Tail Docking In Dogs

Tail docking in dogs is no longer a legal practice in the UK (in fact, it's been illegal since April 2007), but docking puppy tails used to be commonplace among working breeds and show dogs alike.

Understand what docking is, why breeders docked tails, and what circumstances allow the act of tail docking today.

Photo of a golden cocker spaniel with a docked tail, standing in the garden on a frosty morning.Tail docking in dogs is now illegal, thankfully!

What Is Tail Docking?

In the excitement of hunting, Cocker Spaniel tails can become snagged on brambles or prickly shrubs, and they can easily snap or tear.

Cockers are also very enthusiastic tail-waggers, banging their tails unmercifully against walls and many other immovable objects, and this is another way Cocker's tails can become broken or damaged.

Because of this, breeders and vets would automatically dock puppies' tails.

In simple terms, tail docking is the removal of a puppy's tail.

Tail Docking in Dogs: Cruel or Necessary Evil?

Cutting off a puppy's tail sounds rather harsh and cruel, yet, it was a regular practice on the pretence of future health and hygiene for the dog.

Cocker spaniel puppies less than seven days old (usually between 2 and 5 days) would have their tails removed without the use of anaesthetic.

The vets and breeders reassured owners that puppies didn't feel anything because their nervous system had not yet fully developed in the tail, meaning the puppies wouldn't feel any pain when they had their tail snipped.

The risk of infection would need to be carefully managed for a few days until the wound healed.

The puppy's balance would be affected, but the pup would adjust to that within a few days.

This snip was known as prophylactic docking, a procedure used in anticipation of future damage.

Thankfully, Cocker Spaniel tail docking is now an illegal practice in the UK; however, there are exceptions.

If a dog's intact tail is regularly damaged, either accidentally whilst hunting or is diseased, a qualified vet can legally remove the dog's tail. This procedure is known as therapeutic docking.

In an older dog, its nervous system would already be developed, which would mean that the dog would need to be anaesthetised so it wouldn't feel any pain when he had his tail removed.

Tail Docking in Dogs: Automatic Removal

Sundrenched golden cocker spaniel standing in the garden.Max is still beautiful, even if he doesn't have his tail!

My dog has a docked tail, but that's because the breeder automatically had it removed when he was one week old, without my knowing about it.

As I said earlier, docking puppy tails used to be a tradition until 2007, and although I love Max the way he is, I would have loved for him to keep his little tail.

I'm sure Max would have loved to hang on to his tail too!

There are many arguments for and against tail docking in dogs.

Visitors regularly ask many questions raising these arguments to this website, so I've set out a selection of them below.

Read on, and you'll discover how controversial the subject of tail docking in dogs has been.

Thank goodness this process is now primarily illegal!

Tail Docking in Dogs - Yes or No?

Should I Have My Cocker Spaniel's Tail Docked?

On the 2nd of February 2014, I was given a 5 week old golden brown cocker spaniel whose tail is intact; it hasn't been clipped yet.

Can I leave it as it is, or should I have it removed?

Is there a health risk to docking puppy tails? Is it recommended, or should I keep his puppy tail long?

Sorry for all the questions, but I will be speaking with my vet in a few days when he goes for his first comprehensive health visit, and I would like to be well-versed on this topic.

So, in essence, is Cocker Spaniel tail docking recommended or not?

Answered by Pauline (Website Owner)

Hi there!

There is certainly no health risk to your dog by leaving his beautiful long tail as it is, so you've no worries there.

Tail docking in dogs and puppies is very common, and breeders remove their puppy's tails within the first week of birth.

This is mainly tradition, as it helps to create the standard cocker 'look', especially in the show cocker.

However, where the cocker spaniel is used in the field (hunting, shooting, etc.) and rummaging amongst the undergrowth, there is a risk that the tail gets snagged or badly damaged.

Working dogs with tails intact very often return home with their tail damaged and bleeding, and if it's damaged often enough, the dog may need to have his tail docked.

For this reason, most working Cocker Spaniels have their tails docked when they're around 5 days old.

A dog with a short stumpy tail has a downside as the dog may be at a slight disadvantage compared to other dogs.

For example, amongst other things, dogs use their tail to communicate how they feel, and by observing it, another dog (or human) can tell whether or not the animal is friendly, fearful, or threatening/aggressive, suggesting another dog (or human) should stay away.

A docked tail isn't a very effective rudder in the water, nor can it help with balance as much as a longer tail would do.

There is a small risk of infection at the tip of the tail once it's removed.

At the end of the day, the decision is yours. If your cocker spaniel isn't going to be used for hunting purposes; he's simply going to be family a pet, I wouldn't dock his tail.

There are many cocker spaniels with full tails, and personally, I love the look and wish my Cocker Spaniel still had his little wagging tail!

I know what I would do, but, as I said, the decision is yours.

Let's see what our other visitors think, shall we?

Visitor Comments: Tail Docking in Dogs

Tail Docking for Working Cocker Spaniel

Tail Docking in Dogs - Yes or No?
By: Rob

I'm talking about working dogs with docked tails, not show dogs.

I understand how everyone feels about this. However, I actually hunt with my field-bred English cocker spaniels, and these dogs hunt in dense brush and fields for upland game birds for food.

I've been hunting with working Cockers Spaniels for over 40 years. Their tails need to be docked to accomplish what they've been bred for.

I have seen dogs that have not had their tails docked, and it isn't pretty.

The great outdoors beat the living daylights out of these dogs, and especially their tails.

I believe that showing sporting dogs that have been engineered for better coats and away from their original purpose as working dogs is wrong.

