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Publication - Research Publication

Analysis of Responses to the Consultation on the Proposal to Permit Tail Docking of Working Spaniels and Hunt Point Retrievers

Published: 4 Oct 2016
Part of:
Farming and rural, Research
ISBN:
9781786524836

Analysis of responses to the consultation on tail-docking.

41 page PDF

615.2kB

41 page PDF

615.2kB

Contents
Analysis of Responses to the Consultation on the Proposal to Permit Tail Docking of Working Spaniels and Hunt Point Retrievers
The proposed exemption

41 page PDF

615.2kB

The proposed exemption

Whether Scottish Ministers should allow docking of Spaniels and Hunt Point Retrievers

The first question in the consultation paper asked 'Should the Scottish Ministers allow vets in Scotland to dock Spaniel 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 later in life?'

Across the organisations responding to this question, all responses from keepers / breeders of working dogs (6 organisations), dog breed associations (3) and membership associations (5) were supportive. Lowest levels of support came from animal welfare organisations, where two out of 12 supported the docking of puppies. Views of the veterinary sector were split, with two out of four supportive and two non-supportive Those who did not support docking included a national UK organisation representing the views of veterinary surgeons. There were higher levels of support from individuals, where many sectors showed 92% or more support for this change; lowest levels of support came from members of the general public (74%) and veterinary surgeons / nurses / animal scientist (55%).

Table 3: Whether Scottish Ministers should allow docking of Spaniels and Hunt Point Retrievers

Yes
(%)
No
(%)
Don't know
(%)
Total (906) 92 7 1
Organisations (33) 58 36 6
Individuals (873) 93 6 *

* Denotes less than 1%
** Figures may not add to 100% due to rounding

Having noted their support or otherwise for this change in law, respondents were then asked to provide reasons for their response. Table 4 provides the main responses to this question.

Support for tail docking

Of the 720 who were supportive of the change in law and who provided additional commentary to this question, responses focused on the damage that can be done to an undocked tail. The key reason given by 42% of respondents was that they have had first hand experience of the damage that can be done to undocked dogs' tails. A quarter of respondents (25%) commented that docking is less invasive or painful than amputation or multiple amputations later in life.

Around a fifth of respondents (21%) commented that an amputation procedure in an adult dog has greater risk of infection or causes more pain to the dog; the same proportion (21%) commented that the docking process causes little pain or distress to a young puppy or that puppies are unconcerned by the docking process.

Around one in six respondents commented that the pain of docking a puppy is much less than the pain caused by injury later in life (18%), that there is a high risk of tail injuries for undocked dogs (16%), or that it is against animal welfare and cruel not to dock a puppy (15%). One in ten respondents noted they had not experienced injuries with docked dogs.

Table 4: Reasons why Scottish Ministers should allow docking of Spaniels and Hunt Point Retrievers

Total
(%)
Organisations
(%)
Individuals
(%)
First hand experience of damage to undocked dog tails 42 17 42
Docking less invasive / painful than tail amputation later in life 25 17 25
Greater risk to adult dog of procedure going wrong / risks infection 21 28 21
Docking causes little distress to puppy / puppy unconcerned with docking 21 17 21
Pain of docking puppy tail much less than injury later in life 18 22 17
High risk of tail injuries for undocked dogs 16 11 17
Cruel not to dock puppies / in dogs' best interests 15 22 15
Have not experienced injury(ies) to dogs with docked tails 10 6 10

** Figures do not add to 100% because respondents could give as many answers as they wished

A number of other reasons were provided, each by small proportions of respondents. Some of these referred to the impact of tail injuries; and included that undocked dogs are at risk of continuous tail injury(ies) (cited by 7%), that recovery from a full amputation takes longer in later life (5%) or that undocked dogs with tail injuries are prevented from working (4%).

There were also some references from small proportions of respondents to the financial impact that this legislation has on those working in the sector; for example that current legislation forces people to purchase docked dogs outwith Scotland or to whelp their bitches in England (6%), that undocked tail injuries lead to expensive vet bills (4%) or that the ban on tail docking is damaging breeders, their breeding lines and / or and their businesses in Scotland (2%).

