Why Are Herding Dogs Tails Docked?

Ask two people, “Why are herding dogs’ tails docked?” and you will get two entirely different answers. Decades ago, tail docking was done to avoid taxes and supposedly prevent rabies. The latter thinking is now outdated. Then there’s the myth that dog tails are docked to make them stronger.

Why are herding dogs tails docked? To prevent injury. When a dog is herding, their tails can get caught in bushes and branches or knock things over. The tail can tear and bleed.

In this article, I will be sharing the outcomes of my extensive research. This includes a list of pros and cons. I will explore the legal implications of tail docking today. Do you own a herding dog? Are you tossing up whether to dock your pet’s tail or not? By the end of this article, you will have enough information to make a more informed decision.

A Crash Course About Tail Docking

What is tail docking?

Tail docking is basically shortening a dog’s tail by removing part of it.

Why were tails docked?

In the early times in England, this procedure was done because dogs’ tails were taxed.

Other historical reasons for tail docking include strengthening the dog’s back, preventing bites during fights, and improving running speed.

Tail docking today

Today, although the practice has survived, there has been a decline in docking tails.

Veterinarians have begun to emphasize that this procedure can be painful for puppies.

Nowadays, tail docking is mainly done for cosmetic purposes, which, for dog owners, are not worth hurting the puppy for.

Animal welfare groups have a strong point of view. Their position is that tail docking leads to the unnecessary suffering of dogs and should only be performed for medical reasons.

Tail docking procedure

The surgical procedure to remove a dog’s tail is called a caudectomy.

Removal of a dog’s tail for cosmetic reasons is called “tail docking.”

Tail docking is generally not a surgical procedure.

It is done without anesthesia and is commonly performed by using only scissors or a rubber band. The procedure takes place when the puppy is between 3 and 5 days of age. Why so young? Tail docking takes advantage of the time before a dog’s tail cartilage is fully formed. After cutting the blood flow to the tail through banding, the tail is expected to fall off in three to five days.

Removal of a dog’s tail for medical reasons requires surgery.

It’s usually done to address injuries or infections to do with the tail.

Surgery is generally done for older dogs who have fully developed cartilage in their tail. This difference in age is then what makes tail amputation and tail docking different. Tail amputation refers mainly to the surgical procedures that are done for adult dogs.

Why Are Herding Dogs’ Tails Docked?

What are the advantages of tail docking?

As mentioned above, nowadays, tail docking is more commonly associated with cosmetic purposes. But, it is important to note that there are actually health benefits that herding dogs can get from the procedure.

Preventing injuries

The most obvious safety reason is to prevent future tail injuries.

For herding dogs, a lot of debris like bushes and tree branches can get stuck in their tails. Their tails can tear and bleeding, causing wounds on their tail. These can become infected with dirt and bacteria.

An overexcited herding dog can push over heavy objects with their wagging tails. If a heavy object lands on its tail, a fracture can result.

Aside from the terrain, such injuries can also be attributed to their interactions with other animals.

Some studies maintain there is still no statistically significant correlation between tail docking and decreased tail injuries.

In the video below, you’ll hear that since tail docking has been outlawed in Sweden, there’s been a massive increase in the number of tail injuries in breeds who tails were docked in the past.

Preventing illnesses

Dogs can also experience several medical conditions that can be prevented with tail docking. One example is myiasis. This the parasitic infestation of larva in a dog’s wounds, skin, or fur.

Tail docking helps avoid this illness by removing the part of the tail that is constantly exposed to a dog’s urine and fecal waste. By doing this, fewer flies are attracted to the dog, and no maggots get to infest it.

Standardizing tail sizes in breeds

If you are a herding dog breeder or like to show your herding dogs professionally, standardizing the length of your dog’s tail becomes more important. For example, Australian Shepherds (herding breed) have an “Official Standard of the Australian Shepherd General Appearance”. This guide states that the tail is docked or naturally bobbed.

Further, this guide states the “tail is straight, docked or naturally bobbed, not to exceed four inches in length.”

What are the disadvantages of tail docking?

