Tail Docking

What is tail docking?

Tail docking is amputating a dog’s tail, also known as maiming.

Dogs tails are docked at varying lengths to suit the recommendations of breed standards. The docking involves amputating the dog or puppy’s tail with a scalpel or scissors, often performed without anaesthetic. The incision goes through many highly sensitive nerves in the skin, cartilage and bone.

In some cases, a rubber band is also used and placed around the dog or puppy’s tail to cut off the blood circulation resulting in the tail rotting off.

Is tail docking a form of maiming?

Since the removal of the tail of a dog or puppy results in permanent loss of (i.e. damage to) a body part, the procedure of removing a healthy tail is considered a form of maiming. The South African Concise English Dictionary (2008) defines “maim” as follows: “wound or injure (someone) so that part of the body is permanently damaged”. The Free Dictionary provides the following definition: “to injure, disable, or disfigure, usually by depriving of the use of a limb or other part of the body”.

Rubber band used to dock tail of Boerboel puppy. Photo used with courtesy of the Vereeniging SPCA.
Rubber band used to dock tail of Boerboel puppy. Photo used with courtesy of the Vereeniging SPCA.

Tail docking or maiming vs the Animals Protection Act

Maiming an animal constitutes a contravention in terms of Section 2(1)(a) of the Animals Protection Act No 71 of 1962, which states: “Any person who:- overloads, overdrives, overrides, ill-treats, neglects, infuriates, tortures or maims or cruelly beats, kicks, goads or terrifies any animal.”

Any person, including veterinarians, may be prosecuted in terms of the Animals Protection Act for maiming an animal unless the procedure is performed for a valid medical reason.

Contraventions of the Animals Protection Act is a prosecutable criminal offence with penalties in a magistrates court being a fine of up to R40 000 and/or imprisonment for up to 12 years with a criminal record.

Our stance on tail docking

The SPCA is opposed to the physical mutilation and/or alteration of any animal unless it is undertaken for therapeutic veterinary reasons, bona fide conservation or security reasons, where there are no other options available. Any procedures undertaken should be for the benefit of the animal, using methods that do not cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm.

The SPCA takes an identical standpoint relating to the various surgical mutilations of other species.

No animal deserves to endure pain and suffering because a person wants to modify the animal’s appearance for cosmetic reasons.

The Five Freedoms

The SPCA believes all animals should have the right to the five freedoms:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour
  5. Freedom from fear and distress

Negatives of tail docking

Scientific research has shown that tail docking is a painful and traumatic experience for a dog or puppy, even if performed under local anaesthetic. Even at a few days of age, puppies have a well developed sense of pain and a fully developed nervous system. Skin, blood vessels, nerves, bone and cartilage are cut during the procedure. If it is poorly done, problems such as nerve damage, neuroma, pain, bleeding, infection, problems with defecating and urinating and even death can occur.

Dogs use their tails for communication / body language.

A tail that is wagging quickly indicates a happy, friendly dog, whilst a tail that is being wagged stiffly, slowly and deliberately indicates a warning that a dog is feeling threatened or unhappy, and that he may bite or attack.

Without a tail, a dog cannot communicate his emotions or intentions, making it more difficult for people and other dogs to know how a dog is likely to react in a certain situation, and may even lead to an increase in dog fights.

Unless the dog’s tail is a major hindrance to the work that a working dog needs to carry out, or if it may be damaged or injured in the course of his work, there is no justification for tail docking. Also, many working breed dogs are now kept as pets and not as working animals, and even if they do work, it is normally “a recreational activity for people and not an essential function”, according to the SAVC (South African Veterinary Council). The NSPCA concurs with this statement.

If a procedure that causes pain and problems with communication, negatively affects movement and balance, has no immediate or future benefit for the animal and may lead to life-threatening complications, it is unnecessary and should not be performed.

South African Veterinary Council’s stance on tail docking

The South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) decided that as of 1 June 2008 it would no longer condone the routine tail docking of puppies for cosmetic purposes by veterinarians. Any veterinarian who docks a tail, “unless for justifiable medical reasons”, will be liable for prosecution under the Animal Protection Act No 71 of 1962. Veterinarians found guilty under the Animals Protection Act will automatically be investigated for unprofessional conduct by the SAVC under the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act No 19 of 1982.

How can you help?

Do not buy puppies who have had their tails docked and encourage your dog club stop advocating tail docking.

Report any person, breeder or veterinarian performing the illegal act of tail docking to our Inspectorate by calling (021) 700-4158/9 or by sending an email to inspectorate@spca-ct.co.za

It is important to note that the SPCA is opposed to private and commercial breeding of all animals for the pet trade, including indigenous wild and exotic species. The SPCA is opposed to the breeding of all animals that causes or may cause detrimental changes to an animal’s physical, physiological and psychological well-being.

The SPCA actively encourages the adoption of dogs (and other animals) from SPCAs and other responsible animal welfare organisations or shelters.

Animals need their tails!

Please do not support or condone the docking of dogs tails.


The Cape of Good Hope SPCA seized a Rottweiler puppy called Zara following a report from a private veterinarian of her Durbanville owner using a rubber band to dock her tail.