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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 tail or ears. The 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 use.

The tradition of docking dogs originates in the old Roman empire where worms in the tail of the dog were thought to cause rabies. This 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 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 Dobermanns or Boxers), docked ears often makes the breed appear more ferocious; hanging ears are reminiscent of the naturally droopy ears of puppies, looking 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 burrs and foxtails, 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 the breed.

Current status

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 personality and 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 infection.

Legal status by country

  • Australia: Legal restrictions vary from state to state. Restricted to veterinarians, for welfare, not cosmetic, purposes in most states as of 2004.
  • Austria: Banned since 1st January, 2005 according to the "Bundestierschutzgesetz" §7.1
  • Belgium: Banned from 1st January, 2006
  • Brazil: Unrestricted
  • Denmark: Banned as of 1st June 1996, with exceptions for five gundog breeds
  • Finland: Banned as of 1st January 2001
  • France: Unrestricted
  • Germany: Banned as of 1st June 1998, with exceptions for working gundogs
  • Greece: Unrestricted
  • Ireland: Unrestricted for dogs, banned for horses unless deemed medically necessary by a veterinarian
  • Netherlands: Banned as of 1st September, 2001
  • New Zealand: As of March 2004, restricted to veterinarians, for welfare, not cosmetic, purposes. [1]
  • Norway: Banned as of 1st January 2000
  • Portugal: Unrestricted
  • Spain: Unrestricted
  • South Africa : Unrestricted
  • Sweden: Banned as of 1st January 1989
  • United Kingdom: Restricted to certified veterinarians, subject to a restrictive code of practice
  • USA: Unrestricted

In Europe, the cropping of ears is prohibited in all countries that have ratified the 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 docking.

Arguments against docking dogs' tails

Robert Wansborough argues in a 1996 paper [2] 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 tails.

Although each of these criticisms has its counterarguments [3] 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 flystrike, 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 rectal prolapse. [4]

External links

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