If you want a companion dog, then please don't acquire a sporting dog. There are many other breeds to choose from.

Cocker Spaniel Tails Are Crazy!

Their tails are crazy
By: Dan

We've just been forced to have our 2-year-old cocker's tail docked because of repeated injuries and the significant risk of infection and necrosis.

His tail was beautiful but absolutely crazy. He'd wag it so hard that it would hit walls, table legs and other objects with incredible force.

He had a bald spot on it from about 6 months old where he kept knocking it, but it never seemed to worry him, and the vet was happy to leave it as it was.

However, in the past couple of months, we noticed blood trails around the house, which we quickly saw was coming from a small split across the centre of the bald part of his tail.

The vet cleaned and dressed it, and eventually, after repeated checking and redressing, it seemed to have healed. Within 2 days of taking the dressing off, it had split again.

We repeated this process four times before our vet said we had to consider docking, as she was worried about infection and necrosis developing. So, we had him docked last week.

Their tails are beautiful, and we hadn't even considered docking until this situation arose, but we ended up having to go down that route for medical reasons. The tip of the tail, when they are excited, is like a whip, and the crack it makes when it hits the wall, or a piece of furniture is sickening.

I'm pleased to say the operation went well, and he's recovering. His balance is a bit off, but we are told it will come back as he readjusts.

I just wanted to point out that docking can sometimes be necessary with this breed due to the tremendous energy in their tails and the resulting injuries that can occur.

In this case, as with all decisions regarding our dogs, we were guided by an experienced and trusted vet. Aesthetically, we loved the tail, but the dog's health and wellbeing had to come first.

Comment from Pauline

You're so right Dan, about the health and wellbeing of your dog being more important than aesthetics. A point very well made.

Thanks for posting!

Docking Is Barbaric!

Tail docking-Yes or No?
By: Bobbie

I have owned two beautiful cocker spaniels; the first was ten years old when I adopted him, and he had a whole beautiful tail.

The second was sixteen months old when I adopted her, but her tail was already docked.

I think that it is barbaric to dock a cocker spaniel's tail unnecessarily.

I loved both my dogs equally. I have read the argument for the working cocker spaniels injuring their tail while hunting, but it still seems cruel to intervene with nature.

If I ever "buy" a cocker spaniel instead of adopting, I will request that their tails not be docked.

Cavaliers Don't Have Docked Tails

By: Sandy

I don't understand why a Cocker Spaniel has to bed docked when King Charles Cavalier does not have a docked tail? After all, they're both spaniels.

Don't Cut Cocker Spaniel Tails!

By: Anonymous

Cocker Spaniel's tails are beautiful. They communicate using their tail, cut it off, and it's like removing their tongue.

Leave Their Tails Long!

By: Jenny

We adopted our undocked English Cocker Spaniel when he was 2-3 years old. He'd been abandoned, so we had no history on him.

We love his long tail and think every non-working cocker should have its tail left intact.

I can't imagine Ritz Carlton without his beautiful appendage.

Breeders Wanted

By: Alan

I'm specifically looking for a working cocker spaniel, but I don't want his tail docked.

I've yet to find a breeder who will leave the puppy's tail intact. I'm shocked at this because the more I read on this forum, the more I realise that so many people are against it.

If anybody knows of any breeders who may help, please could you reply, and we can swap details.

Many thanks.


Undocked Puppies
By: Kathryn

I, too, am looking for a breeder that doesn't dock tails.

Does anyone know of any?

Tail Docking in Dogs - It's A 'No' From Me!

By: Anonymous

When I bought my lovely blue roan English cocker girl, I was so pleased with her beautiful un-docked tail.

Rosie has been my companion for 5 years now and, to my horror, has fractured her tail twice!

My older girl is docked, no problems.

HRH Prince George's English Cocker Spaniel

By: Anonymous

Today I was looking at the July '16 photos of the little Prince's black dog, Lupo. I wondered if the dog's tail had been docked and if this custom is still practised in England but unfortunately, I couldn't find out.

A darling dog and an adorable 3 year Prince, they make a charming couple. 

I have no doubt the breed will once again become very fashionable here and abroad. 

The Prince very obviously loves his spaniel!


Tail Docking
By: Polly

I think he has his tail.

Tail docking is now illegal in the UK; however, vets are allowed to use their discretion.

Don't Dock Cocker Tails!

By: Brad

We chose not to have our puppy's tail docked, and now it's a beautiful plume. Our Cocker uses his tail very impressively, and we are thankful we did not take it from him.

Stop Tail Docking in Dogs!

By: Anonymous

Why on earth do we still tolerate this abhorrent act? Superficial, ignorant people are, I guess, the answer.

I would like to send these idiots to jail.

Tail Docking in Dogs

By: Sam's Mom

We adopted our Cocker Spaniel Sam from a rescue organization when he was 2 years old. I love that he has his tail.

It's what makes him unique!

Why Would You Want To Cut Off Your Dog's Tail?

By: Jessica

All dogs use their tails to communicate with other dogs and with us. Why would anyone want to cut a pet cocker's tail off?

I'm Against Tail Docking in Dogs

By: Jenny

Hi, please don't dock your spaniel's tail, they look beautiful with their tails, and it's cruel.

In South Africa, it is against the law to dock dogs' tails.

Summary: Tail Docking in Dogs

Well, it seems that we are primarily in agreement!

There is no justification nowadays for having your Cocker Spaniel's tail docked, and it's evident that lots of people are coming round to that view, thankfully.

I guess the only justification for tail docking is in working dogs, after severe accidental damage, or where a dog's tail is frequently damaged and is failing to heal.

Source: BASC - The British Association for Shooting & Conservation