Tail or no tail? Perhaps an argument as old as the first poor puppy that had its tail chopped off for some arbitrary reason. So, should a German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP) get to keep its tail, or should it be docked?
There are no scientifically proven facts that docking a dog’s tail holds significant merits or demerits to the custom. The AKC states that tail docking upholds breed characteristics, while the AVMA doesn’t believe it is reason enough to expose canines to undue risk for the sake of appearances.
Tail docking is a practice that has been banned in Australia and the United Kingdom. It appears that irreparable injury is the only instance when these countries see it fit to amputate part of the tail.
In the U.S, there are opposing views on the practice of docking – with advantages and disadvantages to consider before making the decision.
Should A GSP Have A Full Or Docked Tail?
If looks are all we care about, one could argue that GSPs don’t look abnormal or even remotely close to unsightly with long tails; in fact, they look just fine with their whip-like waggers intact. However, the American Kennel Club (AKC) has a different opinion.
The AKC sets out the breed standards for purebred GSPs on their website, and according to the club, a GSP should have a 60 percent tail dock (leaving them with only 40 percent of their tails).
Granted, this will only be a crucial point if you ever decide to sign up for conformation shows.
The interesting thing about this prerequisite is that the AMC does not provide a practical reason for tail docking. So, in line with their stance on preserving specific breed characteristics, we can assume this is purely for visual satisfaction.
Unlike some breeds like the Pembroke Welsh Corgis, the docked tail is not a biological characteristic of a GSP; they are born with long tails.
An intriguing detail about the Corgi (among some other breeds) is that it appears to be a mutation (C189G) responsible for the natural stubby tails.
The argument for and against tail docking can’t be just black and white; for potential owners to make an informed decision, we’ll have to dig a little deeper into the grey areas of this controversial topic.
Advantages And Disadvantages Of Docking A GSPs Tail
Since there is no true functional motive behind tail docking – and aesthetics appears to be the main determining factor for the practice – there are bound to be some pros and cons to consider as we tackle this issue. So, let’s look at the top two arguments of either side.
|Prevents Injuries In Sporting Breeds The Scottish Gamekeepers Association conducted a campaign to lift the ban on working dogs (Sporting breeds or Gun Dogs as they are known in the U.K.) as these breeds are prone to injure their tails in the thickets. |
According to owners of working dogs, docking the tail prevents these injuries from happening.
|Unnecessary Pain and Trauma no matter how careful breeders and veterinarians are with the procedure, there is no painless way to remove a body part. |
It is best explained by comparing it to having a finger removed. It will be severely painful.
|Upholds Breed Appearances We can all agree that spotting a Rottweiler with a wagging tail does seem a little out of place. |
To some breeds, a docked tail has simply become part of their physical attributes, an identifying factor of sorts.
|Risk Of Complications According to PetsWebMD, there is a risk of neuroma or nerve tumors developing in docked-tailed dogs. |
These side effects may cause long-term pain or sensitivity to a dog’s tail – or what is left of it.
Contradictions (Prevents Injuries In Sporting Breeds)
To add more support to the view that it is unnecessary to dock a GSP’s tail, in a Q&A piece on the tail-dilemma, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) pointed out that the German Longhaired Pointer (GLP) gets to keep its wagger.
The discrepancy is rather unfair to the GSP, seeing as the two breeds are essentially separated by coat length and texture.
According to AKC, a curled or hooked tail is considered a fault in the breed, and that is the only mention of the GLPs tail within the breed standards.
Bear with us as things get even more confusing as we throw the German Wirehaired Pointer (GWP) into the mix. The breed standards require the GWP’s tail to be docked “to approximately two-fifths of its original length.”
When we run the maths on this requirement, the GSP still comes in at the shortest end. Two-fifths is equal to 40 percent – in contrast to the GSPs 60 percent dock.
The trio of German Pointers are Sporting dogs, so according to the argument that these breeds are likely to injure their tails on a hunting trip, should all Sporting breeds not have docked tails?
Retrievers and setters are also part of this class, and most of them have long tails. Some spaniels, on the other hand, have docked tails.
For one final push on the matter, AMVA added that tail injuries in working dogs are not that much higher than in non-working dogs; this means that docking a GSPs tail that is not actively working is even more pointless.
GSP Traits That Require The Use Of A Longer Tail
Stanley Coren (PhD., DSc., FRS), an expert in Psychology, has written many books on dogs and their fascinating attributes. According to Coren, dogs use their tails for more than just wagging.
- Swimming is one of the things that GSPs love most; dogs use their tails to assist with steering while they frolic in the water. Just don’t let them swim all day, which may cause them to overwork their tail muscles.
- When we think of balance in the animal world, a cat might be the first to pop into our heads. However, dogs also use their waggers to keep them balanced for something as simple as walking, but it becomes essential to run or climb.
