Two tiny, five-day-old puppies are lying on a table. The human hands that are handling them are bigger than they are, and the human voice is explaining that she is going to demonstrate the process of tail banding (a method of tail docking). She determines the length that she wants the pup’s tail to be, and then tells us she is going to tie a piece of rubber band tightly around the pup’s tail, causing the tail to simply fall off after some time – with no pain at all for the pup. “The process doesn’t hurt the pup, you will just hear a small yelp and all will be over,” she says, preparing to tighten the rubber band around the puppy’s tail. She then pulls it tight, and the pup’s tiny voice screams in what sounds very much like pain.
I came across the video described above while doing research for this article, and as someone who deeply loves animals, I found it very disturbing. The issue of tail docking has been debated to death. During my research I found several articles as well as Facebook comments (don’t you just love those) by people aggressively defending the practise of tail docking. What I didn’t find though, was a single convincing reason to dock a puppy’s tail. Let’s take a look at some of the arguments that promote tail docking, and then apply some logic, scientific research and empathy to them. For the purpose of this article we will refer to these as common sense.
Breeders and puppy buyers should have freedom of choice.
A little word that I also used in part 1 of this series comes to mind here: arrogance. By this logic you might as well say that paedophiles should have freedom of choice. Certain things are made illegal in society, or at the very least they are frowned upon, for a very good reason – this reason often being that we shouldn’t cause others pain or distress. This is a very basic rule of society. As it is a scientific fact that dogs are sentient beings, this basic rule should apply to them too – well, at least for those of us who consider ourseves decent human beings.
Research shows that young puppies can’t feel pain yet.
This argument is supposed to justify the docking of puppies’ tails when they are only a few days old, without the use of anaesthesia (as a pup’s body won’t be able to handle this). And yes, research can ‘prove’ that pups of only a few days old can’t feel pain – old research that is. Here’s a little secret to online research: check the date of the article you are planning to quote. Because research is ongoing. We learn new things every day. Quite often, old research is being proven wrong. So let’s quickly annihilate this argument with some recent research findings:
- An article published in the Australian Veterinary journal states that “cutting through muscles, tendons, nerves, bones/cartilage would result in intense pain to a level that would never be allowed to be inflicted on a human being.” What about tail banding? Here’s what one vet says: Tail banding “is like slamming your finger in a car door, and then leaving it there.”
- According to The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) tail docking is a painful procedure and puppies have a fully developed nervous system, and therefore, are fully capable of feeling pain. They further say that even if a puppy is not actively demonstrating pain, there are biological markers that show that pain is occurring.
- The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) admits that tail docking is painful, and pretty pointless: “there is no obvious benefit to our patients in performing this procedure.”
Do you, tail docker, really want to keep arguing this point?
Tail docking prevents injury to the tail.
A few years ago I tore a ligament in my knee which led to months of pain and discomfort. However, it never occurred to me that I could have prevented this from happening by having my leg chopped off as a baby. Because it makes no sense. Now, it is true that certain dog breeds regularly injure their tails (Boxer owners will know). But is it not more humane to let the pup grow up, and to then establish a humane treatment plan with the help of a veterinarian? Dogs do need their tails. Body language is just one example – dog communicate extensively with their tails. Now a tail-docker might tell you that they have never seen a dog with a docked tail struggling to communicate. But, do they know what to look for? I strongly doubt that anyone who has studied canine behaviour and body language will be unaware of the importance of body language for a dog. And I invite tail dockers to ask any of us who has studied dogs – we love to talk about dogs and we understand the importance of education.
Some breeds just look better without a tail.
Shall I sound like a broken record and bring up the A-word again? Arrogance! There is nothing wrong with the way dogs are born. They are beautiful, with their tails! Some people might be used to the way the dog looks without a tail – but it doesn’t take long to get used to dogs with tails either.
Odds are that this kind of thinking is rooted in resistance to change. Tail docking is simply the way things were done, and despite the fact that we know better today, certain individuals lack the open-mindedness to consider that they might have been wrong. We are all human, and we all know that it takes strength and openness to personal growth to admit when we were wrong.
The role of the human psyche
Former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said: “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.”
The human belief system is incredibly strong and very resistant to change – in some cases people are willing to kill for what they believe in. Research showed that our beliefs are firmly fixed by the time we reach adulthood, whether they are rational or not. These beliefs are so strong, that even when presented with facts that show the opposite, we will find ways to reject those facts or interpret them in such a manner that it allows us to keep our current beliefs. Is this not exactly what we see with regards to tail docking?
I myself have a very strong belief that I will not change, and that is that I am very suspicious of anyone who is capable of hurting an innocent puppy. I do think that is a rational belief though. Don’t you?