For a very small proportion of respondents, the suggested exemptions do not go far enough, with 4% commenting that the exemption should be extended to other breeds such as Terriers or Labradors and the same proportion saying that tail docking should be legal for all working dogs.

Very small proportions of respondents also referred to unspecified evidence that notes docking is good for the welfare of working dogs (3%), or cited research conducted by Glasgow University and Bristol University and the Royal Veterinary College and commented that this was supportive of tail docking (2%).

Non-support for tail docking

Sixty-one respondents commented on their opposition to the docking of Spaniels and Hunt Point Retriever puppies. The key reasons given for this included the importance of a dog's tail to enable it to communicate with people and other dogs (cited by 34%) or that tail docking is not in line with animal welfare requirements or that it is cruel to dock a puppy's tail (34%).

Other reasons, cited by around a quarter of respondents, included that it cannot be assumed that a puppy will become a working dog or that only a minority of docked puppies will go on to be working dogs (26%) or that the process of docking causes pain to puppies (25%). Almost one in five respondents (18%) also commented that the majority of tail injuries are due to non-hunting or shooting activities, that it is rare to see tail injuries caused by shooting activities (16%), or that tail docking only complies with the wishes of dog breeders and those involved in field sports (15%).

Interestingly, 16% of these respondents also cited the same pieces of research as mentioned by those who were supportive of tail docking but commented that findings from these research studies do not justify tail docking. A further 8% also commented specifically on the findings from the Glasgow research and felt these were not scientifically robust.

Table 5: Reasons why Scottish Ministers should not allow docking of Spaniels and Hunt Point Retrievers (Base: 61)

Total
(%)
Organisations
(%)
Individuals
(%)
Tail is essential form of communication / docking impairs ability to communicate 34 58 29
Against animal welfare 34 67 27
Cannot assume puppy will become working dog 26 25 27
Puts too many puppies through pain of docking / docking causes pain 25 50 18
Majority of tail injuries due to non-hunting / shooting activities 18 25 16
Rarely / never see shooting tail injury 16 17 16
Research findings do not support tail docking 16 33 12
Tail docking only complies with wishes of breeders / desire for specific look to breed 15 8 16

** Figures do not add to 100% because respondents could give as many answers as they wished

Small proportions of these respondents made suggestions to help avoid tail injuries in the future. These included taking action to avoid tail injuries such as fitting a Kevlar tail glove or trimming / shaving tail hair (cited by 10%) or that dogs can be bred for strong tails (7%). A similar proportion commented that owners should be reducing the risk of tail injuries to their dogs (7%) or that they are neglecting their duty of care for the welfare of the animal if they allow tail docking (5%).

Some respondents simply noted their antipathy to tail docking, suggesting that tail docking should only be carried out because of medical necessity (10%), that the potential harm prevented by docking does not outweigh the pain of the docking process (8%), or that docking is morally and ethically wrong (7%).

There were also concerns from small proportions of respondents that tail docking can have long term consequences for a dog, for example, causing incontinence or behavioural changes (7%) or that the tail is needed for balance (5%). Two veterinary surgeons noted that they had not seen an increase in tail injuries since the ban on docking was introduced in Scotland in 2007.

Comments from organisations exemplifying the arguments for both pro and anti camps included an organisation from the shoot organiser group who said:

"We strongly believe that the evidence presented in a number of studies, in particular Lederer, Bennett and Parkin (2014), confirm that the pain of docking of the tails of HPR and spaniel puppies is outweighed by the avoidance of more serious tail injury later in life. In fact, the authors of the above paper state: "Docking the tails of HPRs and spaniels by one-third would significant decrease the risk of tail injury sustained while working in these breeds. This position is supported by a significant number of veterinary surgeons, in particular those working in rural locations, who are regularly exposed to serious/chronic tail injuries in undocked working dogs of these breeds. It is also supported by the many owners of working dogs who have experienced the repeated injury of undocked tails. It should be noted that the pain associated with the docking of puppies tails has been seen as comparable with that associated with microchipping a dog - now a legal requirement in Scotland."

