I’ve had three family dogs that I can remember in my lifetime. Hunter was a yellow Labrador, Hercules an Olde English Bulldogge, and now, Smokey, our German Shepherd mix. When I was growing up, I thought Hercules naturally had a shorter tail for his breed. It wasn’t until in my teens when I found out that it was the breeders who cut off his tail at a young age. Yes, I am now a supporter of adopting not shopping, but these animals are still going through what the American Veterinary Medical Association deems as unnecessary and risky procedures to make sure it fits into “human aesthetics.”
My family loved having Hercules and wanted to support a breed of Bulldog that was not bred to have the aesthetics of a squished nose so that he’d be able to breathe properly. But he was still subjected to a painful cosmetic surgery at only a few days old. When necessary, this procedure is performed by a practiced veterinarian for injury prevention. But for appearance reasons, it is often done by the breeder themselves. Tail docking is often done without anesthesia and is incredibly painful due to cutting through muscle, nerves, and skin. This is justified by saying they can’t remember it, but I would encourage those looking into tail docking to ask themselves if it is worth it.
The UK has banned ear cropping altogether while tail docking is restricted to veterinarians doing so with a medical reason. The Kennel Club, the British show dog circuit, has also banned dogs with docked tails from appearing at shows. While, in the U.S., ear cropping, and tail docking are unregulated and allowed completely. This means that anyone can perform a tail docking procedure without proper knowledge and create complications such as infection. The American Kennel Club goes so far as to say that pet alterations such as ear cropping, tail docking, and declawing are “acceptable practices integral to defining and preserving a breed character and/or enhancing good health.”
I strongly disagree that “preserving a breed” is worth the complications and struggles. Studies show that tails are a large part of communication in dogs. Dogs without their tails may have a hard time communicating things like play, fear, or aggression to other dogs. This means it could also lead to miscommunication between dogs and possible fights.
Docking can also affect the dogs’ balance and ability to swim. Dogs use their tales for balance when going over uneven surfaces like walking along trails. They also use tails to balance when running in different directions. As a dog owner, I can tell you that dogs often play by running around and changing directions quickly whether they are playing with other dogs or have a case of the zoomies. Working dogs also have trouble without tails. Herding dogs use their tails to help corral sheep. A dog that spends a lot of time retrieving in water needs a tail to stay steady as it acts like a rudder.
I believe that this takes away a key part of what it is to be a dog. As a pet owner, I wanted to see my dogs thrive and play as well as do tasks they were trained to do. While I have never had the desire to show dogs, so I may not understand the desire for pet modifications, I also do not understand why we must change animals to our liking at the expense of their well-being.
Do we really long for control so much that we will drive them all to demise? If we want family companions around for the long haul, this needs to stop.
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