Although it’s not my intention to stir up controversy, there’s a good chance that some of my next few posts will do just that as I explore various aspects of dogs, hunting and breeding. Starting off with tail docking. You see, there is a growing trend in the United States to adopt United Kingdom standards for Italian Spinone rather than remain with the traditional Italian standards, and one of those standards is tail docking.
Just looking at the research you’ll find about as many arguments opposing tail docking as you will supporting it. Generally speaking, tails are docked to avoid injury to them. Those opposing tail docking usually site pain, “unnecessary mutilation” and do-it-yourself vets as their main arguments.
The Council of Docked Breeds reports that:
Since docking was banned in Sweden in 1989, there has been a massive increase in tail injuries amongst previously docked breeds. Within the 50 undocked Pointer litters registered in that year with the Swedish Kennel Club, 38% of dogs suffered tail injury before they were 18 months old and in 1991, the number of individuals with tail injures had increased to 51% of the group.
And relating to breeding standards, Breeds which have been docked over many generations have been selected for specific qualities of build and conformation, but not for tail length, shape or carriage. If left undocked, it is unlikely that the best dogs would carry good tails. In seeking to maintain the quality of the breeds, breeders would therefore be left with a diminished number of suitable sires and dams. The genetic pool would be reduced, greatly increasing the risk of hereditary diseases taking hold. Some breeds could even disappear for ever.
In a Supplementary Submission from the Scottish Kennel Club (where docking is banned entirely), the following evidence was presented:
Professor Grandjean of the Veterinary School of Allor, (France)… identified the neonatal period that began at birth as the ‘vegetative phase’ and concluded that at this stage of development puppies had few reflex activities because their nervous system was not developed.
Professor Hales, a retired biomedical Research Professor at the Faculty of Medicine at Charles Sturt University (Australia)…found there to be only one scientific study of tail docking in puppies and concluded that while it purported to show the procedure to be painful, the study was scientifically flawed by omitting control pups. He also claimed it was invalid to compare humans or lambs with puppies and that studies of newborn rats, which could more validly be compared with puppies, showed that neuro-physiological pain mechanisms were not effectively functional until around 11 days old.
Spinone have been particularly bred and refined for centuries to hunt in heavy brush, thorns, and undergrowth. After all, Spinone are named for the Italian thorn bush pino – because with its thick, tough skin Spinone were particularly bred to hunt in these bushes. They have been bred to have a coat that can withstand the brush, eyebrows and beard to protect the face, and docked tails to prevent injury. As you can see from some of my past photos, yes, Spinone still hunt in this type of brush today (perhaps not specifically pino).
Vets occasionally mention having to amputate the injured tail of a hunting dog, or worse, an injured tail that’s become infected; I’ve personally witnessed tail injuries to my Labs. A number of years ago Sabokka, my yellow Lab mix, injured his tail in sage brush while hunting Sage Grouse. Several years ago Dakota took about a 4-inch gash along her tail from a barb-wire fence. But while docking the tails of retrievers makes no sense whatsoever, docking the tails of Spinone and other upland bird dogs is well within their best interest.