Conversely, an animal welfare organisation noted:

"No credible evidence has been presented to us that suggests that amputation of a puppy's tail without anaesthetic can ever be justified to avoid future injuries. The University of Glasgow document is a fairly feeble study that does not justify a relaxation of the ban on docking puppies' tails in Spaniels and Hunt Point Retrievers. In my experience injuries from bramble/hawthorn etc. are mostly to ears and muzzle and not to tails. The only tail injury I have ever seen in a Hunt Point Retriever was caused by a car door."

The extent of tail docking

Having ascertained their support or otherwise for the docking of Spaniel and Hunt Point Retriever puppies, respondents were then asked 'If the Scottish Ministers decide, after consultation, to permit limited tail docking for Spaniels and Hunt Point Retrievers, do you agree that such tail docking should be limited to the end third of the tail?'

Table 6 demonstrates that views on whether docking should be limited to the end third of the tail were relatively polarised, with just over half (52%) agreeing with this and over a third (36%) disagreeing. There were some slight differences between organisations and individuals, with a higher proportion of individuals giving a 'no' response (36% of individuals compared to 27% of organisations).

Table 6: Whether tail docking should be limited to the end third of the tail

Yes
(%)
No
(%)
Don't know
(%)
Total (906) 52 36 12
Organisations (33) 48 27 24
Individuals (873) 52 36 11

** Figures may not add to 100% due to rounding

Support for docking the end third of the tail

Respondents were also given the opportunity to provide commentary in support of their response to this question. As shown in table 7, a high proportion of those who were pro docking the end third of the tail (65%) noted 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.

Small proportions of respondents felt that docking the end third of the tail is not enough, with 5% claiming that removal of the end third might not be enough to prevent injury, 3% who claimed that removing up to a half of the tail would be preferable, and 2% claiming a third is 'better than nothing'.

Just under one in ten noted that removal of only the end third of the tail would still allow for communication, expression and socialisation for dogs; while 4% claimed this would still allow for balance and 3% that this would still allow them to protect sensitive parts of their body.

Table 7: Reasons why docking should be end third of tail only

Total
(%)
Organisations
(%)
Individuals
(%)
Last 1/3 is most susceptible to injury / enough to prevent serious injury 65 40 66
Will still allow for communication / expression / socialisation 8 13 8
Removing 1/3 might not be enough to prevent injury 5 - 6
Should be at discretion of vet 4 13 4
Should not allow docking / anti- tail docking 4 13 4
Would still allow for balance 4 - 4
Depends on breed 4 20 3

** Figures do not add to 100% because respondents could give as many answers as they wished

Other comments made by respondents echoed their responses to the previous question and included:

  • Anti-docking (4%).
  • Pro-docking (3%).
  • In favour of docking only for health reasons (2%).

Additionally, a small proportion (4%) felt tail docking should be at the discretion of a veterinary surgeon and 4% that it should depend on the dog breed.

Non-support for docking the end third of the tail

Of the 327 respondents who did not agree that tail docking should be limited to the end third of the tail, 284 provided further information; many of their responses echoed those given by respondents who were in favour of docking the end third of the tail. The length of the dock was raised again with over a third (35%) commenting that dogs need a shorter dock than this to avoid injury or that docking the end third of the tail is not enough to avoid future damage.

Some respondents provided more definitive information, with 16% noting that up to 2/3 of the tail should be docked, 10% that up to half the tail should be docked and 2% that the tail should be docked between 1/3 and ½ of the tail.

A number of respondents provided a qualified response to this question, and these comments included:

  • Depends on the breed (16%).
  • The length of the docking should be at the discretion of a vet (12%).
  • The length of the docking should be the decision of the owner or breeder (4%).
  • The tail should not extend beyond the width of the dog or that it should be based on the size of the dog (4%).
  • The length of the dock should depend on the type of work and location of work being carried out (3%).

