are care and conditions bills, which would require cropping and docking to be done by a licensed veterinarian and address a group of medical procedures including debarking and cesarean sections. These later bills are designed to prevent puppy mills from performing procedures in an inhumane manner, but also to legislate hobby breeders. There are currently cropping/docking bills in New York and Illinois, and some 30 care and conditions bills across the US.

Worldwide, cropping and docking has been outlawed in the following countries:

England, Wales, Scotland, Australia, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Cypress, Greece and Luxembourg.

Some countries have exclusions for hunting dogs or dogs of specific breeds, but overall these are limited and require an excessive burden of proof. Several of these passed initial legislation that required that cropping and docking be done by a veterinarian, then followed with an outright ban or deemed it unethical for veterinarians to do it.

Breed Standards in the US describing natural tails include the Affenpinscher, Clumber Spaniel, Glen of Imaal Terrier, Swedish Valhund, Black Russian Terrier and Pyrenean Shepherd. Fifty-five breed standards mention docking. Thirty-seven specify the dog should be docked with ONLY ONE identifying a tail not docked as a fault.

Breed Standards abroad still dance around the docking issue. Many breeds have not rewritten their breed standards since docking bans took effect. Australian Terrier breed standards in some countries reflect this. The UK has added language indicating that the tail was previously customarily docked, and New South Wales indicates that dogs with natural tails were permitted to be shown. Scandinavian countries wait for the Australians to revise their standards. Only the Australian Silky Terrier standard seems to have addressed the issue, and states:

Tail: Preferably docked, set on high and carried erect but not over-gay. Should be free of feathering. If undocked, the first three vertebrae to be carried erect, the balance to be carried erect or slightly curved, but not over-gay. Must not be curled. The length to give an overall balanced appearance. In accordance with the docked description the undocked tail to be free of feathering.

In light of the bans on cropping and docking abroad, and the volume of legislation in this country that would restrict or prohibit the rights of breeders to dock puppies, I think it is prudent to consider the future of docking in our breed. Allowing for undocked dogs to be imported and shown without penalty enhances our ability to breed for an attractive, undocked tail, and enlarges our gene pool.  Author: Susan (Holsinger) Duncan