There are two types of tail docking. The first is prophylactic docking which is the removal of tails from litters of puppies of less than 5 days old. The other type of tail docking is therapeutic docking which is the removal of a diseased or damaged tail from a dog of any age for clinical reasons.
The tail docking of dogs in Scotland was banned in 2007, under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. The only exception to this is where tail docking is required for the purpose of medical treatment of an animal. Tail docking is also banned in the rest of the UK although there are exemptions for working dogs of certain breeds including Spaniels, Hunt Point Retrievers and Terriers. It is illegal to take a dog out of Scotland to have its tail docked.
When tail-docking was banned in 2007, the then Scottish Government stated that if in the future the ban compromised the overall welfare of working dogs, then it would review the position.
Since this time, a number of research projects have been conducted. In 2009 the Scottish Government and Defra co-funded research conducted by the University of Bristol and the Royal Veterinary College on tail injuries in working dogs but this did not provide enough information to justify a change in policy. In 2011 the Scottish Government commissioned further research by the University of Glasgow.
One part of this research  looked at records of working breed tail injuries from veterinary practices in Scotland, which showed that around 1% of dogs of all working breeds taken to a veterinary surgery were treated for a tail injury. The other  study was an internet survey of over 1,000 owners of working dogs and found that in one shooting season 57% of undocked Spaniels and 39% of Hunt Point Retrievers experienced a tail injury of some sort and that docking the tails of these two breeds by one third could significantly decrease the risk of tail injury. That said, there was no apparent protective effect in removing more than a third of the tail or in docking the tails of Terriers. They summarised that to prevent one tail injury in one shooting season, between 2 and 18 Spaniel or Hunt Point Retriever puppies would need to be docked (depending on the number of puppies from a litter that went on to be used as working dogs).
In February 2016, the Scottish Government launched a consultation document on the proposal to introduce legislation to permit the docking of Spaniel and Hunt Point Retriever puppies intended to be used as working dogs. The consultation did not cover other breeds or uses of dogs, where the docking of tails will remain prohibited unless it is a medical necessity. The consultation sought views on the proposed introduction of a tightly defined exemption, which would take the form of a limited exemption to the ban on tail docking of dogs currently in place under provisions contained in section 20 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 via an amendment to The Prohibited Procedures on Protected Animals (Exemption) (Scotland) Regulations 2010.
The key changes outlined in the consultation were:
- To permit the docking, by up to a maximum of one third in length, of the tails of working Spaniels and Hunt Point Retrievers before they are not more than five days old.
- To require tail docking to be carried out by veterinary surgeons, only where they have been provided with sufficient evidence that the dogs will be used for working purposes in the future; and in their professional judgement the pain of docking is outweighed by the possible avoidance of more serious injuries in later life.
A total of 906 consultation responses were received; 873 from individuals and 33 from organisations.
Overview of responses
The consultation respondent information form ( RIF) included a list of sectors, and respondents were asked to tick the sector they most aligned with for themselves or for their organisation. These sub-groups were used to enable analysis as to whether differences, or commonalities, appeared across the various different types of organisations and/or individuals that responded. Some respondents indicated that they were unable to select only one sector and so the category 'various relevant roles' was added.
As can be seen in the following table, the group with the largest number of respondents (54%) was keeper of working dogs. Around one in ten respondents (11%) were recreational shooters or members of the general public and one in twenty were game keepers or breeders of working dogs.
Smaller proportions of respondents were involved in the veterinary sector, animal welfare, dog breeders (general), dog breed associations, pest controllers, local authorities, membership associations or other sectors associated with field sports.
Table 1: Profile of consultation responses (by sector)
|Keeper of working dogs (486)||54|
|Recreational shooter (104)||11|
|Member of the general public (101)||11|
|Game keeper (47)||5|
|Breeder of working dogs (46)||5|
|Veterinary surgeon / nurse / animal scientist (35)||4|
|Various relevant roles (25)||3|
|Animal welfare organisation (14)||2|
|Dog breeder (general) (6)||1|
|Dog breed association (5)||1|
|Shoot organiser (11)||1|
|Pest Controller (6)||1|
|Membership association (5)||1|
|Other dog-related role (9)||1|
|Local authority (3)||*|
|Other shoot-related (3)||*|
* Denotes less than 1%
** Figures may not add to 100% due to rounding
In terms of location, the majority of respondents (77%) were based in Scotland, although almost one in five (19%) was based in England. Only very small proportions of respondents came from elsewhere. All the local authorities and membership associations responding were based in Scotland.
Table 2: Profile of consultation responses (by location)
|Republic of Ireland||*|
* Denotes less than 1%
** Figures may not add to 100% due to rounding
Analysis and reporting
Comments provided in response to each question were examined and main themes, similar issues raised or comments made in a number of responses, were identified. In addition, we looked for sub-themes such as reasons for opinions, specific examples or explanations, alternative suggestions or other related comments. The consultation questions are included in Appendix 1.
Some questions contained a yes / no tick box option to allow respondents to indicate their response. Results from these questions are presented in table or chart format. Where respondents did not use the questionnaire format for their response but indicated within their text their answer to one of the tick box questions, these have been included in the relevant count.
The main themes were looked at in relation to all respondent groups to ascertain whether any particular theme was specific to one particular group, or whether it appeared in responses across groups. When looking at group differences however, it must be also borne in mind that where a specific opinion has been identified in relation to a particular group or groups, this does not indicate that other groups do not share this opinion, but rather that they have simply not commented on that particular point.
The following chapters document the substance of the analysis and present the main views expressed in responses. Appropriate verbatim comments, from those who gave permission for their responses to be made public, are used throughout the report to illustrate themes or to provide extra detail for some specific points.
While the consultation gave all those who wished to comment an opportunity to do so, given the self-selecting nature of this type of exercise, any figures quoted here cannot be extrapolated to the wider population.