Why does RSPCA NSW oppose tail docking? 

When you’re looking to purchase a new puppy or dog to join your family, something we recommend you should look out for is whether or not your puppies’ tail has been docked. The practise of tail docking is illegal in all states of Australia.

The RSPCA has successfully prosecuted a dog breeder for cruelty in relation to docking the tail of a litter of pups.


What is tail docking? 

The process of tail docking is essentially an amputation of all or part of a puppy’s tail using a cutting or crushing device.

Certain breeds of dogs traditionally had their tails docked to adhere to an arbitrary set of standards about how that breed should look. The practice was purely cosmetic and became illegal in NSW in 2004.

When a puppy’s tail is docked, it is normally done between the ages of two and five days, and no anaesthesia is used. The most common methods used by a breeder are either cutting off the tail with scissors or using a little rubber band that limits blood flow to the rest of the tail, which dies and falls off after three days.

As cosmetic tail docking is a painful and unnecessary procedure that compromises canine welfare and does not provide health benefits;  RSPCA NSW is strongly opposed to the practice.


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Why does RSPCA NSW not support docking? 

Tail docking is a stressful and unpleasant operation for puppies according to both behavioural and physiological evidence. These procedures cause acute pain that lasts several hours and can be followed by persistent pain.

A common misconception surrounding docking is that the puppies are too young to fully develop their nervous systems and hence do not feel pain. However, the process of docking cuts through sensitive nerves in the puppies’ skin, cartilage and bones. Puppies are often vocal about their discomfort and pain during the process.

Tails are also a critical tool for dogs to communicate. The position and movement of the tail is a critical visual signal between dogs. Clear communication is essential for dogs to avert aggressive interactions. A dog’s tail functions as a fan, spreading its natural fragrance every time they move it using pheromones (scents used to transmit information). Tail behaviour is so deeply important for canine communication that docking can significantly impair interactions between dogs and people.

Dogs also use their tails for balance and assisting with jumping.

A small number of dog breeds, such as the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog, have evolved to have stumpy tails due to a genetic mutation. It is important to note that these dogs have not had their tails docked.

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Are there long-term effects from docking? 

Unfortunately, docking not only has temporary effects such as pain but can lead to long-term chronic health concerns.

A potential effect is neuromas which are swelling bundles of nerve fibres that attempt to grow back at the site of the docking. Neuromas are highly painful and can lead to mutilation and infection when dogs gnaw at them. Neuromas require veterinary attention to be treated, and if all of the nerve tissue is not removed they may continue to return.


Why do some breeders sell dogs with docked tails? 

The argument in favour of docking is that it reduces the risks of tail injuries for dogs.

However, dog tail injuries are rather infrequent. Especially since most dogs are raised as household pets as opposed to hunting dogs or working dogs. Several hunting breeds do not traditionally have their tails docked which suggests this is not a legitimate reason for the procedure. Research has shown that docking does not reduce tail injury in the general dog population

Furthermore, vets encounter just as many tail issues in dogs whose tails have been docked as they do in dogs whose tails have not been docked. They also frequently see puppies with docked tails who have been affected by an irritated or infectious callus created through a botched docking procedure.


Is it legal in NSW? 

Under Section 12 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW), tail docking is illegal unless it is undertaken by a vet in the interest of the dog’s health.

Prior to 2004, tail docking was legal in NSW with anyone who was considered a qualified ‘breeder’ able to undertake the procedure.

If you come across a breeder who is selling puppies with docked tails, you should immediately contact RSPCA NSW.