Tail docking or cropping is the act of intentionally removing part of an animals tail. This practice, depending on the type of animal, is often done by a licensed vet, a breeder, or by a farmer and can be done in various ways ranging from cutting to banding and burning. Because I am a dog breeder I am going to focus on tail docking in dogs. For canines tail docking is originally thought to have started way back in the Roman Empire, and the most popular reason was to prevent working and hunting dogs from being hurt by the animals they were hunting or by their long tails being caught in the underbrush they were traveling through. In more modern times tail docking was made popular by people thinking it made certain breeds more attractive when they had shorter tails and also during the 1950's rules for pedigree dog shows established standards requiring docked tails for particular breeds. For example, a Cocker Spaniel would be required to have a docked tail and would not be "show worthy" if they had their naturally long tail.
The debate over whether tail docking is ethical has a long history, for a time it was totally acceptable to have a dog with a docked tail, people fully expected certain breeds to automatically have their tails docked when born, and some of that is still true to this day, but I have found that more people have shifted to the other side and prefer their dog's tails naturally long and not docked. I'm not sure that everyone adopting a dog with a docked tail is fully aware of what a painful procedure it is. I think most people like to believe that their dog, when first born, was taken to the vet where it was given medication and the tail was removed with minimal pain, but the truth is most breeders do it themselves with a knife or tool similar to a nail clippers and the puppy is not given any type of pain medicine. The tail is cut off, the puppy screams, and a powder called 'blood stop' is put on the wound to stop the bleeding. If done wrong it can cause infections, bone can be exposed, and it can later lead to future issues throughout the dogs life.
Having dogs and other animals with tails my entire life I fully realize that the tail is something much more than a cosmetic feature, it is a way for the animal to communicate their emotions with you and other animals. If a dog is scared where does the tail go-right between their legs. If a dog is happy and excited, where does the tail go-all over the place and they usually wag it as hard as they can to express how excited they are. If a dog spots something they aren't sure of or that they want to point out, where does the tail go-usually straight out in a 'pointed' position. If a female is in heat and she is put in with a male, where does the tail go- up and to the side to tell him she's ready to breed. Studies have also shown that even though a dog may be wagging their tail, the direction and pattern of that wag may express different emotions and signals that we, not being dogs, don't understand but others of their kind do.
In the early 90's in the United Kingdom the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons ruled tail docking to be unethical unless it was done for medically necessary reasons, not simply cosmetic. Vets found guilty of doing tail docking for cosmetic purposes face very high fines and potential time in jail. In 1987 Norway banned tail docking, in 2006 it was banned in England, Scotland, and Wales and other countries that have banned the practice include Australia, Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Sweden amongst many others. I wonder if America will ever change its breed standards and also participate in the tail docking ban?
We raise Cockapoo puppies and do not dock their tails. A Cockapoo is a cross between a Cocker Spaniel and Poodle and Cockapoos are born with naturally long tails. Cocker Spaniels have a breed standard and are known to have docked tails and I have found that people go either way with Poodles, some breeders automatically dock tails and don't think a Poodle is 'right' without it being done while others leave them natural. We sometimes raise Cocker Spaniels or Poodle puppies when we want new ones for breeding and do not dock either breeds tails. We recently just had a litter of Cocker Spaniel puppies, we were hoping for females but got Males, so we sold them with naturally long tails and were happy to see that people accepted them for who they are, tails and all. I do on occasion have people call me inquiring about a puppy and tell me that they don't want one if it doesn't have a docked tail and I am fine with that, I respect their opinion, but they will have to go elsewhere for a puppy because I will not do it. If having a docked tail is something you are adamant about when adopting a puppy please be sure to ask the breeder about it before you put down a deposit on a puppy. In the past I have had people reserve a puppy and then ask me later if I would dock its tail and the answer will always be no, even if they offer to pay for it. I have found customers that were unsure about their puppies having a long tail now really appreciate that we did not dock them and I get a lot of comments from people thanking us for not participating in the practice. If you have a dog, or a cat, or another animal that has a long tail sit down and pay attention to how they use their tail and you will see it is much more than a cosmetic feature.
Mini Poodle with a docked tail (not our dog)