Table 8: Reasons why docking should not be end third of tail only

Total
(%)
Organisations
(%)
Individuals
(%)
Dogs need shorter tail than 1/3 dock to avoid injury 35 13 36
Up to 2/3 of tail should be docked 16 - 17
Depends on breed / breed standard 16 13 16
Length of docking should be at vet's discretion 12 25 12
½ tail / up to ½ tail should be docked 10 - 10
Reiteration of opposition to tail docking 7 50 6
Length of dock should be decision of owner / breeder 5 13 5
Tail should not extend beyond width of dog / should be based on dog size 4 - 4

** Figures do not add to 100% because respondents could give as many answers as they wished

A typical comment from a keeper wanting to see more than the end third of a tail docked was "The ideal length for a GSP is to leave between 1/3 and ½ of the tail. Dock sensibly for the job in hand, not to attempt to appease those against docking". Another individual noted "it depends on the Spaniels and Hunt Point Retriever breed as some require shorter lengths than others". An organisation supportive of docking only the end third of a puppy's tail commented "[We] do not consider tail docking by more than one third is necessary and are not aware of evidence to suggest any benefit or advantage by extending tail docking further than one third".

Views on approaches to restrict the exemption to future working dogs

Question 3 of the consultation paper asked about three factors that could be applied to help effectively restrict the exemption to future working dogs. These were:

  • Permit all veterinary surgeons to dock on evidence to their satisfaction that dogs are likely to work in future.
  • Permit only specially approved veterinary surgeons to dock on evidence to their satisfaction that dogs are likely to work in future.
  • Require veterinary surgeons that have docked dogs likely to work in future to carry out the microchipping and registration of that dog.

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. Only 11% of respondents disagreed with this option.

Chart 1: Agreement as to whether all veterinary surgeons should be allowed to dock on evidence to their satisfaction that dogs are likely to work in future

Chart 1: Agreement as to whether all veterinary surgeons should be allowed to dock on evidence to their satisfaction that dogs are likely to work in future

There were some statistically significant differences between organisations and individuals, with highest levels of support coming from individuals (83% compared to 52% of organisations). Agreement was lowest among animal welfare organisations (two out of 12 supported this proposal). Interestingly, while it is only a small base, the views of veterinary organisations were equally split.

There was far less agreement that only specially approved veterinary surgeons should be allowed to dock on evidence to their satisfaction that dogs are likely to work in future, with only 16% agreeing to this, compared to 55% disagreeing. Over a quarter (28%) did not provide a 'yes' or 'no' response to this question.

Chart 2: Agreement as to whether only specially approved veterinary surgeons should be allowed to dock on evidence to their satisfaction that dogs are likely to work in future

Chart 2: Agreement as to whether only specially approved veterinary surgeons should be allowed to dock on evidence to their satisfaction that dogs are likely to work in future

There were few differences between organisations and individuals, or between sectors; highest proportions of individuals agreeing were from the general public or those working in the veterinary sector (cited by 28% and 29% respectively).

In terms of the third possible approach to restrict the exemption to future working dogs, there was majority support (58%) for a requirement that a veterinary surgeon who has docked a dog likely to work in the future should also carry out the microchipping and registration of that dog. This compared to only 18% who disagreed with this approach; although just under a quarter (24%) did not provide a 'yes' or 'no' response to this.

There were few differences across sub-groups, although least support for this approach came from animal welfare organisations and keepers / breeders of working dogs.

Chart 3: Agreement that veterinary surgeons that have docked dogs likely to work in future to carry out the microchipping and registration of that dog

Chart 3: Agreement that veterinary surgeons that have docked dogs likely to work in future to carry out the microchipping and registration of that dog

Having noted whether they agreed or disagreed with each of these possible approaches, respondents were then invited to provide reasons for their response.

A wide range of reasons were given, although many by 4% or less of respondents. The key reason given by 44% of respondents was that all vets should be able to carry out the docking procedure, with 12% also noting that restricting docking to a small number of specialist vets would mean having to travel long distances for docking and that this is against the wellbeing of the puppy being docked. The same proportion also noted that they would want to use their own vet or that individuals will have an existing relationship with a vet who will know if a puppy is destined to become a working dog.

