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 which are intended to be used as working dogs.
The consultation did not cover other breeds or use of dogs, where the docking of tails would 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 within section 20 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, to be achieved 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 later in life.
Overview of Responses
A total of 906 consultation responses were received; 873 from individuals and 33 from organisations.
The respondent group with the largest number of respondents (54%) was keepers 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.
The majority of respondents (77%) were based in Scotland, and 19% were based in England. All the local authorities and membership associations were based in Scotland.
Summary of Key Themes
Throughout this consultation the same themes arose across many of the questions. Those involved in field sports were generally supportive of introducing an exemption to the current total ban; those not involved in fieldsports - and particularly animal welfare organisations and members of the general public - tended to argue against a change in legislation.
Key arguments for the introduction of a tightly defined exemption were that the pain of tail docking for a puppy is much less than the pain caused by injury in later life, that docking is a less invasive and painful process than tail amputation(s) in later life or that there is a high risk of tail injuries for undocked dogs. Key arguments against the exemption were that tail docking causes distress and pain to a puppy, that the tail is an essential form of communication and expression for dogs, or that it cannot be assumed that a puppy will become a working dog.
Regardless of whether respondents were supportive or otherwise of a continued ban on tail docking, both sides used the need for animal welfare to back up their perspective.
Views on the research referred to in the consultation paper were also split, with those who were in favour of the exemption arguing that the research findings backed up their perspective. Conversely, those against the exemption noted that the research quoted in the consultation was not scientifically robust enough to back up the argument for the introduction of an exemption.
For some respondents, the suggested exemption does not go far enough, with some requesting this to be extended to all working dog breeds including terriers and Labradors. There were also some requests for a dock of longer than the end third of the tail.
While there were some spontaneous references to commercial issues in relation to the breeding of working dogs in Scotland in responses to the initial questions, respondents tended to focus more on the importance of animal welfare as a priority. That said, there were some references to the damage being done to Scottish breeding lines because of the current total ban on tail docking, and a small proportion of respondents also referred to the knock-on impact on the Scottish economy. In responses to the specific questions on this, significant numbers noted there has been an impact on a commercial basis, although this impact this was much lower at a personal level.
There was majority support for all veterinary surgeons to be able to dock on evidence to their satisfaction that dogs are likely to work in future; and little support for only specially approved veterinary surgeons to dock puppy tails.
The Proposed Exemption
Whether Scottish Ministers should allow docking of Spaniels and Hunt Point Retrievers
A large majority (92%) of respondents agreed that vets in Scotland should be allowed to dock the tails of Spaniels and Hunt Point Retriever puppies if they believe on the evidence presented to them that they are likely to be used for working in future and that the pain of docking is outweighed by the possible avoidance of more serious injuries in later life.
Among organisations, all keepers or breeders of working dogs, dog breed associations and membership associations supported this change. Although a very small number of respondents (4), the views of those in the veterinary sector were equally split; one of these - a national UK organisation representing the views of veterinary surgeons - was opposed to tail docking.
Among individuals, there were higher levels of support across all sub-groups, although only 55% of veterinary surgeons / nurses / animal scientists agreed with the suggested exemption.
Of those who were supportive of the change, responses focused on the damage that can be done to an undocked tail, with 42% of respondents noting they have had first hand experience of this damage; and 25% also commenting that docking is less invasive or painful than amputations or multiple amputations later in life. Slightly fewer respondents (21%) also noted that amputation in an adult dog carries a greater risk of infection or causes more pain than that of docking. The same proportion also noted that the docking process causes little pain or distress to puppies or that docking causes no concern to puppies.
Of the smaller number who were not supportive of tail docking, the key reasons were the need for a dog to have a full tail so that it can fully express itself and communicate with people and other dogs (34%), or that tail docking is not in line with animal welfare requirements or simply that it is cruel to dock a puppy's tail (also 34%). Among other key reasons, there were concerns that it cannot be assumed that a puppy will go on to be a working dog and thus many more may be docked than would be necessary, or simply that docking causes pain to a puppy.
The Extent of Tail Docking
Respondents were asked whether tail docking should be limited to the end third of the tail. Views were more polarised, with 52% in support of this and 36% against. The key reason for their support and noted by a large proportion (65%) was that the last third of the tail is the most susceptible part of the tail and that docking this part is sufficient to prevent serious injury.
