Canine tail docking
Policy type: Policy
Status: November 2018
Definition of tail docking
Shortening or removing the tail by any means. This includes the application of a tail band.
Tail Docking Animal Welfare Regulation
New Zealand Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Regulations Part 2, R 51 prohibit any person from docking dogs’ tails unless:
a) the person was a veterinarian, or a veterinary student under the direct supervision of a veterinarian throughout the procedure; and
b) the person docked the tail of the dog for therapeutic purposes; and
c) the dog was given pain relief at the time of the procedure.
A person who fails to comply with this regulation commits and infringement offence and is liable for -
i. An infringement fee of $500; or
ii. A fine imposed by the court not exceeding,-
iii. In the case of an individual, $5,000; or
iv. In the case of a body corporate, $25,000
The NZVA support this regulation given there is no welfare justification for the prophylactic or cosmetic docking of dogs’ tails in any breed (Mellor, 2018).
Reasons why the NZVA support the ban on tail docking puppies
a) Tail docking does not provide a net welfare benefit to dogs.
The evidence does not support injury prevention as a reason to dock tails in any breed of dog.
A 2010 UK study demonstrated that to prevent one adult tail injury, approximately 500 puppies would need to be docked (Diesel, Pfeiffer, Crispin, & Brodbelt, 2010).
Although a 2014 Scottish study found that the prevalence of tail injuries in working dogs was significantly higher than non-working breeds, it is important to realise that the prevalence was still extremely low, at less than 1%, requiring 232 puppies to lose their tails in order to prevent one injury (Cameron, Lederer, Bennett, & Parkin, 2014).
There have been are no clear benefits of tail docking to the dog in terms of injury prevention in New Zealand research (Wells, Hill, Stafford, & Wink, 2011).
Based on these findings, tail docking cannot be justified based on the possibility that the dog may injure its tail in later life.
b) Tail docking has the potential to cause harm to a dog and reduce its welfare.
Tail docking by any method can result in negative welfare outcomes to the dog, even if performed using appropriate analgesia, due to the following:
- The potential to cause significant chronic pain due to neuroma formation (Gross & Carr, 1990).
- The potential to create a state of hyperalgesia, if performed in neonatal puppies without pain relief (McCracken, Waran, Mitchinson, & Johnson, 2010).
- The tail plays an important role in social communication with dogs. A longer tail has been shown to be more effective at conveying messages than a short tail (Leaver & Reimchen, 2007)
c) Tail injuries are usually not serious and can be simply managed.
The vast majority of tail injuries are minor injuries.
The 2014 Scottish study by Cameron et al showed that 80% of the reported tail injuries required either no treatment, or only antibiotics or dressings to resolve.
New Zealand research (Wells, 2014) also supports this statistic, reporting that 78% of all tail injuries presented to sixteen veterinary clinics over an eight-year period, were resolved with one visit.
d) Maintenance of New Zealand's reputation for high animal welfare standards.
New Zealand joins at least 20 other countries that have complete bans on cosmetic and prophylactic tail docking, including Australia (since 2004). In the UK, Wales and Germany the procedure is severely restricted and may only be performed by a veterinarian.
e) Stakeholders, public opinion and animal welfare regulations oppose tail docking.
i. The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI)
MPI commissioned an independent report in 2017 which concluded that: “the available evidence, taken in its totality, supports the conclusion that neonatal puppies experience and are harmed by nociception and potentially experience pain--and the procedure is painful in older animals. Based upon the populations of dogs that have been studied thus far, tail docking is not justifiable as a prophylactic procedure for the prevention of tail injury or disorder. Also, as tail docking is a surgical or operative procedure it should not be performed without active pain management. For these reasons, tail docking should only be performed by a veterinarian as necessary or indicated to protect the health or welfare of an individual dog (Paterson-Kane, 2017)”.
ii. Veterinary Council of New Zealand (VCNZ)
The VCNZ code of professional conduct states that “surgical procedures should not be carried for cosmetic purposes; the amputation of all or part of a dog's tail without a justifiable medical reason or because the dog is of a particular breed, type or conformation is unacceptable.” (VCNZ 2005).
iii. The Royal New Zealand Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (RNZSPCA)
The RNZSPCA is also opposed to the surgical alteration of companion animals for cosmetic (non-veterinary) purposes, this includes tail docking of dogs. Animals should not be surgically altered unless there are legitimate medical reasons on which to do so (RNZSPCA, 2004).
iv. Dogs New Zealand (Dogs NZ)
The majority of Dogs NZ members surveyed in 2014 were strongly opposed to tail docking and tail banding. Following this, Dogs NZ amended their rules for showing dogs and do not require the tail of any dog shown or entered in competitions to be shortened. Dogs NZ hold a neutral position on tail docking and did not oppose the tail docking animal welfare regulation based on “the wide range of opinion within its membership, broader public opinion, international trends and the impact on New Zealand's reputation as a global leader in animal welfare matters.” (Dogs New Zealand, 2016)
v. Public Opinion
Following the 2017 announcement that tail docking was to be banned in New Zealand from October 2018, there was overwhelming public support shown for this animal welfare regulation in mainstream media polling.
Cameron, N., Lederer, R., Bennett, D., & Parkin, T. (2014). The prevalence of tail injuries in working and non-working breed dogs visiting veterinary practices in Scotland. Veterinary Record, 174(18), 450. doi:10.1136/vr.102042
Diesel, G., Pfeiffer, D., Crispin, S., & Brodbelt, D. (2010). Risk factors for tail injuries in dogs in Great Britain. Veterinary Record, 166, 812-817.
Dogs New Zealand. (2016, May). Submission on proposed animal welfare regulations. Retrieved from Dogs New Zealand: http://www.dogsnz.org.nz/dogsnz/policy-statements
Mellor, D. (2018). Tail docking of canine puppies: reassessment of the tail’s role in communication, the acute pain caused by docking and interpretation of behavioural responses. Animals, 8(6). doi:10.3390/ani8060082
Paterson-Kane, R. (2017). Canine tail docking report. Ministry of Primary Industries.
Royal New Zealand Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals. (2004). Animal welfare policy. Retrieved from https://www.rnzspca.org.nz/repository/func-startdown/254/
Veterinary Council of New Zealand. (2005). Code of Professional Conduct. Retrieved from http://www.vetcouncil.org.nz/CPC/index.php
Wells, A. (2014). Canine tail injuries in New Zealand: Causes, treatments and risk factors and the prophylactic justification for canine tail docking. Masters of Veterinary Medicine Thesis. Palmerston North: Massey University. Retrieved from http://mro.massey.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10179/4782/02_whole.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
Wells, A., Hill, K., Stafford, K., & Wink, W. (2011). The tail injury justification of canine tail docking: Prevalence, causes, treatments and risk factors of canine tail injuries in New-Zealand. Poster for Tail Wagging Campaign. Institute of Veterinary Animal and Biochemical Sciences, Massey University. Retrieved from http://tail-wagging-campaign.org.nz/documents/Massey-University-reference-material.pd