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Prepare to Dock

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There are very few breeds that are born with docked tails. If a puppy is to have its tail docked, similar to dew claws, they are usually removed within the first 5 days of life. In the case of unforeseen circumstances, like illness or injury, a tail may require an amputation surgery later on. The most common reason for docking tails is cosmetic, but some medical cases do necessitate amputation of the tail. However, it is becoming increasingly common nowadays to see dogs that stereotypically have docked tails with their tails left long. This shift in practice results from a combination of factors, including legal statutes, veterinary ethics, and reevaluating how a tail may be useful and why it should or should not be removed. 

When puppies’ tails are “docked” or “bobbed” within the first 5 days, most of the tissue is still soft. Docking early results in less pain and more rapid healing. However, the procedure is usually done without anesthesia. At the most, local anesthesia is used because it’s considered a less painful procedure as a neonate. Additionally, sedation or general anesthesia would be a significant risk to a pup so young. When performed later in life, the procedure requires general and usually local anesthesia, as it is a full amputation and is very painful. 

Reasons for Docking Tails


Cosmetics is the most common reason for docking tails. A docked tail became a breed standard for one historical reason or another and makes the dog recognizable as that breed. For instance, many people generally consider long-tailed rottweilers to look like a mixed breed and may not know what to make of a long-tailed vizsla or cocker spaniel. Although rooted in necessity historically, nowadays, this procedure is often only a cosmetic procedure. As a result, many groups advocate for its ban. Furthermore, many veterinarians have discontinued the practice because of ethical implications. Many countries have already banned the practice. Even several US states have imposed restrictions on the procedure unless the amputation is medically necessary. 

The bottom line is that it’s a surgery. It’s less painful, and the recovery is faster when the puppies are young (days old) before the tissues have fully calcified, but it’s still a surgery. There are still veterinarians willing to perform this surgery, including here at Tier 1 VMC. However, the pros and cons should be weighed before pursuing this proccedure. 

Medically Necessary Amputation

There are cases, not rare ones, in which it is medically necessary to pursue an amputation of the tail. 


Accidents happen, and unfortunately, sometimes they happen to the tail. Whether by getting hit by a car, dog fights, tails slammed in doors, or broken, these cases often make a tail amputation medically necessary. Hopefully, the amputation required isn’t too short because this can create a whole other set of issues. For instance, with traction (pulling injuries) or amputations that are extremely short (flush to the rump), there is a risk for damage to the nerves, and incontinence can be a possibility.

Happy Tail

A layman’s term and really a subset of trauma, happy tail is a special and unique condition. Happy tail is trauma caused to the end of the tail, usually due to excessive wagging and knocking the tail into things, such as the wall. This causes injury to the tip of the tail, causing it to break open and bleed. Consequently, the ensuing madness of tail-wagging can rapidly transform any room into a bloody horrifying mess.

The blood supply to the end of the tail is not as liberal as other tissues, and it doesn’t have the best capability for collateral (alternative routes of) circulation like many other tissues. As a result, these injuries tend not to heal well. Veterinarians have adapted all manners of oddball bandaging to cushion the tail from further blows while it’s trying to heal. But any bandage is difficult to keep on, especially given the motion at the tip of the tail and the likelihood to be chewed.

Happy tail is commonly a repeat injury. The scarred tissues are weaker and more likely to be injured again, especially if the wagging continues. If you have any ideas on how to keep a happy tail from wagging, I, and the veterinary community at large are all ears. Necrosis or tissue death and decay commonly result. In this case, amputation must occur, usually short enough to keep it from happening again. Meaning, under no waggable circumstances can the tail reach the wall. We also commonly see this injury in working dogs, especially military working dogs who circle in their runs excessively and bang their tails on the walls in their circular fervor. 

Navigating the Waters of Docking Tails

Tails are part of our dogs; they use them to express themselves! Tails help with balance (especially in athletic maneuvers) and can even aid in directing a dog in the water like a sort of rudder. Dogs with docked tails get along just fine, but whether elective docking or medically necessary amputation, it’s best to be informed. There are still many breeds all over the world who have their tails docked and many veterinarians willing to do it with as little pain and risk as possible. There is a need for it in many cases and a great desire for it in others. Regardless, your vet or the vets here at Tier 1 VMC can help you navigate the waters. Just open the lines of communication. 

Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center in Palmer is Alaska’s only comprehensive animal hospital. We are available by appointment, in addition to accepting emergencies and walk-ins. With CT, MRI, and Ultrasound available on-site, our facility provides advanced treatment options for your pet. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Dr. Sean McPeck

A 2010 Graduate of Colorado State College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Dr. Sean McPeck developed his leadership as a Sniper Team Leader and Veterinarian with the US Army Special Operations, 75th Ranger Regiment.

Dr. McPeck has multiple combat deployments, totaling almost 2 years in combat theaters of operation.

He is the recipient of the Combat Action Badge, and is Ranger, Sniper, and Airborne qualified. While serving as an officer in Special Operations, Dr. McPeck was repeatedly recognized for his Honor, Integrity, Courage and Selfless Service in the name of the United States. He was recognized with not one, but two, Meritorious Service Medals.

Under his leadership, Dr. McPeck worked with Working Dog handlers, and canine units, to detain and seize enemy combatants. The canines that Dr. McPeck worked with are credited with savings thousands of United States soldiers deployed in combat areas.

Dr. McPeck authored The RCAP, Ranger Canine Athletic Program, which was the 1st comprehensive Military canine conditioning program.

His specific training and certification classes for Dog handlers to be proficient in Canine Tactical- Combat Casualty Care, and knowledge of current medical equipment and procedures, which led to the successful life saving interventions by handlers in real world operations.

Dr. SaraRose McPeck graduated from Mississippi State College of Veterinary Medicine in 2010. A Massachusetts native who attended Becker College for her undergrad, Dr. McPeck has lived and worked around the country and even the world. She served four years in the United States Army as a Veterinary Officer, during which she was stationed in Fort Benning, Georgia, and completed a 12-month tour in Afghanistan.

Her time serving in the Army provided her the experience as the primary veterinarian for over 350 Military Working Dogs, in which she provided all emergency, trauma, surgical, critical, and primary care. In addition to caring for animals, she trained, mentored, and led six Non-Commissioned Officers and twelve junior enlisted Soldiers, giving her not only impressive veterinary experience but also exceptional interpersonal and leadership skills.

As a Veterinary Corp Officer, she received a variety of awards, including a Bronze Star, a NATO Medal, a GWOT Medal, two Army Accommodation Medals, among many others. She gained experiences in which she exemplified impressive leadership skills and the ability to adapt to both clinical and combat support situations. Her years of experience serving our country and in veterinary medicine have equipped her with the knowledge and skills to provide exceptional care to our patients.