Behavior / Dogs / Welfare

“The Docking Truth” Part 2

Dog tails play a role in communication. How might docking affect dog interactions?

Welcome to Part 2 of our exploration of tail docking in dogs!  (If you missed Part 1, it’s here.)  In this post, we’ll be looking at how docking might effect communication as well as behavioral indicators of pain during the procedure.

Tails and Behavior

Tail carriage and movement provide visual (and perhaps chemical) cues which may help communicate a dog’s emotions and/or intentions.  Communication via body language is essential in facilitating safe and successful dog-dog and human-dog interactions.  Given these possibilities, it seems important to ask, “How might docking the tail affect communication?”

Can other dogs “read” and appropriately respond to a docked dog’s body language as well as an undocked dog’s?

Well, one study done at the University of Victoria by Leaver and Reimchen has begun to probe this question.  They videotaped 492 off-leash dogs’ interactions with a robotic dog.  The robotic dog was outfitted with either a long or short tail, and the tail was either still or wagging.  They found that…


Authors’ Interpretation

Larger dogs were less cautious and more likely to approach a long wagging tail vs. a long still tail Signals communicated by differences in tail motion were most effectively conveyed by the long tail.
Larger dogs didn’t differ in their approach to the short still tail vs. the short wagging tail. Signals communicated by differences in tail motion were most effectively conveyed by the long tail.
Larger dogs stopped more often during their approach when the tail was short vs. when it was long. “As the efficacy of a visual signal is related to its visibility (Bradbury & Vehrencamp, 1998), it may be that larger dogs had a harder time interpreting the ‘intentions’ of the model when the tail was short.”
Larger dogs responded more often with an elevated head and tail to the model with the long wagging tail vs. the short wagging tail. Higher head and tail carriage is associated with increasing levels of confidence and dominance in dogs (Fox,1971; Bradshaw & Nott, 1995; Galae & Knol, 1997; Bradbury & Vehrencamp, 1998).  “However, as the third highest loading variable was a lower ‘tail tip height inside of 1.5 m’, the discriminant analysis variable may not be a clear measure of confidence. Nonetheless, this discriminant analysis variable reflects a dog’s behaviour and it varied with respect to model tail motion, but only when the model’s tail was long.”
Smaller dogs showed more caution overall and did not differ in their behavior towards the long or short tailed models An increase in caution is reasonable for animals with a smaller body size and may explain why they found no significant differences in their responses to the different conditions.

Woof!  It seems that, at least among larger dogs, another dog’s behavior towards a dog may be influenced by his tail length.  If you’d like to read the article in full, you can check it out here.

What does puppy behavior tell us about docking pain and stress?

One of the main arguments those against docking cite is that the amputation is painful and perhaps even traumatic for puppies.

In 1996, Noonan et al. published a paper titled, “Behavioural observations of puppies undergoing tail docking“.  They observed 50 puppies during and after docking and found that…

  • All puppies vocalized intensely (“shrieking”) during amputation.
  • The average number of whimpers made during docking was 18.
  • Puppies did not shriek during the recovery period.
  • Puppies stopped vocalizing an average of 138 seconds after docking. (range = 5 – 840 seconds)
  • Puppies fell asleep within a mean of 3 minutes after docking. (range = 35 seconds to 14 minutes
The authors concluded that the puppies did experience pain, but that it appeared to be short in duration.  They suggested further study is needed to investigate whether or not docking should continue.
What do you think?  Has your opinion on docking changed at all?  Do you have any anecdotes from personal experience with docking?    Bark back in the comments!

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