Tail docking in dogs


  • Tail docking is the removal of all or part of a tail to prevent injury or for cosmetic reasons.
  • Amputation is removal of the tail for medical reasons.
  • Tail docking is illegal in the UK for most dogs, but legal for certain working breeds.
  • For tail docking to be legal, it must be performed by a vet, puppies must be under five days old, and a certificate must be provided.

What is tail docking?

Docking is the removal of all or part of a dog or puppy’s tail by cutting it off, usually without any anaesthetic. This might be done to prevent injuries in working dogs, or for cosmetic reasons.

Tail docking is different from amputation, which is the removal of all or part of the tail for medical reasons, such as a tail injury or cancer. This must only be done under an anaesthetic by a vet.

An illustration showing the difference between a normal tail and a docked tail

Is it illegal to dock a dog’s tail?

Tail docking is illegal in all parts of the UK under most circumstances. However, there are certain exceptions for working breeds that might be at risk of tail injury. For tail docking to be legal, the following conditions must be met:

  • It must only be carried out by a qualified vet.
  • It must only be performed in puppies under five days old who are going to be working dogs, e.g. dogs in the armed forces or used for legal pest control.
  • It must only be in certain breeds — this depends on your location in the UK but generally includes working dog breeds such as spaniels and pointers.
  • In Scotland, only the top third of the tail may be removed.
  • If a dog is docked legally, a certificate must be completed by the vet to show that these conditions have been met.

It is illegal to dock a dog’s tail yourself or to take a dog abroad to have their tail docked. The penalty depends on which part of the country you live in, but could include a fine and/or a jail sentence.

Why is docking illegal?

Tail docking is known as a “mutilation” under UK law because it involves removing a healthy part of the body. There are several concerns with the welfare of tail docking including:

  • Acute (short-term) pain when the tail is removed.
  • Chronic (long-term) pain from the removal.
  • Difficulty using the docked tail to communicate.

Tail docking is allowed under certain conditions, as dogs with docked tails are less likely to injure their tails during their work. However, evidence has shown that around 500 dogs need to be docked to prevent one tail injury.


Is owning a dog with a docked tail illegal?

No, owning a dog with a docked tail isn’t illegal. If the docking was done legally the breeder should give you the certificate signed by the vet. If there isn’t a certificate or you suspect the tail was docked illegally you should report the breeder to your local authority.

Why do people dock dogs’ tails?

Legal tail docking is done in working dogs to reduce the chances of getting a tail injury. Some people choose illegal tail docking for cosmetic reasons, i.e. wanting their dog to look a certain way.

Can I show my dog if they have a docked tail?

Dogs with their tails docked after April 2007 in England and Wales, or after January 2013 in Northern Ireland, can’t be shown at public events, unless they are showing their working ability.

Published: April 2023

Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only. Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst.