To Dock Or Not

To dock or not to dock…this is the question…

Much like politics this can be a passionate subject into which to delve. Many feel that docking is imperative and others feel it is cruel and unnecessary. We here at Uggeshall will only ‘work’ our dogs if they are docked. The ones with the ‘long’ tails stay at home and do other ‘stuff’. Why? Because I have seen with my eyes the damage an undocked tail can take on the shooting field. A while ago we had a female Gun dog Spaniel in to be mated with one of our stud dogs – I have never seen anything like it, I had heard about it, but not actually seen it. I can be squeamish at the best of times but that’s normally with my kids and rarely with animals, but I physically wretched at the site of this many calloused tail, missing hair around her past injuries like I have never seen before. I can still see this tail as clearly now as I write as to my first glance. It was horrible. There are other points to be raised with the above but that’s not what we are dealing with right now (like how was that allowed to get to such a state...)

A bit of background for you…

The docking of tails as a practice has been carried out for centuries in order to avoid tail damage for hygiene and other reasons. Today there are over fifty traditionally docked breeds which are recognized by various Kennels Clubs. More recently docking has come under the scrutiny of the veterinary establishment in which many vets have condemned the practice as ‘unjustified mutilation’. This has led to many vets now refusing to dock puppies; however there is a strong core of dog owners, vets and breeders that feel this is a short sighted view of a long term problem. Docking, they say, is a perfectly humane procedure when properly carried out, and one, which prevents far more distress than it causes. It is, like neutering, simply a practical animal management technique which should remain available to dog breeders and owners.

Historically tail docking has largely done by the breeder themselves. However, in 1991, the UK government amended the Veterinary Surgeons Act, thereby prohibiting the docking of tails by lay persons from 1st July 1993. So now, only vets are, by law, allowed to dock.

Next, following this government move, the Council of Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons ruled docking to be unethical, “unless for therapeutic or acceptable prophylactic reasons” (prophylactic means, by the way, a medicine or course of action intended to prevent disease, I had to look it up). Furthermore, the circumstances in which the Royal Collage considered prophylactic docking to be acceptable were so hedged with conditions as to make the routine docking of puppies by vets very difficult.

The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 included a total ban on all non-therapeutic tail docking of dogs. Section 20 of the Act makes it an offence to perform a procedure on an animal which interfered with its bone structure or sensitive tissue; unless it is a medical procedure or the procedure has been specifically exempted by Regulations made by Scottish Ministers. So, as it stands at the moment, it is an offence for anyone, including vets, to dock the tails of puppies, it is also an offence to take the dog from Scotland for the purpose of having its tail docked. The loophole being that a pregnant bitch could be taken out of Scotland and the puppies docked under the English exemption.

From April 2007, a new Animal Welfare Act covering the UK, forbid tail docking except for certain working dogs.

Back to Scotland – a study by the University of Glasgow was commissioned by the Scottish government, with a survey of more than 1,000 owners of working dogs. Half of which, were found to have experienced a tail injury of some sort in a year. The conclusion of the study said that docking at a young age would reduce risk of injury.

A second study from the same group looked at records of working breed tail injuries from vet practices across Scotland. It suggested that to prevent one tail injury, between 81 and 135 Pointer, Spaniel and HPR puppies would need to be docked.

The Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “It is clear to me that animal welfare is an extremely important issue and one which is close to many people’s hearts.

“For that reason, any decision taken by the Scottish government fully considers the welfare of each and every animal affected.

“In some cases, as in this one, there is no clear, straightforward answer and a balance needs to be struck’.

As it stands the situation remains the same. However the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee have asked Richard Lochhead for an update on whether they are going to move what is seen by many, as an extreme stance on docking of tails.

BASC recently published that they have written to the British Veterinary Association and has also asked Richard Lochhead for an update on tail docking. In a letter to the BVA they have questioned their recent resistance to an exemption in Scotland when they appear supportive of the current position in the rest of the UK. BASC has also written to Mr. Lochhead, as have supportive vets, to show that the BVA positon in not supported by all vets, in particular those in rural practices. They remain hopeful that an exemption for tail docking for working gundogs will be achieved.

At this moment in time, even in rural vet practices, finding a vet to dock newly born puppies can be a struggle. The law stands that a breeder wanting their puppies docked must be sure that these puppies are going to working home. The breeder must own and present a firearms or shotgun certificate and be willing to sign a legal document stating the puppies will only go to working homes.

The law also states that the pups will have to be docked within 72 hours of birth. From personal experience I like to get it done as soon as possible. When I started having pups docked (in the years before Richard) I always took one of the kids with me to help (it helped that the vet practice in question had a big bowl of sweets on the reception desk), I needed a second pair of hands and in my reckoning if it was something so grotesque a sight that I wouldn’t want my children seeing I should not be doing it in the first place.

Since I am now in the flow I might as well tell you exactly what happens. We need to have our shot gun licences with us every time and hand them over to be photocopied. The mum of the pups is always with us to keep them warm. The vet asks us where we would like the tail docked to, so we show them, they un wrap a clean blade and then proceed to dock the puppy (this takes a split second). The tail end is then dipped in potassium manganite. Because the nervous system of the puppy is not fully developed, the procedure is virtually painless, to be honest a squeak is more likely to happen after the dipping and not the docking (and I have known lots of pups to sleep through it).

The final piece of the story is that a vet must microchip the docked puppy to prove that the tail was legally docked and I had not done it at home on the kitchen table. All the undocked puppies that leave us I can microchip but the docked ones will always be done with a vet and the paperwork signed by the docking vet and myself. When you pick your puppy up this paperwork is handed over to you.

I think a lot of your decision on the above will be based on prior knowledge and to have a strong opinion on it boils down to experience one way or the other. Sometimes we all let our hearts rule our head but for me, in this case, I have learnt along the way that docking in certain puppies is imperative…..

If you would like to have your puppy docked for the right reasons then it is important we know from the start. We do charge for the docking and vet implanted microchip but we do not charge for our time. Our time factor is the big thing in this case. Our vaccination vets do not dock. We do have a vet who is 30 minutes away that docks but since there is only one vet in that practise and she is not always working, sometimes we have to drive to the other side of the county to have it done. This is not a problem so we don’t charge time and diesel just for the docking and chipping. I hope that sounds fair!?

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