Behavior / Dogs / Welfare

“The Docking Truth” Part 1

Are docked dogs less prone to tail injuries? Check out the chart below to see what studies have found.

Passionately defended, vehemently attacked, and alternatively unrestricted and banned in countries across the globe, tail docking is an issue that’s begged for scientific investigation.

Regardless of what side of this often polarizing issue you’re on, I think you’ll be surprised by some of what science has found.  I know it’s not nearly as black and white as I used to think.

Given what we know about tails (They can be injured and they are used in communication), I’ll be focusing on ethical considerations of docking in relation to physical and behavioral welfare.  This first post will focus on injury statistics related to tails and Part 2 will review what behavior studies have found.  Part 3 will explore ethical considerations brought up by these studies.

Physical Considerations

One of the main reasons given for tail docking is that it prevents tail injuries.  There’s no shortage of anecdotal reports of tail injuries on the Web.  Let’s have a look at…

Studies Examining Tail Injuries in Docked and Undocked Dogs

Study Population Reported results
Darke, Thrusfield, and Aitken, 1985 12,129 dogs attending vet clinics
  • No significant increase in tail injuries in undocked dogs
Diesel, Pfeiffer, Crispin, and Broadbelt, 2010 138,212 dogs attending vet clinics
  • Risk of tail injury to non-working dogs = 0.19%
  • Risk of tail injury to working dogs = 0.29%
  • Dogs with docked tails significantly less likely to sustain tail injury (Docked dogs had .0008x chance of injuries as undocked dogs)
  • Certain breeds significantly more likely to sustain tail injuries
  • Dogs with wide wag angles and kennel dogs significantly more likely to sustain injuries
  • To prevent 1 injury, approx. 500 dogs would need to be docked
Houlton, 2008 1,312 gundogs
  • Undocked Springer and Cocker Spaniels significantly more likely to sustain tail injuries
  • 3.10% of gundogs sustained tail injuries

From these studies, it seems that…

  • Tail injuries are relatively uncommon in both companion and working dog populations
    (Ranged from 0.19% (companion dogs in Diesel et al) to 3.10% (gundogs in Houlton)
  • Docking tails may decrease the risk of tail injuries.

Have a read of the studies yourself and see what you think! (Full texts and/or abstracts available from the links in the chart.)  The Darke et al. study in particular seems to have come under a great deal of criticism over the years. It’s also well worth having a look at the criticisms brought forth by Hales and Holmes.  (These were an eye-opener for me, I was surprised at the language and tone of one of the authors.  There will always be disagreement and debate in science, but I’m not sure his type of approach will convince those who disagree to reconsider his ideas…)

Can puppy behavior tell us whether docking hurts?  Do docked tails cut off inter-dog communication?  Stay tuned for “The Docking Truth” Part 2, where we’ll look at a couple studies on docking and behavior!


4 thoughts on ““The Docking Truth” Part 1

  1. Loving your blogs Liz – please keep them coming! You are sure to have a brilliant career in your chosen field!

  2. Interesting blog post about the truth behind tail docking. I have always wondered whether it hurts the dogs, and whether or not it is really necessary. More research needs to go into whether or not it is in fact an act of animal cruelty.

    • Thank you Rob, I certainly agree!

      Thank you for the link to SPANA, it seems like a great organization addressing the welfare of working animals (and their communities). I look forward to reading more about what they do!

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