You may have seen some English Springer Spaniels with docked tails and wondered if this practice is necessary or if it is a cruel thing to do to your dog. Those short tails you see on many of the working spaniel breeds are not their natural tail length and result from docking. Docking was originally a Roman health practice, but is it still necessary for today’s English Springer Spaniels?
English Springer Spaniels are often docked if they are working gun dogs. Many vets no longer dock English Springer Spaniels as it is unnecessary and, in some countries, illegal. If your spaniel requires docking, it is usually done when only a few days old, or for medical reasons if older.
When buying or homing an English Springer Spaniel, one of the things you may notice is their short, rather stubby tail. Like many hunting breeds, English Springer Spaniels may have had their tails docked if they were working gundogs. However, not all breeders choose to dock their spaniels, which is illegal in some countries.
Should English Springer Spaniels be Docked?
In the US, gundog breeds like English Springer Spaniels are routinely docked as puppies, as this may be beneficial for a working dog’s health if their tail cannot get caught and injured while out hunting. These friendly dogs with long, silky ears have long fringed tails to match, but you might be more used to seeing them with short, cropped tails.
The practice of docking a hunting dog’s tail is an ancient one, dating back to Roman times when it was believed that docking a hunting animal’s tail would be better for their health. If you are buying an English Springer Spaniel puppy or rehoming an adult rescue dog, they may already have been docked by the breeder.
Tail docking in spaniels is done at a very young age – before the puppy is five days old – to prevent excessive trauma as the tail bones are still ‘soft,’ and the procedure is done with a pair of surgical scissors. People believe that by performing the surgery so young, the puppy won’t remember the procedure and be traumatized by it.
However, this procedure is very controversial, even among gundog breeders. In many parts of the world, docking has been made illegal and is considered an act of animal cruelty, and you can be prosecuted for it.
How Are English Springer Spaniels Docked?
Docking is a surgical procedure that involves removing your dog’s tail when he is just a few days old. The procedure is known as a caudectomy, which can be done for various reasons.
If the breeder chooses to dock his English Springer Spaniels, the caudectomy is usually performed when the pups are between three and five days old. However, in the US, some people may choose to do this at a later stage.
When the docking is done young, the pups are generally only treated with a local anesthetic. This is used to numb the pup’s tail where it will be cut. The process should be uncomplicated, and the soft tail should be cut with surgical scissors. At such a young age, your pup will probably be unlikely to need any specific aftercare; however, with older spaniels, there will be some considerations.
It is cheaper to dock a pup under five days – usually $10-$20, while older spaniels will need more complicated surgery and care, and the cost will be higher.
Aftercare for Docked English Springer Spaniels
If you have to get your English Springer Spaniel docked at an older age – usually due to medical reasons – the process does become a little more complex.
Older dogs will likely need to be put under a general anesthetic for the procedure. Your vet monitors your dog during and after the operation to ensure their vital signs stay healthy.
After the incision, the docked tail will need to be stitched up, and you will need to keep the wound clean. Depending on your dog and the surgery, your vet may bandage the docked tail and provide your spaniel with a plastic funnel collar to stop him from licking at the wound.
The docked tail needs to be kept clean to prevent any chance of infection, and this may entail replacing bandages regularly. Your English Springer Spaniel will need post-operative check-ups, which your vet will explain. After two weeks, any remaining stitches will be snipped free.
Reasons For Docking English Springer Spaniels
Some dog breeds like the English Springer Spaniel were bred to hunt, and by docking the tails, their owners ensured that their dogs’ tails did not get broken or injured while chasing down prey. In ancient Roman times, there was a belief that removing some of a dog’s tail would prevent rabies.
Other reasons for docking can be to keep a breed looking a particular way – breeders may want to keep their dogs’ appearance matching the kennel club standards. Many gundog breeders insist that the process is not barbaric but necessary, although this is in contention.
Sometimes spaniels can get an injury or a tumor that requires medical removal of their tail for their health. Some genetic risks like extra skin folds or a propensity towards cancer may require your spaniel to be docked as a preventative measure.
This elective procedure is something your vet will discuss with you as dogs use their tails to communicate, and many people nowadays are against docking on general principles.
Reasons Against Docking English Springer Spaniels
These days, many veterinarians believe that unless a dog requires docking for medical reasons, their tails should be left unaltered. While the primary reason for docking is to prevent injury while hunting, animal experts are increasingly against the idea of docking for working and aesthetic reasons.
In the UK, Australia, and several other countries, it is illegal to dock your puppy’s tail and falls under animal abuse legislation. Even in the US, the move has been away from docking, and several veterinary practices will no longer perform the procedure.
The procedure can have complications, and dogs who have been docked can develop painful sites and have problems passing a bowel movement due to nerve damage. If the tail becomes infected, this can cause further damage and unnecessary pain for your spaniel. Some dogs are very troubled by the docked area and will try to bite and chew their docked tail.
Unless there is a specific, necessary medical reason for docking your English Springer Spaniel’s tail, it is not required, even for a working gundog. Although some breeders still perform caudectomies on their pups, the practice is falling out of favor. The original reasons spaniels were first docked are now seen as out-of-date and can cause unnecessary pain.