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Canine tail docking - The law in the UK

Canine tail docking - The law in the UK

Health & Safety

Tail docking is a procedure that is commonly carried out worldwide on many different breeds of dog, almost universally for cosmetic reasons but historically in order to prevent possible damage to the tails of working dogs for whom their natural tail was perceived to be detrimental to their working role. While some countries still dock the tails of certain breeds as standard, in the UK, tail docking for cosmetic purposes is now illegal, and comes with hefty penalties for people who breach this rule.

However, under a small range of very specific circumstances, tail docking can still be performed legally, which means that you may have seen some dogs with docked tails whose docking was not performed in breach of the law. In this article, we will look at the law relating to canine tail docking in the UK, and its exceptions, in more detail. Read on to learn more.

What is docking?

A full and in-depth explanation of tail docking and how it is performed is covered in more detail within this article. In short form, docking involves the removal of all but a few inches of the natural tail of the dog, and this is usually performed very soon after the puppies are born, and rarely later on. Tail docking methods can vary from surgical removal by a vet, to common at home practices including attaching a tight elastic band around the tail to cut off the blood supply, until the remaining tail dies off and detaches.

While tail docking used to be very common, the impact that this had upon dogs should not be minimised, as it is both painful and potentially risky, as well as mutilating the dog and their ability to use their tails fully as a form of expression and communication.

The law in the UK

The law regarding cosmetic tail docking within the UK is very clear; it is an offence to dock the tail of a dog, permit a dog’s tail to be docked or ask another person to dock a dog’s tail unless the circumstances fall within a very narrow set of exceptions, which we will look at in more detail below.

The penalties for illegal docking include a maximum of two years’ imprisonment, and an unlimited fine.

Exceptions to the law

There are a range of exceptions to the law on tail docking, within the remit of a very precise range of circumstances.

  • It is not an offence to dock the tail of the dog if the procedure is performed by a veterinary surgeon, as part of a necessary treatment; for instance, if your dog injured their tail, and amputation of the damaged section was a viable course of treatment.
  • It is also permissible to dock the tail of a dog in order to save the life of the dog if a vet is not available, and all reasonable steps have been taken to contact a vet and look at alternative options. The onus will fall to the person docking the tail to prove that this was the case.

Dogs that will be used for certain future working roles are also exempt from the regulation, assuming that it can be demonstrated that the dog is or was genuinely intended to be used for a specifically permitted working role, such as police work or sport, and is one of the following breeds:

  • Any breed of spaniel, or any crossing of two or more spaniel breeds.
  • Any breed of terrier, or any crossing of two or more terrier breeds.
  • Any breed or cross breed widely used for hunting.
  • Any breed or cross breed widely used for pointing.
  • Any breed or cross breed widely used for retrieving.

It is important to note that these breed exemptions only apply to working dogs, and not any other dogs of the above breeds.

Proving legal docking

If you own a dog with a docked tail or are intending to dock your dog’s tail legally, you must be able to provide evidence that the docking was or will be legal, which means that you must fulfil the following criteria.

All dogs that will have their tails docked for working purposes should have the procedure carried out by a veterinary surgeon, and in order to do this, you will need to provide the following evidence to the vet carrying out the procedure:

  • A written statement from the owner verifying that the dog is of a permitted breed and will in the future be used for a working role connected to either law enforcement, pest control or lawful gun sport.
  • Proof of the breed of the dam of the dog to be docked.

You will also need to provide one of the following items:

  • HMRC identification.
  • Police identification.
  • Prison Service identification.
  • Evidence to show that the owner of the dog will use the dog in lawful pest control.
  • A current firearms certificate for the owner of dogs that will be used for gun sport.

You will also need a letter from one of the following people, to verify that the breeder of the dog is known to them and that the breeder produced or produces working dogs:

  • A gamekeeper.
  • An estate manager or their agent.
  • A person with shooting rights.
  • An organiser of shooting parties.
  • A person whose business is lawful pest control.
  • An official of any of the bodies or organisations involved in pursuits and professions for which docking is permitted.


For dogs that are docked legally, the dog must be certified as such, in case the owner or handler of the dog is ever called upon to prove this. Certification involves a signed statement by the vet performing the procedure, and the breeder of the dog, and the rules also indicate that the pup being docked must be microchipped at the same clinic that performed the docking by the time the pup reaches the age of eight weeks old.

This certificate should be passed on to any subsequent owners of the dog if the dog changes hands later on.