CDB Submission - Part One

Submission to DEFRA



Phil Alder
Branch F
Animal Welfare Division
DEFRA, Room 606
1A Page Street
London SW1P 4PQ

April 26, 2002

Dear Mr. Alder

Animal Welfare Bill

Further to your letter of 2nd January, we have pleasure in submitting the following response to your consultation:

1 The Council of Docked Breeds

1.1 The Council of Docked Breeds (CDB) was founded in 1991 as the successor to an earlier body, the Council for Docked Breeds, which was previously involved in negotiation with Government and other parties over amendments to legislation concerned with the docking of dogs' tails. The CDB has over 18,000 members who breed, own or support the customarily docked breeds.

1.2 The CDB's objective is to maintain the option of breeders to have their whelps legally docked. The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 requires that docking is carried out by a registered veterinary surgeon.

1.3 The CDB, through its contacts within the veterinary profession, provides advice to members on how they may have their litters docked, where necessary by placing them in contact with supportive registered veterinary surgeons. It represents the interests of breeders and owners of docked breeds, and where necessary it assists with the defence of lay persons or veterinarians who are unjustly accused in relation to legislation or regulations concerned with the docking of dogs' tails.

2 Consolidation

2.1 The CDB supports the consolidation of existing legislation which relates to animal welfare. There have been numerous amendments to welfare legislation since 1911, and there is a strong case for consolidating the present legislation within a single Act. Moreover, we accept the case for some modernisation where it is clearly necessary, for example in relation to the references to draught animals highlighted in the consultation letter.

2.2 However, the CDB does not support a Bill into which are drawn a range of more or less contentious issues which may command the support of certain animal welfare or animal rights bodies, but which will attract strong opposition from those who breed, own or handle animals for enjoyment, sport, companionship or commercial purposes.

2.3 One such issue is the docking of tails, which has been raised in the consultation letter and to which the remainder of this submission now turns.

3 Tail Docking

3.1 Docking is the customary or prophylactic shortening of the tail. The procedure is undertaken both in the case of farm animals and in dogs. The CDB concerns itself solely with the latter.

3.2 Docking of dogs' tails has been undertaken for many hundreds of years, and certainly since specific dogs have been line bred in order to perform specialised tasks, for example those related to hunting and herding. Sixteenth century illustrations quite clearly show docked spaniel-type dogs being used for hunting.

3.3 Prior to 1st July 1993 docking was normally carried out by experienced breeders. However, on that date an amendment to the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 came into force making the docking of dogs' tails a veterinary surgical procedure. Thus all but registered veterinary surgeons were subsequently prevented from docking dogs' tails.

3.4 Docking may be carried out only by a registered veterinary surgeon, without any required anaesthesia, before a puppy's eyes are open, which normally occurs at 10-14 days of life. The earlier a puppy is docked the better, and many vets like to carry out the procedure before 3 days of age. However, in some small breeds it can be left until the pups have reached 5 days of age. Docking can involve a surgical excision or the placing of a specialised rubber band at the required length on the tail. The blood supply to the end of the tail is thus constricted, and the end of the tail comes away within about three days.

3.5 A veterinary surgeon, through his professional training and experience, will dock by the most efficient means, using aseptic technique and with the minimum of stress to the pups. It is also expected that the veterinary surgeon will competently advise the client on post-operative care. Untoward complications are rare.

3.6 In some breeds it is customary to remove a small part of the tail. In others, a greater portion is removed, leaving a relatively short tail.

3.7 It may be noted that the removal of dew claws (the dog's vestigial fifth claw) which is
generally undertaken at the same time as docking, remains outside the scope of the Veterinary Surgeons Act, and thus may still be carried out by lay persons. This is despite the widely held view that dew claw removal is a more serious and significant procedure than docking.

4 Reasons for Docking

4.1 Dogs are docked for the avoidance of future tail injury, for reasons of hygiene and to maintain breed standards. Newly-born whelps are customarily docked at the age of 48-96 hours, and must in any case be docked before their eyes are open. Removal of any part of the tail after this age constitutes amputation, which may only be carried out for therapeutic purposes.

4.2 Injury is sustained by working dogs whilst they are hunting for game. It is caused through repetitive beating of the tail against brushwood, bramble, cover crops or other undergrowth. Injury may range from the stripping of hair from the skin, through inflammation, lesions and bleeding to broken tails. The requirement to dock working gundogs and terriers is strongly supported by representative bodies for field sports. Those breeds which have been bred to hunt game through thick vegetation or to hunt below ground, and which have tail characteristics and actions which predispose them to injury, are customarily docked.

4.3 Tail injury is painful and healing is protracted. Moreover, once a dog has sustained a tail injury, it may be so affected by the discomfort it experiences when working that it declines to enter cover or hunt as effectively as it formerly did. The dog's value as a working animal or sporting companion is therefore reduced.

