Docking the Tail of a Dog

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This subject is governed by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Docking involves the removal of a puppy’s tail. The procedure is carried out without anaesthetic. Historically, the tails of certain breeds of dog have been docked in accordance with breed standards laid down by the Kennel Club. Those who support the practice maintain that it is beneficial to dogs in that it promotes hygiene and reduces the risk of injury. Opponents to this practice say that it is for cosmetic purposes only, causes suffering and removes an essential method by which Canines communicate. Tail Docking was rendered illegal by Parliament in 2006 other than in limited circumstances. Whilst we currently see dogs, which previously would have been docked, with complete tails it is likely that private individuals will continue to remove tails at home some times unaware of the unlawfulness of this practice. It is therefore likely that the subject of tail docking will come before the Courts on a regular basis.

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 it is unlawful to remove the whole or part of a dogs’ tail “otherwise than for medical treatment”. Removal of the tail by any procedure is unlawful.

There are two exceptions to this as follows :-

1. A tail can be docked for medical treatment. A vet can remove a dogs tail if it is in the interests of the animals welfare so to do.

2. An exception exists for working dogs. If a puppy is to be used as a working dog then its tail can be docked but only by a vet. The puppy must be at least 5 days old. In order for a dog to qualify as a working dog a vet must certify two conditions. The first is that the vet must have seen evidence that the dog is intended for use in connection with law enforcement, activities of her Majesty’s Armed Forces, the Emergency Rescue Services, lawful pest control or the lawful shooting of animals. The owner of the animal or a representative of that person must provide a signed statement to the vet confirming that the puppy is intended to be used in such a fashion.

Only certain breeds of dogs can be docked. The vet does have sight of the parentage of the puppy and be satisfied that it is of a specified type. The breeds specified are contained in the Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007. In England a vet may dock Spaniels, Terriers and Hunt Point Retrievers of any combination. The latter would include a Weimaraner but would not for instance include a Boxer or a Rottweiler, such dogs can only be docked.

Where illegal docking takes place it is the person responsible for the docking that the Crown must identify. This will undoubtedly present difficulties for the Crown as it would be unusual for the owner of a docked dog to be responsible for the removal of its tail. The docking is normally carried out by the breeder long before the dog reaches the owner.

There is no offence of possessing a docked dog even if the removal of its tail was illegal. However the Act prohibits the showing of a docked dog at any public event unless the dog is shown to demonstrate its working ability.

The English Kennel Club has amended the breed standard in consequence of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 therefore there is no longer any incentive to show a docked dog at a competition.

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