Let's go over some facts and opinions. We'll talk about the history of docking Rottweilers, legality, what the veterinary community thinks, communication through body language in a misunderstood breed and showing prospects.
I don't dock tails. I don't agree with mutilation for appearances. I know, that sounds a bit dramatic. But, I had to put it out there so you, the reader, can understand my perspective in providing the following information.
I get it. Some folks think docked dogs are cute. My first experience with the breed was with all docked dogs! It's what I was use to as well. And then I considered what was involved and whether it was necessary. I also spent lots of time with tailed Rottweilers. It took all of 5 minutes for me to change my tune.
This information is to help you form your own opinion. I have certainly met more than a few breeders and even Rottweiler owners who were so adamant about docking tails that even the most intelligent, educated, well to-do docking enthusiast couldn't be persuaded with science, historical facts and a sense of wrong/right. That is their choice. Owning a tailed or docked Rottweiler is your choice. Please read attentively while making your decision.
Where Does Docking Originate?
Did you hear it was to protect dogs from cattle? Wait...what about the BEST cattle breeds...like Boarder Collies? We don't dock Border Collies. In fact, ask your local ranchers - cattle don't really go for tails. They kick! Hard! Be more worried about your herding dog's face than his tail.
So, they were docked because Rottweilers use to pull heavy carts then, right? Wait...we don't dock draft horses who pull carriages. In fact, it's quite easy to design a cart that allows room for a tail. Historically, the earliest images of cart pulling Butcher's Dogs (Rottweilers) show us tailed dogs.
Another common speculation is that tails were docked to prevent mud and debris from collecting on the tail while working in wet conditions. Compacted cow feces and mud could irritate the skin and eventually cause sores on the tail. Considering the lack of veterinary care a few hundred years ago, supposedly docking the tail prevented such an issue. However, Rottweilers carry their tail up straight with the back or curled over in a half moon shape, not dragging on the ground.
All of the above reasons are historically inaccurate. So why, then, did docking become a common practice?
Taxes. How about that? In a time when dogs were just another animal the government set a standard - a docked dog ladled it as a working dog and allowed the owner to avoid a "tail tax" which was administered when the tails of animals including dogs and livestock alike were counted to determine the taxes owed.
I don't know about you, but my tax bill isn't determined by counting tails.
Why Has Docking Become Illegal in Recent Years?
If it was such a common practice for 200 years or so, why, all of a sudden, is it illegal in almost every first world country? Well, 100 years ago we couldn't dye, monitor, and map nerve behavior. Now that we can, we see that severing the nerves at the end of the spine (docking...) causes phantom limb pain and nerve damage as a result of neuroma (nerve tissue scar). Most owners won't observe these symptoms because dogs can't talk. Maybe he jumps up in his sleep at something behind him. Maybe he chases his numb. Maybe he just has off days. Maybe his owner doesn't observe any issues because they are not looking for them.
However, thanks to technological and veterinary advancements, the nerve damage done with docking is well documented in the veterinary community. Sure, you can find veterinarians to dock tails. After all, they get paid to do it. The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes ear cropping and tail docking of dogs when done solely for cosmetic purposes. The AVMA encourages the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards.
Does It Hurt?
I can't count how many times owners and breeders have justified that docking does not hurt the puppy and as such it is fine. Setting aside that the veterinary community disagrees and maintains that it does cause significant pain, let's discuss this. Have you ever broken anything? Had surgery? Scraped your knees? Did it hurt? Duh. Does it still hurt? Probably not as much.
Yes, puppies will nurse some time after docking. Does that mean the procedure didn't hurt? Of course not. It just means they don't have any choice. There's a searing, throbbing pain they can't understand, but their instincts are telling them to eat, be warm, and find mom. So they do what they must. Assuming that a puppy who nurses after being docked isn't in pain is naive, at best.
Cartilage, nerves, muscle, and blood vessels are severed during docking. At birth puppies can and do feel this happening. They scream and fight as much as they can. It's a horrible experience for everyone involved. But it looks cute. And, ya know, they start nursing soon after. So it's okay...
We know that litters where half the puppies are docked and half are left tailed develop at alarmingly uneven rates. The docked puppies need to fight off infection and heal from a significant injury and as such are slowed considerably in their development where their tailed siblings are injury free, strong, and grow rapidly. Otherwise identical litters (the same amount of puppies, mother's in the same physical health and being fed the same diet, the same age of puppies, etc) also develop at significantly different rates when comparing docked to tailed litters. Again, the docked puppies are at a major disadvantage. As with any significant injury (the lower portion of the spine being removed qualifies as a significant injury) the energy exerted to heal and fight infection takes away significantly from the energy needed to grow and develop.
But It's What We've Always Done, So It's Fine
Well, no, it's not what we've always done. It's just what we did for a while. And really...we use to Bloodlet (drain blood as a means of a medical cute), perform trepanation (hammering wholes into the skull as a form of surgery) and practice corpse medicine for hundreds of years (consuming portions of a dead corpse).
Just because we've done it in the past doesn't mean we didn't eventually figure out it was a horrible idea and find alternatives.
In The Media and Most Recent Images, Rottweilers are Docked. It's What People Know
Most people, us Rottie loving enthusiasts aside, associate Rottweilers with uncontrollable aggression. These viscous man-eating dogs - how could you ever own one? The breed has seen legislation restricting ownership and insurance coverage denial as a result of this misconception. Wow, how inaccurate is that? Why would someone think a Rottweiler was aggressive to that extreme? Perhaps the occasional poorly bred or poorly trained Rottweiler has performed an aggressive act. So has the occasional poorly bred or poorly trained weiner dog. And yes, we use this breed for protection and police work. They are highly intelligent, protective, and willing to work.
In truth, a Rottweiler is a confident, gentle giant who is well suited to a home with children. In fact, our FCI Breed Standard states, "Good natured, placid in basic disposition and fond of children, very devoted, obedient, biddable and eager to work."
Why the misunderstanding? Tails tell us if a dog is happy, afraid, nervous, excited, dominant, or submissive. When encountering a large, intimidating dog such as a Rottweiler, the unsuspecting passer-by would have no way from a reasonable distance to determine the demeanor of a Rottweiler if the dog had no tail to waive as if to say, "Oh HAI! Can I lick you? Will you pet me?" To error on the side of caution, most people avoid Rottweilers because they cannot read their body language. For those of us who spend a great deal of time with a Rottweiler, we are capable of reading their bodies with or without a tail. For the rest of the world, it's a mystery.
But I Want To Show My Rottweiler
AKC is one of less than a handful of registries that still permit tail docking. AKC is not a member of the FCI and as such does not adhere to their standard of regulating health clearances correct conformation or temperament testing. A docked puppy cannot be shown in any of the several dozen countries who adhere to the FCI Standard. A tailed Rottweiler in the US can be shown in all Sieger style shows and most AKC shows.