Scotland is soon to vote on whether to bring back tail docking for working dogs, after just 11 years of it being banned. Unlike in England and Wales, where puppies of certain breeds destined for ‘work’ can be docked, the current ban applies to all dogs. It is a much better piece of legislation than the gutless version in the rest of the UK, where I regularly see docked dogs clearly never intended for anything else but family pets.
The cause of this potential U-turn? New evidence. One study found that 232 tails need to be docked to prevent significant tail injury in later life. Another put the figure at 2 to 18 dockings per preventable injury. The largest study to date rates it at 500. So far, so inconsistent.
So what number of tail dockings is acceptable to prevent ‘significant tail injury’ in later life? Well.. i wonder how many readers have seen a puppy’s tail being docked. I have. I once worked in New Zealand where it was common practice. To the dismay of my then employer, I refused to do it. The breeder’s excuse: “we can’t sell them without docking, but we don’t want to..”. The vet’s excuse: “if we don’t do it someone else will, and they might do a bad job”.
When I saw a human being take a scalpel blade and cut through the skin, bone and delicate nervous tissue of a newborn, I couldn’t help thinking that it’s (a) a very significant and irreparable tail injury in itself, and (b) it’s a bad job whoever does it. It made me ashamed to be a vet. And guess what- it hurts them. We now know that neonates have the same or increased perception of pain as adults, and it isn’t always short-lived. Some suffer permanent neuropathic pain as well as losing their biggest communication signalling device.
We know that spaniels and hunt point retrievers do sustain more tail injuries than pet dogs. They also sustain more ear injuries. When did parliament last vote on chopping off dogs’ ears at birth? If preventing injury, not fashion, is the rationale- then they should be. Or what about amputating a limb in case they break it in later life? This argument is rationally and logically absurd.
If the pursuit of ‘country sports’ is so hard on these dogs, if these tail injuries are so severe that we must remove this important part of canine anatomy to prevent them, then maybe there’s another solution. How important is it really to the human race that we need to mutilate one species in order to facilitate the maiming and killing of another? Would the suffering of those who enjoy shooting animals (maybe cleanly, maybe not) be unbearable if they couldn’t do it? Or even if they could do it but without a dog to do the leg work? Would their lives be no longer tolerable if they shot clay pigeons instead? I don’t like guns, so it’s no good asking me…. you decide.