4.4 In the few months after the prohibition on 'breeder docking' in 1993 some gundog breeders left litters undocked, either specifically in order to try the undocked option, or by default because they had not approached a veterinary surgeon during the critical period up to 96 hours from whelping. When this cohort of gundogs became active in the field some 12-18 months later, the CDB was made aware of many cases of tail injury. The breeders concerned now ensure that their litters are all docked.

4.5 It is sometimes argued by those opposed to docking that tail injury in customarily docked breeds is rarely encountered by the veterinary profession, and that the prevention of such injury cannot therefore be said to constitute a good reason to dock. This argument ignores the fact that working dogs of the customarily docked breeds are almost exclusively docked as a matter of routine, thus preventing tail injury from occurring in the first instance. However, in cases where undocked dogs are worked in the field, tail injury to those individuals is commonplace. Such injury is from time to time reported to the CDB and there appears at Appendix 1 a number of UK case studies of tail injury to undocked dogs of the customarily docked breeds. Such injury ranges from slight abrasion, hair loss and bleeding to chronic injury which necessitates amputation of the tail.

4.6 Tail injury in long-tailed specimens of customarily docked breeds is not merely confined to those dogs which are used in the hunting or shooting field. The CDB is aware of many cases of injury sustained in domestic situations where dogs are injured whilst at exercise or in the home. The tails of many customarily docked breeds lack any protective coat. They are little more than skin-covered bone, and split easily, especially when accompanied by an exuberant tail action. Frequently, owners of such dogs contact the CDB helpline, sometimes in a very distressed state, to seek guidance on what may be done.

4.7 Tail injury is apparent in a variety of working situations. One of these is the use of dogs by the Police and HM Customs and Excise for drugs detection. Spaniels are particularly suited to this work because of their keen scenting abilities. They are drawn mainly from rescue centres, and because of this they are usually undocked. The CDB has received several reports from Customs and Excise handlers of injury to English Springer Spaniels working in this field. One case which received wide publicity in 1999 was that of Ben, a 14 month old long-tailed English Springer Spaniel working with Staffordshire Police as a drugs sniffer dog. Ben suffered from constant tail injury and his tail eventually had to be amputated. The dog's enthusiasm for his work was affected by the experience, and after a promising career, Ben had to be retired.

4.8 In cases where injury may be chronic but at a low level, our experience is that veterinary treatment is by and large unsuccessful. Where injury is severe, the only real option is amputation. This is far more traumatic than the simple process of docking a newly-born pup.

4.9 Nor is it just dogs themselves which are injured. The CDB is aware of cases in which long-tailed dogs, most especially Boxers, have injured young children, sometimes quite badly. In some cases dogs have been disposed of as a result of their injuring young children through the 'whiplash' action of their undocked tails.

4.10 Long-haired or thick-coated breeds may be docked to prevent the hair around the base of the tail becoming fouled and soiled by faeces. Even with constant grooming and washing such fouling is unpleasant, and if allowed to get out of hand it can lead to severe problems of hygiene, including fly-strike and consequent maggot infestation. These can be greatly reduced or eliminated altogether by docking. It is in order to prevent soiling and fly-strike that lambs' tails are docked.

4.11 The Midland Old English Sheepdog Club points out that the heavy undercoat would make undocked dogs of this customarily docked breed difficult both to groom and keep clean. Fly-strike is seen on some of the best kept dogs, but more so in rescued animals where a tail is present.

4.12 Maintenance of the quality of their animals against long-established breed standards is of great importance to breeders of customarily docked breeds. Such dogs have been selected for many generations for specific qualities of build and conformation, but not for tail length, shape or carriage. The CDB is aware that UK breed clubs have recently been asked to determine standards for long tails in customarily docked breeds. However, many find themselves unable to do so simply because of the wide range of genetic variation which exists in dogs which are, in all other respects, alike in build and conformation.

4.13 Even in countries where docking has been prohibited for some years there remains a range of tail characteristics, and experienced breeders maintain that many years after a prohibition on docking there would, in all probability, still be no standardisation of tails within the customarily docked breeds.

5 Tail injury where docking is prohibited

5.1 A prohibition on docking was introduced in Sweden on 1st January 1989. This was followed by a large increase in tail injuries amongst working gundogs. Owing to the nature of shooting sports in Sweden, where individual hunters work their own dogs through extensive areas of forest and brush, the Hunt-Point-Retrieve (HPR) breeds are popular, and most especially the German short- and wire-haired pointer breeds. Given the level of injuries to the affected breeds, the Swedish Kennel Club petitioned the Statens Jordbruksverk (Ministry of Agriculture) with a request that docking should be permitted in the HPR breeds which they represented (German short- and wire-haired pointer, Weimaraner, Hungarian Vizsla, Brittany).

