To Dock or Not To Dock…
I decided to never do this procedure again after docking the tails of my second litter. After docking the tails on my first litter I was reluctant to do it again but knew that puppy owners would demand it and frankly I worried that people wouldn’t think of me as a serious breeder if I left the tails long. I also had visions of showing the puppy I kept and everyone knows that long-tailed poodles can’t win in the ring. The procedure seemed hard on both the puppies and mom and when my second litter turned 3 days old I dreaded having to put the puppies and mom through the same procedure. When the time came I stood over the whelping box and watched the puppies nursing. They cooed and chirped and their little tails whirled like helicopters. At the vet mom sat in the car waiting for her puppies, stressed out of her mind to have her new puppies out of her sight and I stood next to the vet watching the puppies scream as the tails were cut. After that day the puppies tails never wagged the same and I swore that I’d never dock tails again.
Over the decades breeders have bred poodles without considering the natural length or curl of the tail. Since tails are docked when a puppy is only 3 days old and a poodle’s tail doesn’t fully curl until at least 4 months there’s never been a way to know what kind of tail a breeder is selectively breeding. As the climate for docking and ear cropping slowly changes we will begin to selectively breed for straighter shorter tails but in the mean time litters will have a variety of lengths and curls.
Why people think we need to cut off tails:
- Tails get stepped on and caught in doors
- Long tails ruin the visual out line of the dog: It doesn’t look like a poodle
- Curly tails catch debris while swimming
Why it’s best not to cut off tails:
- Tails are used for balance
- Docking can cause nerve damage and phantom tail syndrome
- Tails are used by dogs to express themselves
- They use their tails to communicate with other dogs
- They look really cute.
In my opinion, taking off the dewclaw is a more serious issue than tails. There is more and more evidence that removing dewclaws can result in structural damage. Dogs also use their dewclaws for maneuvering.
Why people think we need to cut off Dewclaws:
- Dewclaw can catch on things and tear
- They can scratch us when they jump up
- They can be cut when grooming.
Why it’s best not to cut off Dewclaws:
- Dogs use dewclaws to hold on to things
- They are important when running and jumping for balance and quick turns
- There are tendons that atrophy if the dew claws are removed
- There is a higher risk for Carpal tears, injuries and arthritis
M. Christine Zink DVM, PhD, DACVSMR, “I work exclusively with canine athletes, developing rehabilitation programs for injured dogs or dogs that required surgery as a result of performance-related injuries. I have seen many dogs now, especially field trial/hunt test and agility dogs, that have had chronic carpal arthritis, frequently so severe that they have to be retired or at least carefully managed for the rest of their careers. Of the over 30 dogs I have seen with carpal arthritis, only one has had dewclaws. If you look at an anatomy book (Miller’s Guide to the Anatomy of Dogs is an excellent one – see Figure 1 below) you will see that there are 5 tendons attached to the dewclaw. Of course, at the other end of a tendon is a muscle, and that means that if you cut off the dewclaws, there are 5 muscle bundles that will become atrophied from disuse. Those muscles indicate that the dewclaws have a function. That function is to prevent torque on the leg. Each time the foot lands on the ground, particularly when the dog is cantering or galloping (see Figure 2), the dewclaw is in touch with the ground. If the dog then needs to turn, the dewclaw digs into the ground to support the lower leg and prevent torque. If the dog doesn’t have a dewclaw, the leg twists. A lifetime of that and the result can be carpal arthritis, or perhaps injuries to other joints, such as the elbow, shoulder and toes. Remember: the dog is doing the activity regardless, and the pressures on the leg have to go somewhere. Perhaps you are thinking, “None of my dogs have ever had carpal pain or arthritis.” Well, we need to remember that dogs, by their very nature, do not tell us about mild to moderate pain. If a dog was to be asked by an emergency room nurse to give the level of his pain on a scale from 0 o 10, with 10 being the worst, their scale would be 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Most of our dogs, especially if they deal with pain that is of gradual onset, just deal with it and don’t complain unless it is excruciating. But when I palpate the carpal joints of older dogs without dewclaws, I frequently can elicit pain with relatively minimal manipulation. As to the possibility of injuries to dew claws. Most veterinarians will say that such injuries actually are not very common at all. And if they do occur, then they are dealt with like any other injury. In my opinion, it is far better to deal with an injury than to cut the dew claws off of all dogs ‘just in case’.”
Resources for further reading:
Australian Veterinary Journal Vol 74
Edinburgh Veterinary School