Why Do They Dock Dog Tails?

(Last Updated On: June 2, 2022)

If you know a thing or two about dogs, you probably know that when a dog has a little nubbin for a tail it might not have come that way (unless it’s a natural bobtail). With a tad more context you know the way breeders go about giving dogs little nubbins is through “docking.” Generally it’s understood that tail docking is almost purely cosmetic today. Was that always the case? Why do they dock dog tails?

What Is Docking?

Just so we’re more familiar with the lexicon, docking is removing part of an animal’s tail. Sometimes that includes the ears, though people often call that cropping. As a sidebar, “cropping” also refers to an old punishment dating back to the 14th century where people would cut off ears. Nice.

Anyway, tail docking is done to many domesticated animals; including sheep, pigs, cows, and horses. In dogs, docking is commonly done in one of two ways. The more common means is by tying off the tail when the puppy is first born. This cuts off the blood supply and the tail just falls off. More accurately the tail rots off. This is typically done without anesthesia. Alternatively, there’s just going at it with a scalpel. 

Why Did They Do It?

The practice of docking dog tails dates back hundreds of years, for reasons that people believed were functional at the time. Cosmetic tail docking didn’t roll around until more recently. Rules in the United States for tail docking were formalized in the mid-1950s.

Tail docking cropped up independently all over the role, dating back to even Ancient Rome. Supposedly this was done to prevent dogs from getting rabies (tail docking would be done in conjunction with removing part of the tongue for this purpose). Tails have also been docked throughout history if the dog owner was too poor to hunt game–particularly in 17th century England. This is because dogs were taxed unless they were considered working dogs, and working dogs were designated so by being docked. By the time the dog tax was repealed, docked tails were normalized for many breeds (like pointers), so people just kind of kept doing it.

Apparently 17th century Puritans in America thought dog tails should be docked because they were possessed by demons.

Nowadays tails of working dogs may be docked if they’re too long to prevent injury. Guard dogs may have their tails docked as well to prevent the tail from being grabbed in a fight. This claim was championed by the American Sentinel K9, whose income does come from dogs whose tails have been docked. Otherwise it’s largely cosmetic.

Modern Tail Docking

Now that we know a lot more about dog behavior and physiology, tail docking is largely considered poor for your canine’s health. It’s been shown that docking  leads to aggression and changes how dogs run. Docking can lead to chronic health issues and the tail injuries working dogs may face are exceedingly rare. In some countries the process is illegal–for example Australia banned it in 2004. Scotland banned it in 2006, and tails are largely undocked for show dogs within the UK. Only two states in the US have any restrictions on the docking of dog tails–they’re Maryland and Pennsylvania. The US has no federal restrictions on the procedure–though the American Veterinary Medical Association opposes tail docking. The American Animal Hospital Associated opposes docking as well.

The American Kennel Club finds both ear cropping and tail docking as acceptable, and while it doesn’t require dogs be docked one way or the other, they do recommend that some breeds be severely penalized for an undocked tail.


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About Kyler 727 Articles
Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.