Regardless of the approach used, the timing remains the same. Tail docking should be performed on newborn puppies between 2 and 5 days old. This window is not arbitrary, rather it allows the pups to get a small foothold in life while taking advantage of an underdeveloped nervous system that tolerates such an invasive procedure in stride. The same procedure in a 5-month-old dog would be undeniably inhumane (and likely fatal).
The issue remains nuanced despite a concerted effort to paint tail docking in black or white. Most of the research fails to account for the notable variation in temperaments, number of hours spent in the field, and type of cover.
Some breeders perform this same technique with a kitchen table substituted for a sterile bench, and I’ve seen a sharpened Old Timer multitool used in place of a scalpel. Other breeders apply a restricting rubber band or employ a stout string to crush nerves and vessels in the tail, causing the tissue to die and fall off in time. All of these techniques seem to work well with minimal issues, although I’ll admit the few complications I’ve addressed resulted from infections caused by breeders using the string or banding method.
Why Do We Dock Tails? With a few notable exceptions, almost all dogs are born with long tails. Naturally bobbed tails are quite rare in canines and effectively non-existent in sporting breeds. The classic silhouettes of the Brittany, Vizsla, or Deutsch Drahthaar take shape with the help of purposeful removal of a segment of the tail at a young age, not through Mother Nature or selective breeding.
Tradeoffs of Docking So, is the pain worth the gain? It’s difficult to arrive at a definitive answer because we haven’t successfully quantified the pain or demonstrated the extent of the gain.
Why do some dogs still have docked tails?
You may still see adult dogs with docked tails, as the docking may have been performed before the ban was introduced. But you should never buy a puppy with a docked tail. If you get a dog from a breeder, make sure that they do not dock tails. If you suspect that tail docking is still taking place, please phone your state or territory RSPCA. There are also a few breeds, such as the Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog, or the Australian Shepherd (which is actually an American breed) which carry a genetic mutation that means some individuals are born with short (stumpy) tails.
Is it legal in other countries?
Cosmetic tail docking has also been banned in a number of countries including Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Germany and Denmark. Several other European countries including Cyprus, Greece, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Austria have also ratified a European Convention that prohibits the cosmetic docking of tails. In the United Kingdom tail docking can only be carried out by a registered veterinary surgeon. The practice is opposed by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons which describes it as an ‘unacceptable mutilation’.