Working spaniels and HPR puppies in Scotland will be allowed to have their tails docked to prevent injury when the law changes next year

Holyrood has announced plans to change tail docking legislation to allow the tails of spaniel and hunt, point, retrieve (HPR) puppies to be shortened wherever a vet believes they are likely to be used as a working dog and risk serious tail injury in later life.

Tail docking was banned in Scotland in 2007 as part of the 2006 Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act, but 92 per cent of respondents to a new government consultation, launched as part of a series of measures aimed at improving animal welfare, said that they support docking these breeds.

The Scottish Government will now drop the outright ban, with the exemptions expected to go before Holyrood ministers early next year.

Scottish environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham explained: “We have seen evidence that some working dogs are suffering tail injuries, so I have decided to allow vets to shorten the tails of spaniel and HPR puppies where they believe it will prevent future injuries among working dogs.”

Major improvement to animal welfare legislation

Rural organisations have welcomed the news. Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg said: “The benefit that this exemption to the law will convey in terms of the welfare of working spaniels and HPRs all over Scotland cannot be underestimated. It is a major improvement to animal welfare legislation in this country and one we welcome.”

Colin Shedden, BASC Scotland director, agreed: “Following 10 years of campaigning we are delighted that this important welfare issue for working HPR and spaniel breeds in Scotland is finally being addressed. This is a simple, minor procedure soon after birth that will help to prevent a lifetime of misery and serious veterinary interventions. Working gundogs are an essential part of shooting sports and their welfare is a paramount concern to their owners and handlers.”

Scottish Countryside Alliance director Jamie Stewart said it had been “a journey to get to this point, with many individuals and organisations working together to support an exemption based on animal welfare concerns”. Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary, commented: “While we support UK -wide bans on tail docking for aesthetic reasons alone, we have long been disappointed that, unlike in England and Wales, the Scottish Executive did not make any exemptions for working dogs when they banned tail docking under the Animal Health and Welfare Act.

“However, we are heartened that our views, supported by the evidence on the tail injuries sustained by working dogs, have been taken on board by the minister and that an exemption for working dogs will be introduced. This is undoubtedly the right decision and the minister has the full support of the Kennel Club and Scottish Kennel Club.”