The topic of tail docking is a controversial one. Proponents on either side of the argument are loudly vocal and firmly maintain their stance in defending their chosen side of the argument. The views range from unnecessary mutilation of gundogs for those against tail docking to it being a necessity to ensure a dog’s continued safety from those who are pro docking the dog’s tails.
Tail docking is the elective removal of part or whole of a non-damaged tail. Most veterinarian associations regard it as an unnecessary cosmetic procedure. Typically one-third of a Vizsla’s tail is docked to prevent a tail injury during sport. Five USA States have laws regarding tail docking.
The truth about tail docking is not as straight forward as one would expect. Each party continues to launch passionate arguments to persuade the reader to their side of the story. Both sides of the argument support their rationale with scientific research. This article aims to present an unbiased presentation of both views.
About The Breed
A well-trained well-bred Vizsla is a consummate charmer. Of Hungarian origin, these gorgeous red-brown dogs are pointers bred to find and notify their owners of game (usually birds) hiding in the underbrush. The American Kennel Club classifies the breed as a sporting or gundog breed.
The vizslas’ energy and drive lead them to eagerly leap into and force their way through all manner of thick, thorny, and generally impenetrable underbrush. They are bred to work in the field, forest, and water conditions.
A Wagging Tail
The wildly wagging tail that never stops and the characteristic bounding zigs zags as they run through the hunting grounds are evidence of the high-energy and indefatigable good nature of the Vizsla. The dogs won’t stop until their owner’s recall brings them back or until the dog finds something and alerts to the potential game by holding point. This wagging tail frequently “whips” anything it comes in contact with. The whip-like wagging may cause damage to the tail itself.
Vizsla Tail Conformation
The flexible tail is long and thin, supported by impressive musculature that allows the dog to wag the tail so fast it morphs into a blur of motion, a hazard to bare legs and items on low tables! The first two-thirds of the tail is slightly thicker with more muscle and fat for protection, while the remaining third of the dog’s tail narrows to a much thinner, less fatty part of the tail.
The American Kennel Club prefers the tail to be docked at one third (two-thirds of the length remaining) such that the tail remains sufficiently long enough to reach the back of the stifle joint when held vertically. The natural tail carriage should be horizontal, neither curling above the spine nor drooping downward with the tail positioned below the croup level.
Clarification Of Terminology Surrounding Docking
Docking: is the elective removal of a non-damaged tail. It is usually done surgically or with a constricting band.
Surgical amputation: is the surgical removal of a non-viable tail. The tail may be non-viable due to an infection, cancer, injury, or deformity.
Traumatic amputation: is the removal of a part or whole of a traumatically injured tail, e.g., a broken tail due to a car running over it and where the tail is irreparable. The tail may be amputated at the accident site or later removed by a veterinarian due to a non-healing injury.
Bob-tail: Some dog breeds have genetically docked or bobbed tails, e.g., Pembroke welsh corgi or English Bulldog. These dogs are born with a natural “stumpy” short tail. Vizslas and other pointer breeds ARE NOT bob-tail breeds.
The Legality Of Tail Docking
Elective docking of dogs’ tails has seen declining popularity from both the public and the various veterinary bodies across the globe. 83% to 92% of veterinarians regard docking as an unnecessary cosmetic procedure.
Non-USA Countries Regulation Of Tail Docking In Dogs
Cosmetic tail docking is illegal or highly regulated in most European Union countries, South Africa, The Virgin island, Australia, Iceland, Norward, Israel, and Switzerland. The United Kingdom requires working dog owners to apply for exemption from the Law Banning Tail docking. They need a veterinary certificate to prove that tail docking has been performed humanely by the veterinarian for the dog’s benefit. Dog’s with electively docked tails may not be presented at any event where they are presented to the public that required the people to pay an entrance fee.
USA Regulation Of Tail Docking In Dogs
Two States, Pennsylvania and Maryland, impose restrictions on elective tail docking in dogs, while three States, Alaska, Louisiana, and West Virginia, regulate the procedural protocol surround tail docking.
