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Monday, 1 August 2011

Sitting On The Dock of The Bay

Every time one of my bitches has a litter, someone usually asks if they could buy an undocked Cocker pup from me. The answer is short and simple. NO. If you want a puppy, then it's going to have to be docked. There are breeders out there selling undocked Working Cockers, but for the life on me I can't see why. It's a working breed FFS.

Cockers are bred to be game finders. They are a giant hyperactive nose on legs. Once they get a whiff of game, most would tear through razor wire to flush it. The obvious downside of having such a high prey drive is the lack of self-protection that most Cockers afford themselves whilst they are hunting. Cuts, grazes, tears are all in a day's work for a Working Cocker. But it's the tail that takes most of the punishment. Undocked, Working Cocker's tails are thin and whippy at the end – perfect for getting cut by briars and bashed by bracken. A busted tail is never ever the same and is a weak point, which will eventually lead to the retirement of the dog. Taking an inch off a pup's tail at 3 days old can save a lifetime of pain and suffering, as well as extend the working life of any Cocker.

Similarly some people would prefer it if I didn't talk about the D word!

Well I beg to differ.  I consider that it is only through educating the public that we can attempt to redress the appalling imbalance of opinion and injustice that has been forced upon us in the guise of The Animal Welfare Act 2006 (section 6).  This appalling piece of legislation had very little to do with animal welfare and a whole lot to do with salving the collective consciousness of an uneducated liberal public, who don't understand and who can't be bothered to find out why we do what we do.

The Animal Welfare Act in its current form require me to have my puppies docked by a registered vet no later than 5 days after they are born and I must have the same pups micro-chipped by the same vet no later than 6 weeks after the docking.

Don't get me wrong – I'd chip my pups whatever the law said, but I'd do it myself, after all I am trained to chip. 

The old breeders always used to dock their own pups – usually with a blacksmith made tool that looks a little like an Italian mezzaluna.  They would heat it in a flame till red hot and then roll it over the tail cutting and cauterising at the same time.  Well, we now have surgical scissors and ferric chloride to achieve the same effect, but because of this specious act of parliament I now have to drive my recently whelped bitch and the pups 90 miles in order to comply with the law, as my local vet will not dock.  In my mind that is needless cruelty.  Three day old pups don't need to be subjected to this sort of stress.  Can you really tell me that it more cruel for me to dock the pups in the warmth of their own whelping room, without all the travel?  This is what happens when people who make the laws do so from a position of ignorance.  So it's a double kick in the knackers when you have to pay £30 to have the pup docked and another £30 to have them chipped, all of which I am completely capable of doing myself. 

But it's not about the money – it's about the welfare.  Send breeders on courses, teach them how to dock and chip humanely, even if they have been doing it for years, set up an authority to ensure the system is not abused, but for god sake let's move away from this ridiculous system that we have at the moment, that has nothing to do with welfare and everything to do with a stealth attack on field sports.

But it's our own fault – we stood by and watched them do it! 

There used to be on organisation called "The Council for Docked Breeds."  This was an organisation whose role in life was to support, educate and generally generate positive PR for docking and docked breeds.  They were supposed to be the gatekeepers – the people who dealt with the wolves at the door.  They have however been found to be sadly lacking!  You might notice that I talk about the CDB in the past tense – they still exist, but they might as well not do for all the use that they are!

I'd recommend that you have a look at their website .  They talk the talk – you can even buy a "Keep on Docking" baseball cap – although why the hell you would want to is beyond me.  Go out in public in this and see how long it is before the animal "loving" public gives you a right kicking!  However, when the going got tough, the tough got going by cowering, whimpering and generally sticking their heads up their arse.  A least it was safe and warm there – you couldn't hear the sound of our way of life been dismantled brick by brick.

Where is the database of Vets who are willing to dock that was promised to us so long ago?  Where is the voice for any breeder who happens to be unfortunate enough to breed working dogs that need to be docked in order to carry out their job in the field, without injuring themselves?  It's like asking a man working in a steel factory to go and poke the furnace without suitable eye protection and gloves.  Health and Safety would have a shit fit.  Why then are there so many vets out there who a perfectly willing to let animals work in an environment that they know will result in injury, when they could prevent this with a single snip of the scissors?

Yes, it must hurt the pups a bit.  Yes they squeak!  But it doesn't hurt as much as having your tail-end busted every time you go to work, having to have it sewn up 20 times in the shooting season every year and eventually having to have the bloody thing amputated because there is no skin left which can be sewn!

It's not only the grass roots vets that are to blame. The Royall College of Veterinary Surgeons (RVC) has a predominantly anti-docking stance.   Whilst vets can legally dock a prescribed list of working breeds without any possible fear of retribution from the law, their own governing body exerts undue pressure on them not to dock.  I've talked to vets who fear that they would be struck off the register for docking a working dog.  I've also had recent personal experience of a locum vet that refused to work on docked dogs. No wonder it's so hard to find a vet that will dock!

There has been a recent paper on docking – a collaboration between the RVC and the University of Bristol, in order to shed more light on the benefits or not of docking.  What you should also know is that this study was funded by the Scottish Executive!!!! You should also know that all docking has been illegal in Scotland since 2006. How impartial is that!  If you want to read an abridged form of the results you can do here.

Personally, I'd recommend sticking pins in your eyes – it's probably more informative.  Quoting from the Press Release;

"Key findings from the report include:

  • Tail injuries requiring veterinary treatment were rare (prevalence of tail injuries was 0.23 per cent, one in 435 dogs).
  • English Springer Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels, Greyhounds, Lurchers and Whippets were at significantly higher risk when compared with Labradors and other Retrievers.
The study, also found that, as expected, dogs with docked tails are significantly less likely to receive an injury. Essentially, approximately 500 dogs (unadjusted for breed) would need to be docked in order to prevent one tail injury.

Professor Sheila Crispin, co-investigator, from the University of Bristol's Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, commented: "While it is obvious that injury to the tail is impossible if the tail has been removed, the dog may have also lost an important means of balance and communication."

However, like all studies results are open to statistical manipulation.  Interestingly this paper is also illustrated with a picture of a Springer who has been docked like a terrier.  There can't be an inch of his tail left.  No one in their right mind would dock so harshly.  But it is a sad reflection on things when the RCV chooses to use such misrepresented images.   Perhaps Professor Crispin should walk a while in our shoes before choosing to add her name to such a piece of crap purporting to be science!


  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly, luckily our vet will dock mainly because we threatened to take our business elsewhere. A few more hoops to jump through but our vet is very good about it and this covers the whole practise.

  2. We have ended up having 2 vets. A local one for the emergency stuff and vacinations.... and a puppy vet that is 60 miles away. Madness!

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  4. If you've got an unneutered dogpeer in the home, you can pretty much anticipate a specific amount of scent marking as he defines his own locations.