Here is the law on tail docking for dogs in the UK.

Tail docking means that part of a dog’s tail is removed. It has always been a contentious subject and in recent years tail docking – except for specific breeds – has been banned in England, Wales and Scotland. The procedure can no longer be carried out for cosmetic purposes but it is legal for certain working dogs.

Tail docking and the law in England and Wales

  • Tail docking was banned in 2007 in England and Wales.
  • In England puppies can only have tails docked if they are one of the following listed breeds: HPR breed of any type or combination; spaniel of any type or combination of type; terriers of any type or combination of type.
  • In Wales cross breeds cannot be docked, only individual pure breeds.
  • A vet has to confirm the breed and see the mother of the litter before the dog is docked.
  • Legally only a registered vet can carry out tail docking.
  • Puppies will be issued with a signed certificate by the vet who carried out the procedure.
  • Puppies must be docked before they are five days old. This is because bones are still soft and the nervous system is not yet fully developed.
  • Leave plenty of time to organise docking with your vet, before the whelping date.
  • The vet will ask you to sign a statement confirming that the dog whose tail is to be docked will be used for one of the following: a) law enforcement; b) activities of HM Armed Forces; c) emergency rescue; d) lawful pest control; e) the lawful shooting of animals.
  • Once the five-day time limit is up, the puppies cannot be docked.
HPR in deep cover

HPR breeds can have tails docked legally

Proving the dog is a working dog

The dog breeder has to prove that the dog owner will be using the animal for work in connection with lawful pest control. They will have to supply a shotgun or firearm certificate issued to the owner of the dog (or to the agent/employee of the owner).

Or the breeder  will need a letter from a gamekeeper, land occupier (or his agent), a person with shooting rights or a shoot organiser, etc. in which the writer states the owner of the dog to be docked is known to them, and that dogs bred by that breeder have been used on their land or shoot.  The vet must obtain a signed statement from the breeder/owner to say the puppies are of the relevant type and will be sold for the above purposes.

spaniel in cover

The owner must be able to prove that the dog is used for working

Carrying out tail docking

It is best for the vet to carry out a home visit to dock tails. This will avoid the extra risk of infection and prevent the stress of a car journey. Most bitches with a young litter are protective of their puppies, so it’s wise to put her in another room or ask somebody to take her around the garden so the vet can carry out the procedures quickly and calmly.

The vet will perform the tail docking with surgical scissors or a scalpel. The procedure is almost painless because a puppy’s nervous system is not properly developed. Afterwards put the puppy back in the litter with the mother and it is likely to start suckling or fall back to sleep almost immediately.

Stitches are rarely needed. Sometimes a vet will apply an anti-coagulant is applied to the tail end but most prefer not to, choosing a more natural alternative such as witch hazel. It’s normal within five minutes of the entire litter being docked for mother and pups to be asleep in a warm pile without a murmur.

tail docking

Tail docking prevents an animal from injuries like this

What is the situation in Scotland?

Tail docking was illegal in Scotland until 2017 but the ban was then altered to allow vets to shorten the tails of working spaniels and HPR breeds by a third.

The decision was greeted with welcome by those involved with working dogs.  Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg said the result was “recompense for all working spaniels and HPRs that have had to endure 10 years of painful injuries”. However animal welfare charities said they were saddened by the decision.

Mr Hogg addressed these negative comments, stating: “Some have conflated tail shortening with full tail docking, which leaves dogs with only a stump. This is the opposite. It is a quick, preventative procedure protecting the animal over its whole working life, leaving it with an expressive, waggy tail.”

Alan Marshall, a vet and a member of BASC’s Scottish committee, agreed: “A great many country sportsmen and women with working dogs will welcome the long-awaited decision to reintroduce tail shortening for the working spaniel and HPR breeds.

Those who break the law in Scotland face a possible fine of £5,000 and/ or six months in jail. It is also an offence to transport a puppy out of Scotland solely for the purpose of docking its tail.

spaniel in thick cover

A spaniel works his way into thick cover 

Working dogs with docked tails

A: The obvious option to continue working and avoid further dog tail injury, is to use him relatively infrequently, say weekly rather than daily or every other day, and either confine yourself to areas where there is least risk of injury – avoiding dense cover, thorn bushes and brambles and so on – and/or try a protective bandage.

Repetitive minor trauma, as well as overt injury, can lead to tail damage so if the former is the problem, less frequent work gives the skin some time to recover. If you want to try a protective bandage, be sure to cover the whole tail and use an cohesive bandage – something like Vetrap or Elastoplast, which will stick to itself. Start by holding the bandage under the tail between finger and thumb, using your left hand if right-handed, with the sticky side towards the tail. Take the bandage straight down the tail around the tip and up to where you started. Twist the bandage and come back down the tail and back up again with overlapping turns, trapping tail feathering under each overlap to help secure the bandage.

It is quite possible of course, that a spirited dog which likes nothing better than plunging through brambles and thorny patches will return with the carefully applied bandage in tatters. Should that happen , console yourself, at least you have evidence to demonstrate to your vet that the dog is likely to continue damaging its tail.

Q: Is it irresponsible of me to work a springer without a docked tail? Having spent months researching English springer spaniels, I am at the point of trying to find a reputable breeder. I would like a show-type springer but want to train it to hunt and retrieve. When I do find suitable show-type dogs, they do not have docked tails. Would it be irresponsible of me to work a springer with a full tail?

A: Paul Rawlings says: I have watched scores of spaniels working over the years, both in the shooting field and in field trials, many of which had tails docked much longer than is normal. Injury was not uncommon, but the length of tail did not seem to be the main problem. It was more a case that if a dog had a very fast tail action then no matter how long or short the tail, damage would occur.

Another factor that can cause tail damage is the amount of coat or feathering on the tail, and most of those springers seen with severe damage had poor feathering, offering little protection. The fashion of leaving tails long to make a spaniel look more stylish has perhaps added to the risk of injury, but not significantly. The longer the tail, the slower it seems to wag, and therefore it will not get damaged as easily as if it had been docked shorter.

Show-bred spaniels with long tails do regularly work in the field. Whenever a spaniel works brambles or thorns, it is being exposed to risk of injury to all parts of its body, not just its tail.