Tail docking has become a pretty big issue over the past decade. Many people see it as cosmetic surgery, and feel it is unnecessary, and therefore cruel. This sentiment is not restricted to tail docking, but also includes dewclaw removal, ear clipping, and de-clawing of cats.
I can only speak for the common procedures of the gun dog world, where it is not uncommon to see dogs with docked tails and dewclaws removed. People who hunt with dogs, or those who have field dogs, know that these procedures are done to prevent injury to the dog while in the field. I don’t want my dogs to suffer repeated injury because I failed to take the necessary precautions. Because of this, I feel that we as gun dog owners should do our best to educate the public and let people know that these are not simply cosmetic procedures, but rather preventative measures to avoid repeated injuries.
For the above reason, I have made a rather long reply to this post because I thought you might find it educational or useful if you are ever confronted by someone who opposes your view on tail docking and dewclaw removal in gun dogs.
I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect that this issue is a spin-off of the greater issue of cosmetic surgeries associated with gladiator and guarding breeds. Guarding breeds are often surgically altered to appear more intimidating, and gladiator breeds often have their ears completely removed to give them an advantage while fighting. The cosmetic surgery associated with guarding dogs gives no benefit to the dog and could be deemed as unnecessary. I believe that training and breeding dogs for fighting is barbaric, and anything used to aid this activity is barbaric by association. However, tail docking and dewclaw removal in gun dogs is not done for intimidation or fighting advantage. It is done to prevent the injury of the dog while in the field.
Now, I appreciate the people who oppose cosmetic dog surgery, they obviously love dogs, and their hearts are in the right place. The world needs more people who are concerned about the well being of animals (all animals). I am just a little disheartened that this particular issue is generally being seen with tunnel vision, and people are failing to ask if there is ever an appropriate situation to dock a tail or remove dewclaws. I would like people to understand that there is a real and ethical reason for choosing to dock tails and remove dewclaws in gun dogs. I don’t think that any gun dog owner feels good about having these procedures done, however, I know I feel better about having it done than I do about seeing my dog go through repeated injuries if I was to not have it done.
The idea that tail docking and dewclaw removal is “cruel”, became popularized in the US, and is gaining popularity in Canada as well. People are becoming so dead-set against tail docking and dewclaw removal that they are shunning vets that still perform these procedures. I know that this sentiment has become so commonplace that some areas of the US have outlawed tail docking and dewclaw removal, while others continue to shun vets until it becomes legislated. So many vets have stopped performing these procedures in order to maintain their reputation and business.
However, hunters and many vets know that we are not docking tails and removing dewclaws of hunting dogs because we think it looks good. These are hard-charging and enthusiastic working dogs that place hunting in higher regard than their own safety and comfort, and they work in rough unpredictable terrain. This makes hunting dogs particularly vulnerable to injury, which is statistically most common in dewclaws and tails. For this reason, many gun dog owners like to have dewclaws and tails removed/docked at an early age to reduce/prevent the chance of a future injury.
I know of a circumstance of a vet who regularly services gun dogs, who stopped performing tail docks and dewclaw removals for the sake of their business, however, this vet felt that this was actually the least ethical decision for well being of the dogs. The vet feels that these procedures should be performed on gun dogs in order to prevent future injury, however, the larger non-hunting community disagrees. So the vet has trained the local gun dog breeders to perform these procedures themselves.
I think it’s good that this community has found a loophole, but I would feel more comfortable getting a puppy that has had these procedures performed by a professional. So, I hope that the general dog-loving community starts to understand the non-cosmetic nature of these procedures so we can keep these procedures in the hands of professionals.
With all this being said, it sounds like I advocate for all gun dogs to have their tails docked and dewclaws removed. Well, I don’t! I have two gun dogs, and one of them still has all the pieces she had when she left the womb. I rescued a chocolate lab when she was 1.5 years old. As I said before, not all gun dogs need to have their tails docked, and labs fall into that category. So she still has 100% of her tail. She also still has her dewclaws because her previous owners did not have them removed. When I adopted her I had complete intentions on hunting with her, which I do, so my first thought was to get her dewclaws removed to prevent them from becoming injured while hunting. However, I decided against this.
Tail docking and dewclaw removal typically occur when the puppy is days old. It is done at this time because they heal fast and it causes them no persisting mental trauma. I felt that having her dewclaws removed as an adult dog posed too much risk. She was a fully grown active dog (not a blind immobile pink nosed puppy), which would extend her recovery time. Also, adult dogs are much more prone to suffering long-term mental anguish because of persistent physical pain. I felt that there might be a risk of her becoming sensitive to having these areas of her legs touched ever again, which is not worth the risk, particularly if you have other dogs or children.
To you gun-dog owners out there, I am quite certain that you will eventually be confronted with this issue, and I hope that this might help you explain that there is a good reason for tail docking and dewclaw removal.
To anyone who cares enough to have an opinion about such issues, please notice that this is not a two-sided issue, there are many. I encourage you to speak to people with opposing opinions but speak kindly and with an open mind. I’m not asking you to blindly accept the opposing view, but to critically think about it after knowing all the facts.
Most importantly, make your decision with the dog’s best interest in mind.
Fredericton – Germany.