Tail Docking and Dewclaw Removal

Would you cut off a body part for beauty? Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and is most certainly dependent on the specific society making the judgment and their current trends and norms, it is an ever-changing, dramatically variable standard. What is beautiful today will be ugly in the blink of a century and can be quite unfashionable in as little as a year’s time.


Just a snip here and a crunch there and she'd be perfect...

Just a snip here and a crunch there and she’d be perfect…

Historically people have done some strange things for beauty.


The pursuit of beauty has a natural place in the order of the human lifecycle, and I’m not bashing that, nor am I saying that I don’t thoroughly enjoy the naturally beautiful things this world has to offer. I do.


But I draw a hard line when it comes to permanently and painfully altering an animal for no reason other than a perceived notion of beauty.


I am talking specifically about amputation.


I do not believe in amputating functional, healthy body parts from newborn puppies (especially without any type of pain medication or a sterile environment). I feel very strongly against amputation for aesthetic purposes and wish we’d have come further as a society by now.


Other countries have outlawed this practice and how I feel about that politically is the topic for a different blog altogether 😉


Commonly Amputated Doggy Parts include dewclaws, waggley-tails and half of each ear. It is kind of creepy when you really think about it… could you imagine someone cutting off half their outer ear cartilage in some bizarre effort to be more attractive?


Dewclaws were originally removed because the occasional dog (generally game flushers and hunting dogs) would catch the little doggie-thumb on a bramble, slip and tear the joint. This is quite painful and a century ago would require amputation as treatment. Infection was rampant and sometimes dogs even died. Furthermore, amputations used to be done without anesthesia and they were quite painful and could change the nature of a dog entirely, even cause aggression.


Sportsmen took to amputating dewclaws from newborn pups as a way to avoid this potential accident; however the likelihood of it actually happening was small enough in number to make compulsory amputation completely unnecessary.


Today the average dog lives to be a companion and has almost zero chance of injuring any toes. Also we have appropriate veterinary care and medications that will limit the impact of such an injury. People today are amputating healthy dog body parts because dog breeding has mostly turned into a ridiculous beauty contest where dogs are bred for pageants and anything is acceptable to win that title. Competitors will do all kinds of permanent and temporary things to alter their dog(s) to include using tons of hair product, make-up, hair dye, amputations and gluing body parts together. This is all done in order to win the coveted doggy crown.


Clipping dewclaws makes the leg look “smoother”.


The breeder slices off the dewclaws when the puppies are a few days old. The breeder uses a sharp pair of scissors or nail clippers. No pain medication is given. Honestly it would be far too dangerous to use pain medication on a baby this young and it is questionable as to whether or not it would even help. So no one bothers. I’ve never actually seen a breeder have a veterinarian remove dewclaws in a sterile environment with appropriate surgical equipment.


Are Dewclaws Necessary?


Some might argue that the dewclaw is just some “left-over” body part from evolution. If you happen to believe in that hogwash, fine. Have you had your appendix removed lately? The appendix is also thought (by some) to be a useless and “extra” body part.


Besides, the dewclaw is not just some accident. Just because some people couldn’t figure out and/or agree on what they are used for doesn’t mean they have no purpose and function. Sometimes people can be so arrogant! “If we can’t see a use for it then it certainly must be useless! Cut it off.”


Dewclaws are functional “thumbs” on dogs. Obviously they don’t help the dog pick things up but they do help in balance and activities that require a dog have better grip. These kinds of useful functions include climbing steep hills and especially pulling them up and over obstacles. A dog needs his dewclaws to help him climb out of water onto a bank or climb out of water onto ice/frozen surface. Without dewclaws to help grip a dog that falls through a frozen-over pond can quickly succumb to the cold and die.


I see puppies use their dewclaws all the time in non-life-threatening situations too; when they are learning to climb up over the large porch step, for example, to get into the house. Those little dewclaws are hard at work, helping the pup not slide her feet too wide/far apart to get enough leverage to haul her fat little puppy self onto the deck.


Dewclaws are very helpful when puppies are first learning to walk. Little guys will really slip and slide on slick surfaces. Many breeders raise their litters out on concrete and tile or other slick, easy to disinfect surfaces. Raising puppies on soft, grippy surfaces (which is much better for their bone development) requires a whole lot of cleaning. That isn’t possible when you’re running a large kennel. Puppies with dewclaws on those flat surfaces can use them to balance their weight and keep their legs from sliding too far apart. Puppies without dew claws can develop serious growth and bone deformities from being raised on hard surfaces. (This is especially true when the puppies are being fed a commercial dog food that isn’t top grade and supplemented with real foods and/or their mother’s milk isn’t being produced by high quality food fed to her.)


Puppy Dog Tails are so very important for communication in the dog world. A wagging tail is indicative of a dog that is interested in interaction with a person or another dog (whether that interaction is friendly or not is something you have to learn from other body signals as well as the height of the tail itself). The tail helps us know what a dog is feeling. There are many studies that show a dog with a docked tail has significant disadvantages in the social world and may be more prone to aggression and inappropriate social behavior as a result.


