Why We No Longer Dock Tails


Tail docking and dewclaw removal in working dogs is a practice that is increasingly disallowed by veterinarians and breeders in countries around the world. Edenbright Brittanys no longer docks the tails of our Brittanys.

Below you will find an extensive FAQ about tail docking that may answer some of your questions. I realize this is a controversial subject, and as a breeder who has previously practiced tail docking and has dogs with docked tails, please know that I DO NOT think tail docking is without it’s place in certain dogs. However, I do not breed hunting or show dogs, and I rarely sell to hunting or show homes and the need for tail docking then becomes unnessecary. I do NOT judge breeders who dock tails, I simply have an opinion based on experience and can no longer, ethically, justify tail docking in MY puppies.

Q: Aren’t sporting dogs with undocked tails at risk for injury during hunts?

An Irish Setter with Full Tail

A: Possibly, yes. But I think that depends on the dog and the sport. Reteivers, for example, keep their tails – their tails are thick and strong. Pointers have notoriously thin tails, so common sense would seem to say that pointers with thin tails are docked for their protection and to reduce the chances of injury. This was the main argument I made to myself when trying to justify tail docking. However, it came to my attention that there is one pointer dog, very similar to the brittany in sport and style, with a similarly thin tail that was not recommended for docking. The Setter. Setters keep their long, thin, beautiful tails. They operate the same as a Brittany in the field, and even share some stricking characterisitcs. My theory, and that of many hunters/breeders, is that tail docking for Brittanys isn’t about preventing injury, but about maintaing the style of the breed.

Q: If tails aren’t docked to prevent injury, then why dock the tails?

A: Because Brittanys were originally born tailess. Brittanys are one of the few dogs that, when the breed was first being developed, had a naturally docked tail – they were born with a half tail or no tail at all. In fact, some breeders, including myself, often get a few tailess Brittanys in our litters. Our Ruby was born without a tail, and half the puppies of every litter she produces is naturally docked. The old standard for Brittanys required the dog to be naturally tailless to compete in shows – however, it was discovered that the gene that caused tailessness was hit or miss among litters and that litters would always be a mix of tailed brittanys and tailless brittanys. The American Brittany Breed Club changed it’s standard to include the acceptance of surgically docked tails.

Q: Doesn’t a docked tail make grooming easier?

A: YES! It does. A docked tail in a Brittany is to prevent the tail from becoming a bur catcher. Brittanys have long, flowing feathery tails – and if you plan on hunting the dog in the bur heavy plains of the midwest, or the sandy mounds of the eastern pines, the tail WILL catch burs – however, it is extremely easy to trim the feathers from the tail before going out – and since we do not breed for hunting or show, this argument doesnt really apply to us as breeders.

Q: I’ve heard the puppies can’t feel the tail docking if done within the first three days of life. If it doesn’t hurt the dog, then what is the harm?

A: In my experience and the experience of every vet I have ever spoken to, the ‘they can’t feel it’ argument is false. Not only is there MASSIVE amounts of research about the puppies nerve endings being fully developed in all parts of the body at birth, I have expereinced it first hand. When we were practicing tail docking, our pups were docked by vets, mostly within the first 24 hours after birth. I had three different vets on rotation for this process to make sure that I could get my pups in as early as possible to prevent the dreaded ‘growth of nerve endings’ that would cause them pain during tail docking, and could not figure out why, even after having got them in as early as three hours after the last pup was born, they still SCREAMED when having their tails docks. I posed this question to a popular Brittany facebook group – wondering why my experience was so much different than other breeders. The responses I got ranged from standard breeders who were really angry that I would even question tail docking, and that I must be doing something wrong if the puppies are in pain, and from other breeders who, after years of having expereinced the same pain, heartbreak and risk of infection that I had, decided enough was enough and it wasn’t worth doing it anymore. The puppies can feel it, they do get infections no matter how clean you are or how clean the mother dog keeps them and no matter how good the vet, the pain continues until the tail is healed, nearly three weeks later. If the puppies I place are not at risk for tail injury in hunting, or are not going to show homes, I do not feel it is nesseccary to put the pups through so much.

Q: If a docked tail is standard, then shouldn’t you, as an ethical breeder, be breeding to that standard?

