Docking of Dogs (Press Release, 12 November 1992)

The Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, at its meeting today, 12th November 1992, resolved:

a. The RCVS considers docking of dogs` tails to be an unjustified mutilation and unethical unless done for therapeutic or acceptable prophylactic reasons.

b. Therapeutic docking to treat tail injury or disease is acceptable in the interests of the animal.

c. Prophylactic docking to prevent injury at some unspecified time in the future is not acceptable unless the veterinary surgeon has full knowledge of the breed, the strain, and the anticipated lifestyle of the dog. At ten days of age rarely could the lifestyle of the dog be predicted with any certainty. It follows that the routine docking of many breeds under ten days of age can rarely be acceptable for prophylactic reasons.

d. It should be understood that repeated unethical behaviour may raise unethical action to the level of being considered disgraceful. Any veterinary surgeon performing the operation routinely might therefore be required to satisfy the RCVS that he did so for prophylactic reasons which met the above criteria.

e. It is highly unlikely that the routine docking of tails of puppies belonging to an owner not normally the client of the veterinary surgeon, or routine docking merely at the owners request, would satisfy the above criteria. Moreover such circumstances might provide further evidence to support an allegation of disgraceful conduct.

f. Whenever a veterinary surgeon docks a dog he should carefully record the event setting out the reasons for docking and a copy of that record should be kept for future reference.

g. Meanwhile veterinary surgeons should take every available opportunity to educate and persuade dog breeders and the public that the routine docking of puppies tails is an unacceptable mutilation.


1996 Guide to Professional Conduct

The RCVS published its latest Guide to Professional Conduct June 1996. The precise wording follows:


(paras 2.19 and 2.20)

3.4.1 Leading Counsel has advised:-

"Docking, which may be defined as the amputation of the whole or part of a dog's tail has, since July 1993, been illegal under UK law, if performed by a lay person.

The Royal College has for many years been firmly opposed to the docking of dogs' tails, whatever the age of the dog, by anyone, unless it can be shown truly to be required for therapeutic or truly prophylactic reasons.

Docking cannot be defined as prophylactic unless it is undertaken for the necessary protection of the given dog from risks to that dog of disease or of injury which is likely to arise in the future from the retention of the entire tail. The test of likelihood is whether or not such outcome will probably arise in the case of that dog if it is not docked. Faecal soiling is not for this purpose a disease or injury, and its purported prevention by surgical means cannot be justified.

Similarly, docking cannot be described as prophylactic if it is undertaken merely on request, or just because the dog is of a particular breed, type or conformation. Council considers that such docking is unethical.

Docking a dogs tail for reasons which are other than truly therapeutic or prophylactic is capable of amounting to conduct disgraceful in a professional respect. In the event of disciplinary proceedings being brought in respect of tail docking, it shall be open to the RCVS by evidence to prove, and the Disciplinary Committee on such evidence to find, that any therapeutic or prophylactic justification advanced for the docking in question is without substance. If such a finding is made, the Disciplinary Committee may proceed to consider and to decide whether in the circumstances the veterinary surgeon who undertook that docking knew, or ought to have known, that such a purported justification is without substance.

For the avoidance of any doubt, any instance of tail docking which is found to have been undertaken for reasons which were not truly therapeutic or prophylactic will necessarily constitute an unacceptable mutilation of the dog, which, if carried out by a veterinary surgeon who knew or ought to have known of the lack of true justification, would almost certainly be considered to be conduct disgraceful in a professional respect."

Comment on the 1996 Guide to Professional Conduct

by Steve Dean B.VetMed MRCVS DVR

The RCVS published its latest Guide to Professional Conduct June 1996. Among other changes is an amendment to the guidelines regarding tail docking.

The obscure guidelines drafted by the vets on the RCVS have been replaced with a guidance note from a legal eagle. Quite how a legal adviser feels qualified to comment on a wholly veterinary affair, I fail to see, yet after the defeat of the RCVS case on prophylactic tail docking a year ago, it is not surprising to find the following guidance: "Faecal soiling in the dog is not for this purpose a disease or injury, and its purported prevention by surgical means cannot be justified".

Now interestingly enough, the profession condones the docking of pigs, sheep and cattle (the latter in New Zealand). In sheep at least, the primary intent is to reduce the faecal soiling to prevent, as a secondary event, fly strike. I am sure that one of the intents of docking in long coated breeds of dog is similar and the fact that fly strike is rare, is a credit to the superior management of dogs, compared to that of sheep.

I am also sure that it makes the job of the professional groomer easier too, for cleaning up faecal mess is bad enough without the risk of cleaning it off a matted tail too.

The intent of the RCVS is to close a loophole. I suspect they will find in the attempt a few more have opened, alongside a hornets nest of angry vets, breeders and groomers.