A tail up held high is an excited and happy dog. A tail that is held mid-way is a comfortable, neutral dog and a dog with a tail tucked low and/or between the legs is a dog that is fearful or anxious. Tails are something I pay very close attention to when assessing the temperament and learning abilities of my puppies. I can’t imagine not having them there to tell me what my little guys are feeling.


Tails also act as rudders (aid in steering) for swimming. Some dogs swim a significant amount. Also you may have an emergency situation where the dog needs to be able to swim in water with a current. You’ll want that tail and those dew claws on then! Anyone ever go camping? See any lovely streams or rivers along the way?


Tails are also very important for balance while running, changing direction and weaving around objects. I have personally seen how important tails are for balance when a dog is climbing and/or walking along precarious surfaces.


A Tail Tax? Ok, seriously the government will tax anything.


Tail docking has a sketchy history. Many working breeds have had tails without any history of complications so mostly I think docking goes back to people thinking it would help and then it becoming the accepted custom. I’ve read that there was a tax in the UK for all working dogs with tails. And we all know that taxes are evil 😉


I have no idea why they like docked tails in some breeds and both the poodle and the cocker have artificially docked tails.


There is a gene for a naturally bobbed tail. Why don’t breeders simply breed in this gene and make their line naturally bobbed? There are several breeds that have the gene. Well breeding a dog outside the family tree is just downright abhorrent to these folks and selecting a dog from a different breed for a desirable trait and then crossing back to the desired breed would (make a lot of sense)… no, it would be sacrilege in the world of “pure bred show dogs”.

Tails are docked by the breeder (in nearly all cases) with a rubber band. At around three days of age the breeder ties a rubber band around the tail very tightly. This cuts the circulation to the tail off and the tail dies and falls off. This takes some time to actually happen so the puppies have to crawl about in the meantime with a tie squeezing the heck out of their little tails. Let’s not pretend this doesn’t hurt. I’m sick of hearing that it doesn’t hurt. Of course it hurts.


Worse still is that many breeders don’t dock tails at three days of age as is expected to be as humane as possible. They will do it much later when they get an “order” for a docked tail. They’ll use a sharp pair of wire cutters and snip off the tail of a 6 week old puppy without any hesitation if that is what it takes to sell a dog. It sounds atrocious because it is. I met a breeder just last week who was rolling her eyes about the laws in her state requiring tails to be docked by 3 days of age. Not everyone wants them docked so she waits until people request the deed. A cute little puppy was hopping around an x-pen and she had a docked tail. She was 8 weeks old and had just been docked the week prior. I shivered all over thinking about how hard you’d have to squeeze to cut through the connection between vertebrae to sever the tail like that. It is amazing the puppies don’t bleed to death or get a deadly infection from such an awful experience. I’d be willing to bet that many do.


And the breeder I spoke to was correct in the fact that the law was pointless and powerless. There would be no way to know or prove that a person was docking tails inappropriately unless officials received video evidence or the breeder did this publicly. And the punishment for this would be minimal if there were any. Courts don’t have time for animal welfare except in the most extreme of cases. The laws meant to prevent bad breeding practices are generally worthless.


Ear Cropping is horrendous. I don’t care what the history is there; it is just awful and needs to stop. Period. Docked tails and removed thumbs make me sad but more abhorrent is the practice of cropping ears on puppies. I strongly disagree with cropped ears on dogs. And even though that is done under anesthesia and on older puppies it still is really unnecessary, unnatural and unhealthy in all cases. Moreover it is incredibly painful. The ears are highly vascular and innervated and when I was a vet nurse years ago it made me cringe to assist with such an unnecessary operation. It really seems barbaric when you realize it doesn’t have any purpose other than to “look pretty”. And the puppies cry so much when they wake up from surgery. It is truly awful.


Who is Amputating?


There are two types of professional dog breeder: those for the beauty pageants and those that breed dogs “with jobs”. Some breeders have both “champion” beauty dogs and dogs with jobs (sporting, hunting, etc.) and their practices can go anywhere between the two norms for those groups.


Those professional breeders that are focused on their championships are certainly going to amputate and likely without a second thought. Their focus is on earning those points and titles (and you can’t get those unless you fork over large sums of money and ensure your dogs are carbon copies of those described in the handbook).


Private breeders (or those breeding companion-only animals) seem to do it because “it is what you do”. Most private breeders snip off the digit (and tails) without any understanding as to why.


And you have that other kind of professional dog breeder; the purposeful dog breeder. Those that breed dogs for a job like hunting, sporting, herding and service or therapy work. I have seen few breeders in this category that still remove dewclaws and tails. Most of the dogs in these groups that have bobbed tails have been bred to have naturally bobbed tails, and those that dock the pups that come out with tails anyway are seriously frowned on if they are “caught”-and there are DNA tests that will verify.


Bottom Line is that I don’t perform amputations for any reason. I’ve had a lot of emails recently about bobbing tails and removing dewclaws so I thought I’d post this to make my position clear. I’m sure you can tell I really don’t like these practices, so please don’t ask me to do them. I will not (not for any amount of money) put a puppy through an unnecessary amputation. I encourage any of you that think you prefer the look of the short tail to find a breed that has a naturally bobbed tail or consider keeping the sweet tail on your to-be puppy.

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