- GSPs are hunting dogs; this means that they need to move quickly and with precision. Tails assist dogs in their movements; balance and movement are two parts of the same coin.
- Dogs use their tails for communication. A rapidly wagging tail is a sure sign of happiness, while a tucked tail can translate into fear or, in some cases, aggression.
Do breed standards and the chance of a tail injury truly justify a GSP to lose some of the tail functionality that appears to be vital to dogs actively working?
Risks Associated With Docking A GSP’s Tail
If the various reasons why a dog needs its tail didn’t do the trick, perhaps the list of dangers connected to tail docking will cause people to at least consider all the possible scenarios that could go wrong during or after the procedure.
The British Veterinary Association is ultimately against tail docking unless amputation is necessary due to some form of injury.
While this is a British standpoint on the matter – and has no authority in the U.S – the U.K association supports the AVMA’s opinion that tail docking is unnecessary and can pose certain health risks.
Complications During Or After Docking A GSP’s Tail
We touched on the subject during our pro and con list earlier. PetWebMD explained that there is a chance of significant complications to develop because of the procedure; if that is not bad enough, there are even more risks to consider.
- Deformity After Docking A GSP’s Tail
When inexperienced people dock tails, there is a chance that the tail can be subjected to damage that leads to deformation as the pup grows. While not always a possibility, deformations can be the cause of chronic pain.
Docking must be performed by someone who has extensive knowledge of the subject. There are just too many things that can go wrong with a lack of experience.
- Infection After Docking A GSP’s Tail
Even in a sterile and controlled environment, there is always a risk of infection to surgical sites. Infections in pups that young can be fatal or, in some cases, cause neurological issues later on.
- Death During Or After Docking A GSP’s Tail
Most GSP breeders probably perform the docking themselves to save on expensive vet bills; this shouldn’t be a problem if they know what they are doing, but an inexperienced person can cause severe and irreparable damage to the puppy.
When this procedure is botched, your puppy could become anemic due to blood loss. And when things go really wrong, the puppy is at risk of bleeding to death.
- Mental Trauma After Docking A GSP’s Tail
There doesn’t seem to be a common accord on the right age for docking a puppy’s tail. Some suggest between two and ten days old, while others advise the procedure be done before they reach the eight-week mark.
At such an early stage of their brain development, there is a good possibility that the puppy won’t suffer mental trauma from the docking; however, if this procedure is done later on and not by a veterinarian, the risk of mental trauma is more likely.
Limber Tail (Are GSPs Prone To The Condition?)
So, if the risks above have gotten through to you and you opted for a GSP with all its parts intact, you’d need to be aware of a condition called limber tail.
When you notice your GSP with a limp-hanging tail, they might be suffering from acute caudal myopathy (limber tail).
The following activities may cause acute caudal myopathy:
- Long stretches of swimming
- Cold weather
- Endless days on hunting trips
- Rough play
- Extended crate confinement
Unfortunately, hunting breeds like the GSP actively working are prone to this painful problem caused by overworking the tail muscles. It is kind of similar to overexertion at the gym, but worse.
Symptoms of acute caudal myopathy:
- The tail is painful when touched
- Limp hanging tail (no wagging)
- Visible signs of discomfort like whimpering
- Lack of appetite or lethargy
These symptoms will usually present themselves about 24 hours after the strenuous activity that caused the condition to develop.
It might be challenging to diagnose without the background, so remember to inform your vet of your GSPs activities in the days leading up to the tail condition.
Despite the possibility of this happening to your GSP, there is no reason to dock the tail to prevent this – as it is a treatable medical condition.
There is also no evidence to suggest that dogs with docked tails are less more prone to this condition.
Do All GSP Breeders Dock Tails?
In the United States, it will depend on the breeder’s personal stance on the topic because there is no prevention of animal cruelty legislation that expressly prohibits tail docking.
While the PACT Act (Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture) guards against most forms of animal maltreatment, it still allows too much to slip under the radar in the guise of established customs.
If you have a passion for animal safety and want to learn more about the laws preventing animal abuse, visit the Animal Legal Defence Fund.
In light of regulation boundaries, we can expect reputable breeders to align with breed standards to present litters that don’t deviate from the set benchmark.
For this reason, if you are against the practice, you should inform the breeder that you do not want them to dock your GSP puppy’s tail.
Apart from the moderate risk of injuries in Sporting breeds, there are no practical reasons for a German Shorthaired Pointer’s tail to be docked.
However, the choice still lies with GSP breeders and owners at the end of the day. But remember, once it’s off, that’s it! You can’t play pin the tail on the dog.
When aesthetics are important, and you are still set on a docked tail, please make sure the breeder you select uses professional services to avoid unnecessary trauma to the litter.
If your puppy came to you with an unwanted tail, consider taking your pet to a veterinarian for the procedure; never attempt to perform the tail docking yourself if you have no idea what you are doing.