Tail Docking in Dogs

Updated Mar. 26, 2024
A Doberman Pinscher with an undocked tail stands in a grassy field.

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What Is Tail Docking in Dogs?

Tail docking in dogs is amputation of part of a dog’s tail for cosmetic (appearance) reasons or to reflect the expected qualities of a specific breed. Please note that this article is not discussing tail amputation done for medical concerns later in life, such as for a tumor on the tail or after a severe tail injury.

Several breeds may be subjected to tail docking, including: 

Some breeds have naturally bobbed tails, such as Old English Sheepdogs or Australian Shepherds.

Tail docking is very painful for dogs. The procedure is normally done during the first five days of a puppy’s life without any anesthetic. This stems from the belief that the puppy may be too young to feel pain and that anesthesia is too dangerous for very young puppies.

Painful procedures done on extremely young puppies could negatively change how they process and perceive pain later in life. Dogs who experience pain shortly after birth may have heightened feelings of pain as adults.

Tail docking is becoming less common and is considered outdated. While some veterinarians may be willing to do the procedure, the American Veterinary Medical Association opposes cosmetic tail docking and recommends removing tail docking from breed standards.

Tail docking is very painful for dogs.

Currently, United States law does not ban tail docking. Some states have considered legislation to make the practice illegal. Many countries have banned tail docking, such as Australia and much of Europe, including the United Kingdom.

In accordance with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), PetMD does not recommend tail docking due to its negative effects on a dog’s welfare.

Anatomy of Dog Tails

The natural length of a dog’s tail varies based on breed. Dog tails have bones running to the end of the tail, usually between six and 23 vertebrae (bones) in all. The vertebrae are surrounded by muscles that give the tail its flexibility and mobility.

Nerves in the tail help to direct tail movements, as well as relay signals to the brain, including pain signals. There are also several major blood vessels supplying blood to the tail.

Tail docking in dogs occurs by cutting the tail with surgical scissors or a scalpel blade. It’s possible that the blade will cut through bone rather than through a joint between the two bones. When cutting, the blade goes through or between bones and also severs muscles, nerves, and blood vessels.

Why Would a Dog Need Tail Docking?

Most tail docking in dogs is done as a cosmetic procedure or to reflect expectations of a specific breed.

There’s no evidence that dogs with traditionally docked tails have a significant risk of injury to the tail that would justify routinely docking tails in their breed.

Based on current data, only about 500 dogs would need their tails docked to prevent one tail injury.

Risks and Complications of Tail Docking in Dogs

Risks of tail docking in dogs include:

  • Bleeding

  • Pain

  • Infection

Long-term effects include:

  • Heightened general sensitivity to pain

  • Sensitivity to touch and chronic pain in the tail

Cost of Tail Docking in Dogs

The cost of tail docking in dogs is typically around $20 per puppy, in addition to any exam fees. Because the procedure is cosmetic, insurance companies typically don’t cover tail docking.

Post-Op Care and Recovery for Tail Docking in Dogs

The tail stump generally heals in less than a week. If a dog is experiencing continued bleeding, swelling, redness, or pus, a veterinarian should be contacted immediately.

Why Tail Docking in Dogs Is Not Recommended

Tail docking in dogs is not recommended because of the pain it causes puppies and the long-term effects on their pain sensation. There’s not enough evidence that docking tails to prevent injury justifies putting puppies through this procedure.

As with any surgical procedure, docking tails carries the risk of infection, which can be dangerous for puppies.

PetMD is opposed to doing any cosmetic procedure that has no medical benefit for the animal.

Alternatives to Tail Docking in Dogs

If you want a pup with a short tail, avoid tail docking in dogs and consider adopting a dog from a breed with a naturally bobbed tail, such as an Australian Shepherd.

Tail Docking in Dogs FAQs

Is it cruel to dock a dog’s tail?

Docking a dog’s tail is banned in much of the world and causes a puppy unneeded pain.

Although what’s considered cruel is subjective, PetMD is opposed to docking a dog’s tail.

Are there dog breeds with naturally docked tails?

When a dog has a naturally docked tail, it's called a "bobtail". There are quite a few breeds who can naturally have bobtails, including Pembroke Welsh Corgis and Australian Shepherds.


Rhiannon Koehler, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Rhiannon Koehler, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Rhiannon Koehler is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Master of Public...


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