Tail docking and dewclaw removal
In 2017, the Government announced a plan to ban non-therapeutic tail docking and restrict the removal of dew claws in Dogs in New Zealand. The new laws will come into effect by October 2018.
Under the new regulations “A person commits an offence if they dock a tail of a dog. The owner of the dog is also liable”. Docking is defined as the shortening or removal of the tail by any method, whether it is direct (cut) or delayed (banding). The only acceptable docking of dogs is by a veterinarian or a veterinary student under the direct supervision of a vet, and it is done to treat an existing disease or injury and suitable pain relief/anaesthetic is used. The ban puts an end to lay people docking pups’ tails without pain management under an accredited scheme. This brings us in line with many other countries around the world.
Historically, tail docking was thought to prevent rabies, increase performance, and prevent injuries when ratting, fighting and baiting. In the United Kingdom, a tax was levied upon working dogs with tails, so many types of dog were docked to avoid this tax. The tax was removed in 1796 but the practice persisted.
Currently, dogs’ tails have been docked for aesthetic reasons, convenience, and in the belief that it will prevent injury. Evidence, and my personal experience suggests that tail injuries are relatively rare. There is no close relationship between whether breeds are docked and whether they are used for activities likely to cause tail injury, such as hunting.
Dogs’ tails serve a function in terms of balance and as a means of communication with other dogs and humans.
The removal of a tail is painful at any age. Given there is little or no benefit for the dog, the routine docking of dogs can’t be justified.
Dewclaw removal rules are also set to change. It will become illegal for non-veterinarians to remove front dew claws and articulated hind dew claws at any age. Non-veterinarians may remove non-articulated hind dewclaws but only in pups under 4 days of age. Anyone who removes dew claws against the regulations, and the owner of the dog, will be committing an offence. Articulated dew claws are attached to the leg by bone and tendons. Non-articulated dew claws are attached by only a flap of skin and tissue.
Front dewclaws are used by dogs in holding and manipulating large objects such as bones. They may also play a role in aiding some breeds to change direction rapidly when running.
Unlike tail docking, no country has fully banned dew claw removal. Dewclaw injuries are more common than tail injuries, especially rear dew claws. To remove dew claws, vets have to use appropriate pain relief/anaesthetic.