Table 9: Reasons for respondents' views on possible approaches to effectively restricting the exemption to future working dogs

Total
(%)
Organisations
(%)
Individuals
(%)
All vets should be able to carry out procedure 44 32 45
Would want to use own vet / would have relationship with existing vet 12 16 12
Docking by specialist vets would mean long journeys for docking / against wellbeing of puppy 12 24 11

** Figures do not add to 100% because respondents could give as many answers as they wished

Other issues raised by respondents included:

  • Microchipping & registration for all dogs will be requirement by April 2016 (8%).
  • Vets should be able to apply their own discretion as to whether a puppy will become a working dog (7%).
  • The same vet should be used for docking as for microchipping and registration (7%).
  • The system works well in UK / England (7%).
  • This would allow for a sensible audit trail or would be easier to police (7%).
  • Dogs should be docked shortly after birth (6%).
  • Microchipping and docking cannot be done at same time (6%).
  • Need evidence that a puppy will become working dog (6%).

An Animal Welfare Organisation highlighted a number of issues in their response to this specific question.

"The tail docking legislation in England and Wales permits vets to perform tail docking where they can certify that they have seen evidence that a dog is likely to be used for a specified type of work, and that it is a dog of a specified type. [We] have serious concerns about permitting tail docking under such conditions, as the legislation requires that puppies are no more than 5 days old when docked. It is extremely difficult to guarantee that puppies of this age will be suitable for working. This is likely to result in full litters being docked, rather than only certain puppies within a litter which will definitely go on to work."

An organisation supportive of tail docking commented:

"While [we] are supportive of allowing all vets to dock we recognise that many may chose not to do so, as is the case in England, Wales and N. Ireland. We respect the fact that some vets already choose not to undertake certain procedures. We would oppose the restriction of this simple practice to "specially approved" vets to avoid what we would regard as an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and also to avoid what could become unnecessarily long trips for both owner and puppies, in rural areas, to reach a "specially approved" vet. This step has not proven necessary in other parts of the UK. We are generally supportive of requiring vets who have docked dogs to carry out both microchipping (at an appropriate age) and registration of these dogs. However, there may be situations that arise (for a variety of reasons) when one vet carries out the tail docking and another would then be expected to carry out microchipping and registration. It may be sensible to ensure that this is not too prescriptive."

Any further suggestions

Finally, in this section of the consultation paper, respondents were asked if they had any additional suggestions that they thought might help to effectively restrict tail docking to future working dogs, and 320 provided commentary.

Many respondents took this opportunity to reiterate points that had already been made at earlier questions. Key points from those in favour of tail docking were that:

  • Tail docking saves pain and injuries (15%).
  • Tail docking should be extended to other working dog breeds / other breeds / non-working dogs can also receive tail injuries (12%).

Among those supportive of tail docking, there were a number of comments about evidence or proof that could be provided to show that a puppy will become a working dog. These included:

  • A firearm or shotgun certificate (14%).
  • A letter from a head gamekeeper of shoots where the dog will work (10%).
  • Written evidence (unspecified) or proof that the dog will be worked (7%).
  • Proof that the puppy comes from working dog stock / proof of working pedigree (6%).
  • Certification from veterinary surgeon / vet to sign off on supporting evidence (6%).
  • Proof (unspecified) that the puppy will be used for working (4%).
  • Proof of working gundog club membership (3%).

Just over one in ten (12%) respondents also felt that the system being proposed by the Scottish Government works well in the rest of the UK and they would like to see it replicated in Scotland.

Of those against tail docking, a small proportion (6%) felt that it could be difficult to tell if a puppy will be used as a working dog; and the same proportion simply noted they were anti-tail docking.

Again, there were some references at this question to the fact that breeders or owners will have an existing relationship with a veterinary surgeon and that a vet will know whether a puppy is going to be a working dog and / or that it comes from a breeding line (5%). The same proportion of respondents also noted that each working puppy should be registered and licensed as a working dog.


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