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.
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
|Darke, Thrusfield, and Aitken, 1985||12,129 dogs attending vet clinics||
|Diesel, Pfeiffer, Crispin, and Broadbelt, 2010||138,212 dogs attending vet clinics||
|Houlton, 2008||1,312 gundogs||
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!