5.2 In 1992 the Swedish German Pointer club published the results of a survey which was carried out during the autumns of 1990 and 1991. The researcher (Gunilla Strejffert) followed the history of the 53 litters of German Pointers (short- and wire-haired) which were registered during 1989. Fifty of these were undocked, and three, having been born in 1988, were docked. The dogs involved were used for hunting on average 2-3 days a week during the two seasons, mainly in woodland. In 1990 responses were received for 44 litters, and the following year for 26 litters. These comprised 191 individuals in 1990, of which 179 were still alive in 1991.

5.3 It was found that in 1990, 72 individuals or 38% of the group had suffered tail injuries. In 1991 the number of tail injured individuals had increased to 92, corresponding to 51% of the group. Expressed in terms of the population born in 1989, the survey indicated that the frequency of tail injury amounted to some 35% by 1991. The report concluded: "In other words, every third German Pointer with a long tail has suffered from more or less serious tail injuries." (See Appendix 2).

5.4 The tail injuries included bleeding and damaged tail tips (light, medium and severe injuries, especially to the last 10cm of tail), infected and inflamed tails, lameness injury and 'water tail', and broken tails. The degree of injury was related to the 'liveliness of the dog and the tail' (tail action), the extent to which the dog had hunted, and the nature of the terrain over which it had hunted. Seven of the investigated group required amputation of the tail.

5.5 The researcher recorded strong views from the owners and breeders of the dogs concerned supporting the reinstatement of tail docking.

6 The current popularity of tail docking in the customarily docked breeds

6.1 The great majority of pedigree litters bred from the customarily docked breeds continue to be docked, and most supporters of those breeds do not wish this situation to change. In 2002, out of 5,391 dogs exhibited at Crufts in classes for customarily docked breeds, just 54 animals were shown with full tails, 1%of the total."

6.2 It is quite clear from the most cursory examination of the docked breed classes at any of the major Championship dog shows, that serious breeders simply do not want to abandon tail docking. Many have privately indicated to the CDB that were docking to end, they would no longer wish to continue breeding, showing and keeping their current breeds. Thus a prohibition on docking would see a very substantial reduction in the registrations of customarily docked breeds and the resultant loss of a many experienced and dedicated breeders.

6.3 It is a sad fact that little value is attached to undocked dogs of the customarily docked breeds. The CDB is regularly contacted by Breed Rescue groups (individuals who accept and re-home unwanted dogs of particular breeds) with regard to puppies which have been left undocked because a casual breeder did not have access to a veterinarian prepared to dock the tails. These dogs have subsequently been disposed of or turned out on the streets because the breeders are unable to find anyone prepared to buy them. Such cases are of course to be deplored. However, they do serve to underline the very clear fact that the majority of owners, whether of show dogs or domestic pets, continue to wish their dogs to conform to conventional breed standards.

6.4 Amongst working terriers (most of which are not pedigree dogs registered with the Kennel Club) docking is today as universal as it was before 1993. Gamekeepers, hunt terriermen, pest controllers and others who use terriers of the 'working' types such as the Jack Russell, Fell or Lakeland for the control of rats and foxes invariably have their litters docked. The same may be said of terriers which are worked by gamekeepers and beaters for the purposes of flushing game towards standing guns. A long-tailed working terrier is an unusual sight indeed.

6.5 The working gundog world comprises both pedigree and non-pedigree dogs, but within the spaniel and HPR breeds an undocked dog is a rarity in the shooting field.

6.6 Prospective working gundog owners, aware of the risk of tail damage, seek docked animals; thus breeders specifically advertise the fact that their litters are docked. In the six months up to the end of January 2002, of 212 litters of spaniels advertised for sale in the weekly magazine 'Shooting Times', 52% of advertisements drew particular attention to the fact that the puppies were 'docked and dew clawed,' generally shortened to 'D/DC'. Breeders regularly report that amongst the first questions a prospective purchaser of a spaniel or HPR asks is: 'are the puppies docked?' The difference in the commercial value of docked and undocked puppies of the sporting breeds underlines the fact that the sporting market requires the former and does not want the latter. The foregoing also applies to all customarily docked puppies sold as companion animals.

7 The question of cruelty

7.1 The CDB fully accepts that, despite utilitarian arguments in its favour, docking would not be in the least acceptable were it to cause gratuitous or unnecessary pain and suffering. This it most emphatically does not (see Appendix 3).

7.2 Docking is a veterinary procedure which may only be undertaken by registered veterinarians. Although there may be sentiments against docking within the veterinary world, just as there have been similar sentiments against the firing of horses, the CDB submits that those veterinary surgeons who dock dogs for their clients, including some very senior and experienced professionals, would not do so were there any cruelty involved.

