The Ethical Perceptions of Dog Tail Docking Amongst Owners and Veterinarians in South Carolina
Date of Award
Director of Thesis
Dr. April South
Dr. Charles Schumpert
This thesis aimed to discover, in depth, what tail docking of dogs is, why it is currently in practice, what the controversial opinions surrounding it are, how the opinions differ when taking into account the professionals of the field versus owners and breeders, and how it can be addressed in the future to treat our animals as humanely as possible.
Based on the surveying of South Carolinian owners, breeders, and veterinarians, it was discovered that dog tail-docking procedures are overwhelmingly used for cosmetic or aesthetic purposes, with the aim being to match breed standards. There was a disagreement amongst those surveyed on what constitutes a medical necessity to dock dogs’ tails and whether matching breed standards is a substantial reason to do so. Responses varied, with a significant number of breeders and owners indicating they supported the procedure when done to match breed standards, and others indicating they are against the procedure in all cases.
Veterinarians that were surveyed had split opinions when asked why they believe the procedure is chosen– either to match breed standards or to prevent injury in working dogs, with emphasis on aesthetic, medically unnecessary purposes being over-represented amongst the two reasons. However, they agreed on the mechanism of action for docking tails, being surgical, and the age at which it should be done, being within a week of birth. Most veterinarians disagreed with banning the procedure as it could lead to dangerous botching of docked tails at home by breeders or prevention of the procedure when suggested for hunting and working dogs.
Matching breed standards has been deemed an unnecessary medical reason for docking tails by the AVMA and by veterinarians (6). However, that has not stopped the procedure from being pursued. Next steps for addressing this ethical issue is enforcing a policy by kennel clubs that manage what a typical breed should look like that allows the breed to have their natural tails, with exceptions in cases of physical necessity– hunting and working dogs that can injure their tails on the job or breeds with predisposition to tail injuries. This comes at a cost too, however, as this is a preemptive measure with uncertainty on how many will actually injure their tails. In addition, the procedure can have negative side-effects, especially if performed improperly.
Limiting the procedure to only medically necessary instances, such as for dogs working in the armed forces or police forces, for hunting dogs, and for breeds that historically damage their tails, requires a definitive definition of what constitutes necessity, but would eliminate the procedure being done for showing purposes and to strictly match breed standards.
Steinberg, Hannah Ellen, "The Ethical Perceptions of Dog Tail Docking Amongst Owners and Veterinarians in South Carolina" (2022). Senior Theses. 573.