Docking is the cutting off or removal of something, such as a
person's pay or an animal's tail. It is commonly used to refer to the
removal of part of an animal's
term cropping is also used, more commonly in reference to the
docking of ears, while docking more commonly—but not
exclusively—refers to the tail. The term bobbing is also used.
History of docking and cropping
Originally, most docking was done for practical purposes. For example, a
large horse used
for hauling large loads might have its tail docked to prevent it from becoming
entangled in tow ropes or harnesses; without docking, it could be dangerous to
the horse and inconvenient to the owner to tie up the horse's tail for every
The tradition of docking dogs originates in the old Roman empire where worms
in the tail of the dog were thought to cause
belief led to the tradition of cutting off the tail as a preventive measure.
Some hunting dogs
originally had tails docked to prevent them from becoming tangled in undergrowth
or similar reasons.
Boxers with natural and docked ears and docked tails
Some hunting and fighting
dogs' ears and tails
were cropped to make them less available as targets for other animals that they
might fight with.
In dogs used for guarding property (such as
docked ears often makes the breed appear more ferocious; hanging ears are
reminiscent of the naturally droopy ears of
more cute than dangerous. To ensure the best use of the dog (intimidating
possible thieves or interlopers), a more ferocious appearance was important.
For dogs who worked in fields, such as some hunting dogs and some herding
dogs, tails could collect
causing pain and infection; tails with long fur could collect feces and become a
cleanliness problem; and particularly for herding dogs, longer tails could get
caught in gates behind livestock. These arguments are often used to justify
docking tails for certain breeds, although the same rationale is not applied to
all herding or to all hunting dogs with long or feathered tails.
In many breeds whose tails (or whose ancestors' tails) have been docked over
centuries, such as
Australian Shepherds, no attention was paid to
selectively breeding animals whose natural tail was attractive or
healthy—or, in some cases, dogs with naturally short ( or bob) tails were
selectively bred, but inconsistently (since docking was done as a matter of
course, a natural bob didn't have an extremely high value). As a result, in many
of these breeds, naturally short tails can occur but so do longer tails and some
inbetween, and occasionally tails have developed with physical problems or
deformities because the genetic appearance was never visible or because of the
inconsistent emphasis on natural bobs. Breeders often consider many of the
resulting tails to be ugly or unhealthy and so continue to dock all tails for
Docking is usually done almost immediately after birth to ensure that the
wound heals easily and properly. An old belief said that newborns hardly felt
the injury, but now reputable breeders have cropping and docking performed only
under licensed veterinary care. Today, many countries consider cropping or
docking to be cruel or mutilation and ban it entirely. This is not true in the
United States, and the breed standards for many breeds registered with the
American Kennel Club (AKC) make undocked animals presumably ineligible for
the dog show
ring. The AKC states that it has no rules that require docking or that make
undocked animals ineligible for the show ring, but it also states that it defers
to the individual breed clubs (who define the breed standards) to define the
best standards for each breed.
In such an environment, even people who desire undocked dogs often cannot get
them. Most people prefer to choose a puppy from a reputable breeder after the
puppy is old enough to determine
conformation, whereas docking is done immediately after birth. A breeder
normally does not want to withhold docking on an entire litter so that a
potential owner can later have one of the puppies with undocked tail or ears.
Show dogs of many breeds are still routinely docked in the UK. Kennel Club
standards allow for docked or undocked dogs to enter conformation shows.
However, many owners believe that an undocked dog is at a disadvantage when
judged. An undocked dog's tail must be within the standard, so a docked dog is
at an advantage by having one less attribute to be judged. There is also a
perception that many judges have a preference for docked tails.
Although docking should be performed by a veterinary surgeon, often the
methods used are far from ideal. In the UK a common method is to apply a rubber
ring around the tail base, so that circulation is cut off and the tail dies.
This extends the period of pain for the puppy and increases the risk of
Legal status by country
- Australia: Legal restrictions vary from state to state. Restricted to
veterinarians, for welfare, not
purposes in most states as of 2004.
Banned since 1st January, 2005 according to the "Bundestierschutzgesetz"
Banned from 1st January, 2006
Banned as of 1st June 1996, with exceptions for five
Banned as of 1st January 2001
Banned as of 1st June 1998, with exceptions for working gundogs
Unrestricted for dogs, banned for horses unless deemed medically necessary
- Netherlands: Banned as of 1st September, 2001
- New Zealand: As of March 2004, restricted to veterinarians, for welfare,
not cosmetic, purposes.
Banned as of 1st January 2000
- Portugal: Unrestricted
South Africa : Unrestricted
Banned as of 1st January 1989
United Kingdom: Restricted to certified veterinarians, subject to a
restrictive code of practice
In Europe, the cropping of ears is prohibited in all countries that have
European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals.
Legality in the UK
In the UK ear cropping is illegal and no dog with cropped ears can take part
in any Kennel Club event (including agility and other nonconformation events).
Tail docking is legal, but only when carried out by a registered veterinary
surgeon. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), the regulatory body
for veterinary surgeons in the UK, has said that they consider tail docking to
be "an unjustified mutilation and unethical unless done for therapeutic or
acceptable prophylactic reasons". In 1995 a veterinary surgeon was brought
before the RCVS disciplinary council for "disgraceful professional conduct" for
carrying out cosmetic docking. The vet claimed that the docking was performed to
prevent future injuries and the case was dismissed for lack of evidence
otherwise. Although cosmetic docking is still considered unacceptable by the
RCVS, no further disciplinary action has been taken against vets performing
Arguments against docking dogs' tails
Robert Wansborough argues in a 1996 paper
 that docking dogs' tails puts them at a disadvantage in several ways.
Firstly, Wansborough argues that dogs use their tails actively in communicating
with other dogs (and with people); a dog without a tail might be significantly
handicapped in conveying fear, caution, aggression, playfulness, and so on. In
addition, certain dog breeds use their tails as rudders when swimming, and
possibly for balance when running, so active dogs with docked tails might be at
a disadvantage compared to their tailed peers.
Wansborough also investigates seven years of records from an urban veterinary
practice to demonstrate that undocked tails result in fewer harms than docked
Although each of these criticisms has its counterarguments
 the balance of scientific evidence is that docking causes pain and may
lead to behavioural problems.
Docking in agriculture
Tail docking may be performed on livestock for a variety of reasons. In some
cases where commercially raised animals are kept in close quarters, tail docking
is performed to prevent injury or to prevent animals from chewing or biting each
others' tails. In
sheep, tails may be docked for sanitary reasons. If the tail is not docked,
this can lead to
an infestation of maggots
in the rectal area. On the other hand, if the tail is docked too short, this may
contribute to other problems such as
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