Maryland prohibits all non-veterinary personnel from performing tail docking. Tail docking may only be performed under anesthesia by a veterinarian. The veterinarian will be legally accountable for justifying the necessity and appropriateness of the procedure. Many veterinarians will not perform elective tail docking on pet dogs.
Pennsylvania allows owners to dock their own puppies’ tails if they are between 0 and 5 days old. Only veterinarians may perform the procedure on dogs older than five days old and only if the surgery is completed under general anesthetic. Dogs undergoing elective tail docking may only be done using general anesthesia and must be at least 12 weeks old. Elective tail docking of dogs between 5 days and 12 weeks old is prohibited; these dogs may only undergo surgical amputation of the whole or part of the tail if deemed medically necessary. A state-licensed veterinarian may legally perform a surgical amputation.
West Virginia, Alaska, and Louisiana
West Virginia, Alaska, and Louisiana are more lenient regarding tail docking of dogs. There are no legal limitations or restrictions on the age of the dog or person performing the procedure. These states instead insist on a general mandate that the docking is done to ensure appropriate hygiene protocol is observed and minimize the animal’s pain and distress.
Rationale For Docking A Vizsla’s Tail
- Injury prophylaxis: Early amputation of the last third of a Vizsla’s tail is intended to prevent future tail injuries from occurring. Proponents of tail docking argue that Vizsla’s have an increased risk of injury when running through forests and fields. The end of their tail is thin, long, and unprotected by long fur or a layer of muscle and fat.
- Reduction in pain: Anecdotal reports suggest that dogs who suffer a tail trauma later in life undergo more suffering than puppies who undergo early amputation of the tail. Puppies are rarely supplied with analgesics (pain control medication) when an owner or breeder performs the procedure.
- It is not painful: Puppy nervous systems are immature at birth, and it is assumed that they do not feel excessive pain. However, it is challenging to obtain objective data on humans’ pain levels, never mind dogs!
Rationale Against Docking A Vizsla’s Tail
- Unnecessary cosmetic surgery: Many breeders want to achieve the standard breed appearance as docked dogs are typically easier to rehome and score higher in the show arena. However, dogs homed to non-sporting homes are at no more risk of a tail injury than a typical pet of another breed. There is no justification for docking pet vizsla’s tails.
- It is NOT an effective tail injury prophylaxis: Only 1.7% of all pointers and setter suffer a tail injury. The tail injury is usually a non-serious laceration to the tail tip that does not require veterinary intervention. The highest incidence of tail injuries is commonly seen in whippets and greyhounds and amongst the sporting-dog group’s spaniels.
- Medical complications: There may be medical complications associated with the procedure, e.g., infection, blood loss, anesthesia complications and risks, neuroma, etc.
- Pain: Analgesics are rarely given to puppies during the procedure. It has been shown that acute pain surrounding the perinatal period can permanently change the dog’s physiological pain response. Behavioral and physiological markers in older dogs indicate an intense pain response surrounding the tail’s surgical amputation.
- Chronic behavioral and health issues: The tail is not an irrelevant structure and allows the dog to easily communicate between dogs and facilitates dog-human interactions. It provides a measure of counterbalance and stability when the dog turns sharply, swims, or jumps. It may serve a useful purpose in strengthening the perineal muscles to aid in defecation and the prevention of perineal hernias.
Tail docking, not performed for medical reasons, continues to be regarded as a cosmetic surgery by most veterinary associations. Tail docking may be indicated for tail-related injury prophylaxis in sporting dogs and kennelled dogs.
Further empirical objective evidence is required to support the arguments for either enforcing a total ban on elective tail docking or validating the necessity of elective tail docking. However, with declining public acceptance, the cost of further research may not be justified as fewer and fewer individuals choose to electively amputate a part or whole of their dog’s tail. In the future, the question may be moot and the argument purely theoretical.