Why Are Cocker Spaniels’ Tails Docked? Is It A Safe Procedure?


The cocker spaniel is a medium-sized dog that loves nothing more than being outdoors and exploring. You probably have come across adult Cocker Spaniels, especially those at the dog shows or related shows with short stumps where you would expect a tail.

Justifiably, you might then wonder whether Cocker Spaniels have tails. Yes, all Cocker spaniels are born with tails, and the tails are full length, just like any other dog. Their tails are docked (or cut shorter) to prevent snagging and injuries in vegetation when working outside as hunting dogs, or to adhere to common breed standards in dog shows.

Why Are Cocker Spaniels’ Tails Docked? Two Distinct Reasons

The first reason for docking prevents the dog from getting injured when at work. The cocker spaniel is the smallest of the Spaniel breeds, and the intrinsic desire to hunt makes him a proficient hunting dog when carefully trained. When hunting, a worker cocker usually wags their tails vigorously.

Most of the cocker spaniel’s work is to cover the ground ahead of the hunter, which is normally conducted in thickly covered long grass, fallen trees, bracken, and other environments that hide wild animals.

Whacking the ground against this cover with tremendous force can cause injury to the tail. It was for this hunting mode that the Cocker Spaniel breed was created more than 100 years ago.

Another reason for spaniel tail docking is to give it a docked look that conforms to the breed standard that is common among breeders for dog shows. Adult spaniels have shorter tails because they are normally docked three to five days after birth. A spaniel’s tail is normally docked to three-quarters of its original length; hence only the end quarter is removed. This is about three inches long.

Are Cocker Spaniels Born With Longer Tails?

When they are born, Cocker Spaniels have long, full-length tails. Most spaniels get their tail docked when they are very young. That is probably the reason why some people wonder if they have longer tails at all.

A tail is an essential aspect of a dog’s life, and docking a cocker more than a quarter of its original length is questionable and unnecessary. Cocker Spaniel puppies’ tails must be docked before they’re five days old because the bones are still soft, and the nervous system is not fully developed.

A Cocker spaniel’s tail docking is normally undertaken when the dog is three to four days. A professional vet should do the procedure, and the puppy will recover in no time.

However, docking a cocker spaniel any later than this when the dog is older could cause much pain and discomfort that would be unpleasant for any dog. This is why the docking should be done at a very early age. It is much less cruel to dock a spaniel’s tail when he is three days old than it would be if the dog required a tail operation as an adult because of tail injuries.

What Are The Problems Associated With The Tail Docking Procedure in Cocker Spaniels?

There have been various cases of cocker spaniels puppies dying from tail docking in the past. This is usually at the early stages, not long after the docking procedure.

Most of these cases have happened because of the procedure being undertaken by unqualified people who fail to do the tail docking properly. If the tail docking procedure is done poorly, it could result in physical complications like nerve damage that causes pain later on during the puppy’s growth.

If you have cocker spaniels that require to be docked, it is best to get a vet to do it. It is even illegal to do it any other way in some countries. When tail docking procedures are done under a vet’s direction at an early age, they are virtually safe and pain-free.

If you frequently go hunting with your cocker spaniel, docking it at a very young age is a very humane and safe procedure.

The sole reason why you should ever consider docking an adult Cocker Spaniel’s tail is because of an injury. This should always be a recommendation of your vet and should be the last resort. A qualified vet should do the process while the dog is asleep.

How Common Are Undocked Cocker Spaniel Tails?

There are many cocker spaniels with full tails. With the continued implementation of laws that prevent tail docking, cocker spaniels with undocked tails are becoming common.

In the UK, docking a dog’s tail is illegal unless you have specific reasons to do so, such as working cocker spaniels, and should be done by a vet. There are no specific guidelines about docking in the US. Cocker spaniels are popular for their tail that is always wagging. Their tail is always level to their body and has a well-structured chest.

Note: Cocker spaniels are among the highest maintenance dogs when it comes to their coats. They require regular brushing and grooming to keep their coat and skin in a healthy condition and prevent matting.

It is also recommended to visit a professional groomer frequently a few times a year.

Personally, I love the look, and I find them looking better than the docked spaniels. Similar to whole body grooming, cocker spaniels with undocked tails should be groomed and trimmed regularly.

They will need extra grooming and care to keep them clean and safe from injuries compared to the docked ones.

Final Thoughts

Do cocker spaniels have tails? Yes indeed, they have them from birth!

It’s understandable for people to ask this question because many cocker spaniels have had their tails docked to short lengths for breed conformity. For others, the tails have been docked to protect against injury when hunting or working. Whether you agree with docking or not, cocker spaniels have tails, and it is your choice to dock it or not.

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