The majority of boxers in the USA have their tails docked, and it’s not common knowledge as to why. Due to receiving this question frequently, I contacted our resident veterinarian to explain in detail why this procedure happens and why it soon may be a thing of the past…
Nowadays tail docking is done mostly to adhere to breed standards. Many breeders to this day continue docking tails simply to conform to the “normal appearance” of what boxer dogs have had for a long time.
While tail docking is currently commonplace in certain parts of the world, it’s already banned in many countries. The UK and the whole of the EU have banned tail docking entirely. And recently VCA animal hospitals made a country-wide ban in Canada for all cosmetic surgical procedures. This is because many vets see it as an unethical and unjustified medical procedure.
What Is Tail Docking?
Tail docking is a surgical procedure whereby the end of the tail is amputated, leaving a small stump-like tail. For some breeds the goal is to dock the tail as much as possible without causing an indent, for others, the tails are docked to about 3/4s of the original size.
When is tail docking typically carried out?
The procedure is usually carried out in the first few days of a puppy’s life. The reason it is done at this time is that it was once believed puppies do not feel much pain at this age. Thus, it is often carried out without any anesthetic at all.
Vets will use a rudimentary tool (a tail cropping emasculator) that cuts off the tail and stems blood flow. For most Boxer pups, this is a straightforward procedure as long as it is performed by a professional.
Tail docking in later life
When the tail is shortened in adult life, this is called an amputation. This may be done for medical reasons, such as a severe tail break, non-healing infection, or cancer. This is a much more complex procedure that requires a full anesthetic and will take several weeks to heal from.
Dogs are usually prescribed medication such as anti-inflammatories, pain relief, and antibiotics while recovering. They will also be given a buster collar to ensure they do not chew or lick at their wound.
Why Do Boxers Have Their Tails Docked?
Traditionally, dogs would have had their tails docked for a variety of reasons including:
● Ancient beliefs
In ancient Roman times, it was once thought that if a dog’s tail tip was removed they would become immune to the Rabies virus. This has now been disproven, but superstitions die hard.
● To prevent injuries when working
This is the best argument out there for tail docking. Working dog breeds (which boxers are) are prone to getting their tails caught or lacerated while out in the fields or on duty. It can also act as a magnet for things like burrs and grass awns, which can burrow in and cause abscesses. However, as the Boxer has short fur and does not regularly hunt anymore, this is less of an issue. The vast majority of Boxers are now kept as companion animals and not as working dogs.
● For the “look” of the breed
Over the last few centuries, dogs’ physical appearances have been altered for the aesthetic. Owners sometimes appreciate a certain “look”, whether rightly or wrongly. As well as resulting in dogs with short tails, this has resulted in animals with cropped ears. If every Boxer you have seen has a cropped tail, you may find it strange to see one who doesn’t. Certain breed standards set by Kennel Clubs demand that a dog’s tail is docked if they are to be shown.
● As it was once believed it would make an animal run faster
Weird right? Of course, this has since been disproved… nature doesn’t tend to make mistakes! Even a very heavy tail will not impact performance in such a way. And not to mention the fact that boxers have slim and streamlined tails, anyway.
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Are Some Boxers Born With a Docked Tail?
Although very rare, it’s actually possible for some boxers to be born with a docked tail or short stumpy tail. This is a genetic mutation and the dog is known as a “bobtail”.
Interestingly, one breeder in Britain is purposefully breeding bobtail Boxers due to tail docking being outlawed in the EU. These tail-less Boxers were established by breeding in Corgi dogs and the 4th generation of this mating is allowed to be Kennel Club registered.
Can you tell the difference between a docked tail and a bobtail?
You can tell the difference between a natural bobtail and a docked tail if you know what to look for. Tails that have been docked will end bluntly. Conversely, Boxers born with a naturally short tail will have a tail that tapers to a more natural point and have a fleshier tail tip.
Pros & Cons of Tail Docking
Pros of tail docking
Some dogs are prone to tail injuries, especially those who wag their tail a lot. The tail is a long and cumbersome body part that is not uncommonly trapped indoors or stood on. Tail docking means the tail is not there to get injured.
For some long-haired breeds, tail docking proponents will advocate that the docking is more sanitary. However, this argument doesn’t hold water for the clean, short-furred Boxer.
A study from the University of Glasgow concluded that docking working dogs at a young age can reduce their risk of injury. However, a large number of tails need to be docked in order for one injury to be prevented. This study was carried out in response to the outlawing of tail docking in the UK. Source
Cons of tail docking
Complications can occur soon after tail docking. This is more common when the docking is done by someone inexperienced. It is not unheard of for tails to be docked too short, which can cause neurological issues such as incontinence. We can also see wound infections and wounds which do not heal as they should. Dogs can be left with unsightly scarring and chronic pain.
The procedure itself causes short-term pain. Whether tail dockers wish to acknowledge it or not, the tail has pain receptors present at all ages. The pain may be short-lived, but it is significant. It is postulated that significant pain in the early part of life can affect how pain is processed in later life in a negative way.
Ethically, tail docking is questionable. Should we be removing a healthy body part from a young dog? The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) is opposed to the procedure when it is carried out for cosmetic reasons. Since 1976, they have petitioned breed clubs to remove this standard from their breed description. Of course, dogs have no investment or interest in their appearance, so cosmetic tail docking is only beneficial for the humans involved.
Tails are needed for communication, both with humans and other dogs. Indeed, dogs will wag their tail to indicate delight or hide it in between their legs when uncertain or anxious.
It is also believed that dogs use their tail for balance, especially when running at speed and jumping. When swimming, it also serves as a type of rudder for steering.
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Should You Dock Your Boxers Tail?
If you do not live in a country where tail docking is illegal, the decision is yours. You may have a strong desire for your dog to look a certain way, for example, if they are to be a show dog. The American Kennel Club, in their breed standard, states that “an undocked tail should be severely penalized”. Yikes…
If you are not planning on showing your dog, I would urge you to think twice before going along with the crowd. Docking a healthy tail should not be a decision that is taken lightly. If your dog is to be a companion animal, they will likely be grateful to keep their tail.
Of course, many pups have their tails docked at such a young age that the buyer has no say in the matter. If you feel strongly that you would rather your dog did not have their tail docked, be sure to let the breeder know before the litter is born.
Sadly, many dogs have their tail docked because it has fallen into fashion. Some members of the public are unaware that Boxers are born with long tails. As they are always seen with docked tails, it is assumed that this is how they were designed by nature.
Tail docking is not a minor procedure. A dog without a tail is less able to communicate with their owners and their canine peers. The procedure is not without its risks and can cause pain in young puppies. Many vets are openly against tail docking and view it as cruel and unnecessary.
Of course, there is little question that docking a diseased tail when advised by a medical professional is the right decision. This is the case, for example, after significant injuries or when there are nonresectable tumors.
When a requirement for show dogs, showing owners are left with little choice but to have the tail docked. However, times are changing and this procedure is now outlawed in many countries, including in the whole of the EU, UK, and recently Canada.
News: February 2021
VCA Animal Hospitals Canada makes a country-wide ban on all cosmetic surgical procedures including tail docking, ear cropping, devocalization surgery (debarking), and the removal of articulated dewclaws. Source
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