For those who did not agree with docking the end third of the tail, the key reason (35%) was that a longer dock should be allowed as dogs need a shorter tail to avoid injury. Some respondents provided more definitive information, with 16% noting that up to two-thirds of the tail should be docked and 10% that up to half the tail should be docked. There were some qualifying comments; for example, that it should depend on the breed in question or the docking should be at the discretion of a vet.
Views on Approaches to Restrict the Exemption to Future Working Dogs
The consultation paper noted three possible approaches to help effectively restrict the exemption to future working dogs. Of these three, there was majority support (82%) for all veterinary surgeons to be permitted to dock on evidence to their satisfaction that dogs are likely to work in the future. There were higher levels of support from individuals (83%) than organisations (52%).
The second possible approach was for only specially approved veterinary surgeons to be allowed to dock on evidence to their satisfaction that dogs are likely to work in the future. Only 16% agreed with this and 55% disagreed. Some respondents noted that individuals will already have a relationship with a veterinary surgeon who they would rather use. There was also concern from some respondents of the long journeys this might entail for a young puppy, which was seen to go against the principles of animal welfare.
The third possible approach was for a requirement for a veterinary surgeon who has docked a dog likely to work in the future to also carry out the microchipping and registration of that dog. 58% of respondents supported this approach, compared to only 18% who did not. There were some comments though that microchipping cannot be carried out at the same time as the tail docking.
There were also some requests for proof to be provided that a puppy will become a working dog; for example, a firearm or shotgun certificate or letter from a head gamekeeper where the dog will work. There were also some comments that the system in England works well and that it would also work well if replicated in Scotland.
Business Impact - Commercial Interest
Only small proportions of respondents had a commercial interest in the breeding (14%) or sale (10%) of working dogs, although a larger proportion (40%) had a commercial interest in the use of working dogs.
The impact of the current total ban on the commercial breeding, sale or use of working Spaniels and Hunt Point Retrievers
A majority of respondents noted that the current total ban on tail docking has had a negative impact on the commercial breeding (62%), sale (66%) or use (64%) of working Spaniels and Hunt Point Retrievers.
A key reason for this impact was that respondents were, or knew of people who were, buying dogs with docked tails from outwith Scotland (cited by 62%). Other comments referred to the impact on Scottish breeders, with 25% claiming that some Scottish breeders have stopped breeding and / or that it is difficult to sell undocked dogs, 13% that long lines of Scottish bred working dogs are being lost; and 11% referred to the financial impact on Scottish breeders and thereby the Scottish economy.
The personal impact of the current total ban on the commercial breeding, sale or use of working Spaniels and Hunt Point Retrievers
Smaller proportions of respondents claimed there has been a personal impact on them, with 28% claiming the ban has had a negative financial impact, 12% that this impact includes loss of dog sales, 33% that this impact includes loss of dog working days, and 19% claimed other unspecified impacts. Key reasons for their responses were that they have lost working dog days due to injuries (24%) or that there have been vets' bills to pay because of injuries or amputations (23%).
There were also comments that they or others have had to travel to England to obtain docked working dogs or that it is expensive to purchase working dogs outwith Scotland (both cited by 14% of respondents). There were also references to buyers being unwilling to take undocked dogs or that there has been a loss of Scottish breeding lines (both cited by 13%).
Impact of exemption to the current ban on business
Over a quarter of respondents (28%) claimed that overall financial benefits to them would increase if the exemption were introduced; 31% that working dog sales would increase for them; and 37% that loss of dog working days from injury would decrease.
Key reasons provided by respondents were that they would be able to source working dogs in Scotland or that there would be increased sales of Scottish working dogs (19%), that this would lead to improved animal welfare (17%), that there would be fewer lost working days (15%), that breeders would be able to start breeding again in Scotland (13%) or that this would protect Scottish breeding lines (10%).
About the Consultation
Views on the consultation process were very positive, with:
- A large majority (89%) being positive about the consultation in that it explained the key issues sufficiently to properly consider their responses.
- Almost all respondents (97%) felt they had enough time to respond to the consultation. When asked to provide any other comments on the way the consultation had been conducted, the key comment was that a decision on whether to introduce a tightly defined exemption needs to be made.
- A majority of respondents (55%) were satisfied with the consultation; only 8% were dissatisfied.
- A majority (63%) were satisfied with Citizen Space which was the response mechanism for this consultation; only 6% were dissatisfied in any way.