Today, the question “Why are herding dogs tails docked” often leads to the idea that tail docking is cruel and unnecessary.

Below are some cons you can think over when making your decision to dock or not dock your herding dog’s tail.

Impairing communication

Dogs communicate using their tails.

Tail docking could run the risk of impairing the way your dog communicates its emotions like playfulness and fear to other dogs and even to you.

This may also result in other behavioral changes, especially if tail docking (in this case, tail amputation) is done when the dog is much older and has grown used to its tail.

Risking physical functions

Tail docking can affect the physical functions of a dog. For example, some breeds require the use of tails in doing activities like swimming and running.

Other effects that may occur long after the procedure also include disorganized nerve regrowth and even increased sensitivity.

These risks become even more crucial when we take into consideration that some pet owners dock their own dogs. This is very dangerous as it may be unhygienic for the dog, and the lack of medical experience could lead to more complications.

Managing animal pain

More importantly, even for veterinarians, perceiving animal pain takes a certain level of skill. Pain management, especially when it’s hard to tell if your dog is hurting, is one of the main reasons why dog owners today refrain from docking.

Is it Legal to Dock a Herding Dog’s Tail?

In 1992, The European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals was the first to state that the docking of tails for the purpose of aesthetics and other “non-curative purposes” is prohibited.

Currently, this convention is ratified by 15 of the 27 states in the European Union. In these areas, cosmetic tail docking operations are prohibited, and disobedience can lead to paying fines and imprisonment.

Docking a herding dog’s tail is unrestricted in the United States.

In countries like Canada, it may be allowed in some provinces while banned in others.

Generally, for those countries which prohibit tail docking, exceptions include procedures that will benefit the health of the dog. More importantly, in these countries, it is recommended that a veterinarian performs the operation for the dog’s safety and welfare.

Which Herding Dog Breeds Have Their Tails Docked?

Of course, not all dog breeds require and benefit from tail docking.
Herding dog breeds that usually have their tails docked are Rottweilers and Boxer Dogs.

Usually, herding dogs that work with heavier livestock benefit from tail docking, while those that work with “lighter” livestock don’t require it.

Examples of the former include heavier livestock dogs include Australian Shepherds (Aussies) and Corgis.

herding dogs tails docked
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi as an example of a herding breed typically have their tails docked

On the other hand, lighter livestock herding dogs like German Shepherd and Collies don’t need to have their tails docked for protection.

Definitely, answering “Why are herding dogs tails docked” also requires knowing basic information about the dogs’ breeds and how they work.

Related Questions

When is it too late to dock a herding dog’s tail?

Since a dog’s tail is usually docked without surgical procedure, it would be too late for tail docking 5 days (or 7 days tops) after it is born. For dogs that need tail docking when they are older, the procedure would then require sutures. 

How old can you dock a dog’s tail?

Typically, you can begin tail docking when the pup is 3 days old.

As mentioned above, dogs’ tails are commonly docked when they are between 3-5 days of age.

What are dog tail docking problems or complications?

Evidence claims that tail docking is painful to puppies.

This study cites that a puppy can feel as much pain as an adult dog even if its nervous system is still immature.

Tail docking is also said to cause acute pain when the puppy becomes older.

Other complications caused by the procedure are the degeneration of the tail and pelvic muscles and, consequently, the dog’s inability to control bowel movements. 

How long does a docked tail take to heal?

For tail docking done by banding, after 30 days, the scabs are gone, and the tail is beginning to look more healed. At this point, however, the tail would not be completely covered over yet.

As for docking that is done with surgical procedures, it is advised to remove the bandages 3-5 days after the procedure. Furthermore, you should go back to the vet after 5-7 days to have the sutures removed. 

Herding as pets, is this a good idea?

As pets, herding dogs make great pets. They are intelligent, loyal, and protective


Michelle loves enjoying the outdoors with her dogs. She grew in a big house near the beach with German Shepherds. Nowadays, Michelle has down-sized her dogs to poodles, proving small dogs can enjoy the outdoors too! Her dogs enjoy playing fetch, swimming, and long walks. Michelle and her dogs enjoy escaping the city limits to hike, camp, and swim.

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