Tail docking is always going to be a contentious subject - here are the real guidelines to carry out the procedure correctly and legally

Scottish National Party (SNP)  Councillor Christopher McEleny has recently hit the headlines with his demands that SNP members attending the Autumn 2017 conference be given the opportunity to voice an opinion on the Scottish Government’s decision to allow the shortening of the tails of certain working dog breeds.

The Scottish Government banned tail docking in 2007. However well-intended, the ban failed to account for working gundogs or address the welfare concerns of those dogs suffering tail damage.

This situation was amended when the decision to allow a small number of breeds to have protective tail shortening was passed  on a vote of 86 for and 29 against.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “We firmly believe that shortening the tails of puppies that are at risk of tail injury while engaged in lawful shooting activities in later life will improve the welfare of those dogs.”

tail docking will prevent injuries

Working dogs with undocked tails can risk serious injury

Tail docking and the law

  • Tail docking was banned in 2007 in England and Wales, except under certain exemptions catered for in the Animal Welfare Act.
  • Puppies have to be docked before they are five days old.
  • This is before the neonate nervous system is fully developed and when bones are still soft.
  • Discuss your docking requirements with your vet well before the whelping date to avoid last-minute panics.
  • The vet will ask you to sign a statement declaring 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 frame is up, the puppies cannot be docked.
dog with injured tail

Dog tail docking

What can you do quite legally in England which could cost you a fine of up to £5,000 or even…

Which breeds cannot have tails docked?

Once you have found a vet who is happy to dock, they will need to confirm the breed.

  • In England, the puppies must be 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.
  • However, in Wales, combinations of breeds (ie. cross breeds) cannot be docked, only the individual pure breeds.

The breeder will then have to give evidence that the owner of the dog 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 they 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/shoot, etc. The vet must obtain a signed statement from the breeder/owner to say the puppies are of the above type and will be sold for the above purposes.

Tail docking procedure

Once you have found the right vet, advised them of the whelping date, shown them all the paperwork and discussed the needs of your breed and tail length you need to set a date.

Organise a home visit from the vet to avoid the stress of a car journey and an increased risk of infection. Most bitches with a young litter are protective of their puppies, so it’s wise to pop mother in another room, or get someone to take her for a short walk in the garden so the vet can work swiftly.

There are two possible methods, which use either surgical scissors or a scalpel. Because the nervous system of a young puppy is not fully developed, the procedure is almost painless, so when the puppy is put back in the litter a few moments later, it starts suckling or falls back to sleep almost immediately. Stitches are rarely required, although sometimes an anti-coagulant is applied to the tail end, but this can irritate the bitch’s tongue when she goes back to lick them afterwards. Many vets prefer not to use it and choose 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.