Tail Docking Practices, Procedure, and Why Not to Dock

One well known breeder asks you to picture your ideal dog. In this case I'll ask you to think of him or her with your children or your pets. Maybe he's doing protection work with you or she is a pro at agility. Perhaps he lays under your feet while you watch TV or she sleeps on the bed with you. He loves you and would do anything for you; she follows you everywhere and is always happy to see. Now, while picturing this dog how much did the lack of or presence of a tail really matter?

The Procedure

Pretty straight forward. A puppy who is between 3-5 days (5 days being the oldest that is recommended) is separated from momma and held down by an assistant or his breeder. A decent or experienced vet will shave the area of the tail to be cut and stitched. A hack or inexperienced vet may not shave the tail. The puppy is not put under anaesthesia because he is way too young to handle that and may not awaken. Surgical scissors are used to cut through skin, muscle tissue, nerve and cartilage to sever the tail. He feels all of this; don't kid yourself. 

It's a common misconception that this is not difficult or painful for the puppies. The only people who actually believe this are ignorant of how pain works, breeders justifying what they are doing, or veterinarians hoping to be paid to perform the procedure. Newborn puppies do feel this procedure and experience a great deal of distress and pain from the actual tail removal as well as the time and energy needed to heal thereafter. It's just biology (and common sense). Of course, his memory of the procedure is not long lasting because his ability to form long term memories has not yet developed. Dogs also do not dote on pain the way humans tend to. They move on and focus on what is next needed to survive or at least be comfortable. As such, many puppies will fall asleep or nurse after their tail is removed.

The remaining skin is then sewn back together. An experienced vet will use traditional sutures where an inexperienced one may actually use dissolvable stitches. Of course, mother dog will spend countless hours licking the area to clean the wound and encourage bowl movements so dissolvable stitches will dissolve within days if not hours.

Rubber bands wrapped around the tail or simply cutting the tails off with scissors should be avoided, period. It should go without say and yet many people still do these things so I've mentioned it here.

Recovery

The puppy now spends the next couple of weeks recovering - as you would from the loss of a finger. He will likely experience some "phantom limb" pain and sensations during recovery and for the rest of his life. His growth will be stunted--as seen when only some puppies in a litter are docked. The docked puppies grow significantly slower than their non-docked litter mates. This is because the puppies who have not had their tails removed do not have to spend a huge portion of their energy recovering from the procedure and healing. Rather, their energy goes to growing and developing an immune system.

An infection can occur which may result in death. If caught soon enough the infection can be treated with multiple sterile washes done daily by a prescription solution or an iodine scrub as recommended by the overseeing veterinarian. Because the puppy is too small to fight off the infection on his own antibiotics will probably be prescribed. Whether he suffers an infection or heals normally he may have nerve damage near his "stub."

Balance

Dogs use their tails in the same way cats do - for balance. Much like a rudder on a boat the tail is used to shift and steer the weight as it is balanced in movement. Without a tail dogs make due as would a 3 legged dog. They are never 100% of what they would have been with their tail (or 4th leg)!

Legality

An imported dog, Escobar, sports a perfect tail!

Most countries (at least those in the 1st world who have obtained a status where they can devote time, money, and manpower to writing legislation that protects animals--some areas of the world have a few other things going on) have made the docking of tails (and cropping of ears) illegal when done for cosmetic reasons.

This is for one of two reasons. The first is that it is inhumane and potentially deadly. But the second is that countries which adhere to ADRK standards recognize that the dogs are better balanced, run more efficiently, and work in a more streamlined manner when their tails are kept intact. As such, to prevent the mutilation of a puppy who might have otherwise grown into a very promising prospect of the Rottweiler breed they have made a docked tail a disqualification within the breed (outside of the U.S.).

There are currently a handful of States in America where docking of tails for anything other than a medical necessity is in the process of being made illegal. Such laws are also written for cattle and horses in areas building up to the same restrictions on dogs.

Why Dock?

Various historical accounts of tail docking tell us it was done to prevent the tail from being dirtied, stepped on, caught in equipment, etc. There is currently no true work or use related reason to dock the tails on Rottweilers.

However, through mass media and decades of docking tails the appearance of a Rottweiler in America is synonymous with a docked tail. As such breeders may continue to choose to dock the tails on puppies they breed to encourage puppy sales or meet the expectations of the homes in which they place their puppies.

There are certainly a number of reasons why, provided all the medical proof, a person would still choose to purchase a docked puppy. One might be preference for the appearance. It's "cute." Another might be concern for their personal belongings in the home...tails knock things off of tables and such. And another still might be prospective show potential. The docked look is currently the preferred look for AKC shows. This is not the case in all other show outlets.

The AKC Standard calls for a docked tail. Individual judges have awarded and continue to award tailed dogs high honors and titles within the AKC circuit. However, it is still difficult to show a tailed Rottweiler when faced with judges who prefer the docked tail the Standard calls for.

Why Not Dock?

(Mercedes X Escobar) "Fiona" rockin' her expressive tail.

I've covered the pain, the risks, the long recovery and stunted growth. I've also discussed balance and movement. I'll add here potential show success from the Non-AKC prospective. ADRK/FCI style shows prefer a tailed dog. If your goal is Seiger or German style conformation than you'll likely have greater success with a tailed dog. Some of the clubs who host these shows downright forbid docked tails.

If you're working with your Rottweiler in Agility, Obedience, Protection, Search and Rescue, Dock Diving, Rally, or any other athletic dog sport (which your Rottweiler will most likely love every single second of) there is again the consideration of the benefit your Rottweiler's tail will have for him. Have you ever almost fallen and swung your arms to counter act your weight too keep you upright? You have, haven't you? C'mon, was there ice involved? There's usually ice involved when I'm about to fall. Okay...that's what his tail does! It swings, it shifts his weight, it counteracts a poorly made movement and compliments a graceful and harmonious movement. So, if he's going to compete in a sport he just might need that tail.

(Mercedes X Escobar) "RJ" sportin' his balancing tail.

Maybe your Rottweiler isn't a show dog or an athlete. Maybe he just chills at home. So why find a breeder who doesn't dock tails? How about his body language and expressions? Dogs use their tails to tell you when they are unsure, afraid, or ready to attack. How nice is that? They're so considerate to warn you like that. And when you're more than a few feet away that tail is the easiest way to read their signs. They can also use that tail to let you know how much they want your sandwich, how badly they really really want to get in the car to go bye-bye with you, or how much they missed you while you were gone!

In an already misunderstood breed a tail gives newcomers a chance to read your dogs enthusiasm and welcoming gestures before getting too close. Or his warnings that he thinks if they would just Stay Away that would be just fabulous.

For more about why I choose not to dock and some insight from a well respected veterinarian on the topic check out this interview we did with Dogster: Is Cropping Dogs' Ears and Docking Their Tails Cruel? We Ask the Experts