7.3 Veterinary observation of the behaviour of a puppy after a properly performed tail docking does not suggest suffering. Immediately pre-docking, puppies may vocalise as a normal reaction to being handled. Post docking, every puppy rejoins its siblings quietly, finds a comfortable position and immediately sucks milk or goes back to sleep. Furthermore, normal weight gain proceeds unimpeded. As far as the pup in later life is concerned, it is as if the docking has never taken place.

7.4 The Kennel Club has consistently stated that "this is not an issue concerned with animal welfare as no significant harm can be shown to occur when a whelp is correctly docked before its eyes are open." It has maintained that the decision on docking is one which rests with the breeder and their veterinary advisor.

7.5 It is alleged by those who oppose docking that a docked dog is disadvantaged in respect of balance and communication. However, no dog requires acute balance skills more than a racing greyhound, and observation shows that the racing greyhound makes little use of its tail during a race. A greyhound which has had its tail docked because of injury suffers no balance impairment during subsequent races. Communication in dogs is primarily an interaction by smell, facial expression and body posture. Similarly, urine marking of territory is a major communication mode. To a lesser extent, vocal communication plays a part. The tail takes a small part in the process and experience shows that the absence of a tail has absolutely no effect on canine communication skill. It is a simple fact that docked breeds are perfectly happy and interact normally with all other breeds and with humans. There can be no mistaking the infectious enthusiasm of a docked Jack Russell terrier or the warning given by a docked Dobermann.

7.6 Docking is only one of a number of prophylactic or preventative surgical procedures which are carried out on dogs. It may be among the most contentious, simply because it is easily visible. However, it is certainly not the most traumatic or invasive. Castration is undertaken not so much for the benefit of the dog as for the convenience of the owner, in order that the dog may not stray when there are bitches in oestrus present nearby. In many instances the spaying of bitches is routinely carried out more to prevent inconvenience to their owners than for veterinary medical reasons. Castration and spaying are carried out on adult animals and by any token are far more serious procedures than tail docking of newly-born whelps, yet the latter has attracted a level of debate that is out of all proportion to its significance in animal welfare terms. As has been noted above, removal of dew claws, which is regarded as a more serious procedure than docking, rarely features in debate of any sort. This seems to be because dew claws, like the bitch's uterus, cannot easily be seen by the casual observer.

7.7 Similar philosophical arguments as are marshalled against docking could be levelled against other procedures undertaken in other species, including our own. Circumcision is a procedure undertaken to alter the appearance of male human beings. It is carried out without anaesthetic when children are a matter of a few days old. Yet it would be a brave Government which sought to legislate against religious or ethnic minorities undertaking circumcision.

7.8 The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has branded docking a 'mutilation.' If mutilation is the damaging of an animal by depriving it of an essential part then, as has been pointed out, many other routine veterinary procedures could be similarly described. There is no logical basis for using such a deliberately emotive expression solely in relation to the docking of dogs' tails, and yet it is relied upon to cloud the issue. It might be expected that the veterinary establishment would defend its position with science and reason rather than resorting to emotive phrases.

8 Enforceability

8.1 Considerable doubts have been entertained about the enforceability of a prohibition on docking, largely for the reason that if only a small portion of the tail is removed, then it can be extremely difficult, even impossible, to establish whether docking of the tail has in fact taken place.

8.2 On 15th March 2002 The Times claimed that the winner of Best In Show (supreme champion) at Crufts, a Standard Poodle, was undocked. It implied that this was so because docking is illegal in Norway, the dog's country of origin. Yet the most experienced Poodle breeders maintain that the dog, like all the other Standard Poodles shown at Crufts, merely had the partial dock which is conventional in the breed. Mr. Patrick Holbourn, Secretary of the Standard Poodle Club comments: "In my opinion, and that of every single breed specialist I have spoken to, the BIS winner was certainly not undocked. In fact, it appeared that the length of the tail was similar to all the other Standards shown that day." The Kennel Club has not commented on whether or not the dog was docked, and neither have the owners. Thus even in the case of a Crufts supreme champion, it still proves impossible to determine with certainty whether or not a dog has been docked.

8.3 A further complication is that several breeds are frequently, though not always, born with a naturally 'bobbed' tail. In these breeds, such as Old English Sheepdog, Brittany, Pembroke Corgi, Australian Silky Terrier, Swedish Valhund Australian Shepherd Dog and Standard Poodle, docking may seek to replicate artificially the conventional length of the natural bob. Thus a dog which appears docked may in fact be naturally bobbed, and vice versa.

8.4 Given the difficulty in determining, in some breeds at least, whether a dog has been docked or not, it would be impossible to secure a conviction unless a person was actually apprehended in the act of docking.

We hope that the information given above will be of some assistance to you, and we will be happy to expand upon any point should you wish us to do so.

Yours sincerely

Ginette Elliott
Secretary, Council of Docked Breeds

Part One