Why Do Some Dog Breeds Have Their Tails Cut Off?

One method of tail docking is performed when a puppy is between 2 and 5 days old. The breeder uses surgical scissors to cut off the puppy’s tail without anesthetic.

I was playing with one of my favorite neighborhood dogs the other day.  He is a beautiful Boxer with the sweetest disposition and is the patriarch of the neighborhood dogs.  He has not been neutered, but he has no tail.  I asked his owner why he would have one of the procedures done and not the other, and why he chose tail docking.  His response was that the breeder had done it before he adopted his dog.  He wasn’t even offered the option.  I have heard this before, from a client who owns a Cockapoo.  She said she wasn’t even aware that there was a choice until after she had picked up her puppy.  This made me wonder why some dog breeds have their tails cut off?  What is the reasoning behind the procedure and how it benefits the dog?

I decided to do some research and came up with some surprising information.  I had always assumed that was supposed to have some kind of medical benefit, but why?  Here is what I discovered:

I am neither a veterinarian nor a medical professional. The information in this article has been researched and sourced at the end of the post. All medical issues or questions regarding your pet’s health or symptoms should always be brought to the attention of your veterinarian for clarification, assessment, advice and treatment.

What is Tail Docking and how is it done?

Tail Docking, also known as Tail Bobbing or Tail Cutting, is the process of removing most of a dog’s tail at the base.  There are 3 methods of removal. 

The first is performed by the breeder.  A strong rubber tie is wrapped around the tail.  This cuts off the circulation from the body to the tail.  The part of the tail beyond the tie is expected to fall off after a few days.  This has to be performed when the puppy is between 2 and 5 days old.

Some dog breeds have their tails cut off (Tail Docking) because they are working dogs, but most have it done for aesthetic reasons. Many owners don't even know  how the tail is removed or that Tail Docking is an option. Photo of a Cockapoo with a docked tail.
Some dog breeds have their tails cut off (Tail Docking) because they are working dogs, but most have it done for aesthetic reasons. Many owners don’t even know how the tail is removed or that Tail Docking is an option.

The second method, also performed by a breeder when the puppy is between 2 and 5 days old, is performed by cutting off the puppy’s tail using surgical scissors. Neither of these two processes involve the use of anesthetic and the puppies are awake.  Because of the circulation to the tail at this age, stitches are not usually necessary. 

The third method involves a veterinarian.  This is done when the dog is over 8 weeks old. The vet will place the puppy under anesthetic and use a scalpel to remove the tail.  The skin at the base of the tail is pulled over the open wound and held together with stitches.

According to the RSPCA and many other studies, any of these processes cause considerable pain at the time of removal and can result in long term pain as well as associated medical, emotional and social issues.

In 1996 The University of Queensland did a study of 50 puppies.  This was included in their findings:

“The behaviour of 50 puppies of traditionally docked breeds was recorded during and after the procedure of tail docking at the University of Queensland Companion Animal Veterinary Hospital. The behaviours were recorded at the time of the procedure and then in 5 second intervals for the first minute followed by 10 second intervals until the pup settled to sleep. All puppies vocalised intensely (‘shrieking’) at the time of amputation of the tail, averaging 24 shrieks (range of 5 to 33).”

Read more here:  https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:712177

History of Tail Docking

Tail docking began many centuries ago.  Dogs were not pets in the sense that they are today.  Although still considered companions, most were working dogs. They were used for herding on farms or as hunting dogs.  On farms, dogs would round up cattle or sheep. Because of their close proximity to the larger animals as well as their exposure to machinery, it was felt that their tails were subject to injury. It was thought that removing the tail was a preventative measure to ensure the dog’s safety.

A hunting dog had the potential to engage in fights with other animals.  It was felt that the tail provided a disadvantage as the opponent had something to grab on to, leaving the dog vulnerable. In both cases there was also the concern that if these dogs got too dirty, there could be issues with infection. In later years, when employed as police or guard dogs, this same principle of the dog being vulnerable applied, and the tails were removed for these working dogs.

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Current Reasons for Tail Docking:

For working dogs in the military, on the police force or on farms, the reason for tail docking continues to be for the safety of the dog.  Many dogs who do not work also have their tails docked.  This is often for aesthetic reasons.  The owners feel the dog looks better without a tail or that this provides a look that is familiar to the breed.  Tail docking, for some breeds, has been a requirement for some show dogs to be allowed to compete. 

There is also the belief that it is required.  Many people who are purchasing dogs from breeders are not even aware that tail docking is an option.  The breeders perform the docking and sell the pups already altered.  The owners, in a number of cases, are not even aware of the reasoning behind the removal of the tail, the process by which it is removed nor the potential hazards associated with it.

Which Breeds Most Commonly Dock Tails?

Only certain breeds customarily have their tails removed.  These include:  Dobermans, Rottweilers, Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Schnauzers and Poodles.  The American Kennel Club has identified over 60 breeds that are known to have docked tails.


In most areas of Canada and the US, tail docking is not illegal.  In many countries the procedure is illegal, banned or, at the very least, must be performed by a veterinarian and a medical or other suitable reason is required before the surgery is performed.

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