Docking, Cropping and Dewclaws


The Australian Shepherd Club of America will not condone the policy of any individual, group, or proposed legislation which restricts the practice of tail docking or removal of dewclaws for cosmetic or health reasons. We find this policy to be a detriment to the welfare of the Australian Shepherd breed as a whole and an infringement on the rights of the owners, breeders, trainers, and exhibitors of all domesticated animals.

Legislation to prohibit tail docking and/or dewclaw removal often has language similar to the following in the justification for the bill. – “The enactment of this bill would ensure that dogs are not caused unnecessary risk and pain by cosmetic tail docking.  Performed under anesthetic, the procedure carries within it inherent risks of blood loss and infection, as well as causing lasting chronic tension in the back and hindquarter muscles of dogs after the procedure.” This comes from the language in the New York State bill which is proposed every year, but it is similar in the bills in other states. There are several unsubstantiated assumptions in this justification:

  1. That the tail docking is cosmetic;
  2. That the procedure is risky;
  3. That the procedure is unnecessarily painful;
  4. That the procedure carries risks associated with anesthesia;
  5. That there are risks of blood loss and infection;
  6. That docking causes chronic muscle tension.

Dealing with these in order:

  1. Many breeds commonly docked carry genes for naturally occurring bobbed tails. Wikipedia lists 31 breeds. The length of the bobbed tail is variable, with some individuals having nearly full-length tails while others having virtually no tail. It is not unusual for a natural bob-tail to also be kinked and easily injured. In addition, commonly docked breeds are docked to prevent injury while working or for reasons of hygiene. In countries where docking has been banned, the incidence of serious tail injuries requiring amputation in the adult dog has been found to be significantly increased.
  2. When performed by an experienced practitioner, docking in the neonate puppy carries very little risk – certainly much less risk than spay/neuter procedures.
  3. Tail docking is done when puppies are from 1-3 days old, when the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is still undeveloped. Newly docked puppies exhibit discomfort for a few moments, but return to nursing almost immediately upon being replaced with their mother.
  4. At the age at which docking is normally done, no anesthesia is used. It is over in seconds and the puppies are returned to their mother and nursing immediately.
  5. The commonly used docking procedures carry little to no risk of blood loss. Simple hygienic procedures on the part of the breeder when caring for the litter make any risk of infection vanishingly small.
  6. There is no evidence that docking causes “chronic muscle tension”. This is an anthropomorphic argument used by those with no experience in animal husbandry.

Similarly, dewclaw removal is done at the same age and for the same reasons – to prevent injury. While there do not appear to be any studies on the incidence of dewclaw injury, a Google search on “dewclaw injury in dogs” yields 17,200 results and the first 350 of them are descriptions of dewclaw injuries and how to treat them. There are reasons to remove dewclaws, just as there are reasons to leave them on. This should be a decision made by the owner and the veterinary professional based on their expertise and experience and without any need for governmental input.

Links to information on tail docking – This is a thesis submitted to the University of Glasgow looking at tail injuries in working gundogs and terriers in pest control in Scotland after the tail docking ban went into effect in that country. The researcher “found that the introduction of the tail docking ban in Scotland appeared to have had a significant influence on the prevalence of tail injury in spaniels seen at veterinary practices and that undocked spaniels and HPR (hunt point retrievers) were significantly more at risk of sustaining a tail injury than those docked by one-third or shorter.” – Scottish gamekeepers have petitioned parliament to allow the docking of working dogs. – Compilation of statements from various people and organizations to the AVMA regarding their stance on docking and cropping. – ASHGI’s report on natural bob-tails – List of dog breeds with natural bob-tails.

Links to information on dew claws – YouTube video on dogs using dewclaws to get out of trouble in ice accidents.