A: There is an immense amount of pressure in the breeding/competing world to maintain strict standards for purebred dogs and subjects like taildocking, ear cropping and breeding for brachycephalic features are all extremly hot button topics where people can became very passionate and very defensive on either side of the fence. It’s no different among Brittany breeders and competitors. And, let me say now, that standards in breeding are EXTREMLY IMPORTANT. The most important thing an ethical breeder can do is breed to a standard and a purpose. Otherwise, purebreds will cease to exsist and become indistinguishable from one another. However – you cannot breed to a tailless standard – you can only cut the tail off. Breeding to a standard means selecting specific genetic traits that meet and match the standard set forth by the Breed Club that distinguishes the breed for a purpose and a style. It is impossible to select Brittanys and attempt to genetically breed tailless puppies. In order for the pups to be standard, the dog must be physically altered after birth. This has nothing to do with breeding to the standard, but falsely creating a silouette that mimics the genetic trait of tailessness at birth that was once the standard for all Brittanys. I repeat: YOU CANNOT BREED TO A TAILESS STANDARD – there is no such thing for Brittanys. A breeding pair of Brittanys that both carries the tailess gene is infertile. We STILL maintain genetic standards as best as possible for a program that really focuses on temperment – and that inclues color, pattern, size, style and body composition.

Q: Why don’t more Brittany breeders keep the tails?

My personal belief is that many breeders truly care about their pups and their dogs, and in fact MANY breeders are becoming very open to the idea of offering buyers a choice to keep or dock the tails of their puppy. I am seeing more and more litter photos where many pups in the litter have tails. The vast majority of people on Brittany facebook groups, forums and in real life respond VERY positively to Brittanys with tails. It’s not unusual for a picture of a Brittany with a tail on any social media platform to have 100s of comments all excited and surpised by the beautiful and change of style a tail gives to a Brittany. We cannot offer the choice to dock or not dock because our program is based on temperment placement. Our puppies are picked out by their owners at 6 weeks old, that is too old to preform tail docking.

Q: If my Brittany’s tail isnt docked, will he/she be able to compete in AKC sporting events?

A: Yes. A misconception is that the American Kennel Club sets standards for dogs. This is untrue. The AKC is a breed registry where data is gathered to ensure the maintainece of purebred dogs. The American Brittany Standard is set by the American Brittany Club – which is in turn made up of many Brittany breeders who have been breeding to a traditoion for many decades and have been responsible for the good breeding practices and general health of Brittanys for just as long. Brittanys are an unbelievably healthy, well bred and gently tempered dog – much to the credit of the American Brittany Club’s very close knit community and tight standard guidelines (they don’t like Brittanys with tails, lol, but I understand the need to keep what has happened to the German Shepard, the Golden Retriever and the Labrador Retriver from happening to the Brittany). That being said, The AKC hosted events (with the exception of the Conformation Shows, though there is a quiet and growing movement to remove cosmetic procedures from the acceptable conditions on which dogs are shown) do not require any sort of cosmetic alteration for a dog to compete.

The AKC stands behind breed clubs choice to have standards that require cosmetic alteration, stating that : The American Kennel Club recognizes that ear cropping, tail docking, and dewclaw removal, as described in certain breed standards, are acceptable practices integral to defining and preserving breed character and/or enhancing good health.

Q: Do you think tail docking is unethical or cruel?

A: Yes and No. I’m not the sort to give in to fear mongering – having expereinced the tail docking issues myself in my own puppies I can tell you that puppies experience a good amount of discomfort that they neither remember nor seem to be effected by long term. Is it unethical for a buyer to want a dog to look a certain way, including preforming cosmetic procedures to attain the ‘look’ and ‘style of a dog’? Absoluetly not. The idea of the purebred dog requires three things – genetics, temperment and looks. I am a purebred dog breeder, and I select my own dogs based on their physical attributes. I’m not about to judge someone else for wanting the same thing. Do I think other breeders who breed dogs and believe in docking the tail of all puppies is unethical? No. I do not. Again, physical characterisitc and style are a HUGE part of the purebred world and are worth maintianing.

The short and simple of it is that I, as a breeder of strictly pet quality puppies, cannot justify it for myself – and that doesn’t mean passing judgement on others.

Q: But will my Brittany look good with a tail?

A: I can’t promise that a Brittany with a tail will be your cup of tea. I myself am very fond of the wiggly nubs that are on my own dogs, however, I don’t think anyone can argue that Brittanys with tails aren’t the most regal looking dog you have ever seen.

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