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SACS: SCOTLAND - Tail Docking Update

Scottish Government proposed tail shortening exemption for working dogs: Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee invitation for views on the draft Prohibited Procedures on Protected Animals (Exemptions) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2017

SACS: SCOTLAND - Tail Docking Update

Written submission from the Scottish Association for Country Sports, by email to

The Scottish Association for Country Sports is the largest fieldsports advocacy body in Scotland. A significant number of our Scottish members share their lives with working dogs; representing our members views, SACS has always opposed the ban on the tail docking of puppies of any breed destined for a working life. In addition to this submission, we respectfully refer the Committee members to our submission to the 2016 consultation into the proposal to permit tail docking of working Spaniels and Hunt Point Retrievers.

SACS is supportive of the introduction of the Prohibited Procedures on Protected Animals (Exemptions) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2017; we agree with the contents as a significant improvement on the status quo. We are grateful to the Cabinet Secretary for making a rational, evidence-based decision following the analysis of the extensive 2016 public consultation.

The Scottish Government sought expert stakeholder opinion, including from SACS, when drafting the contents of the proposed 2017 regulations, and we are content with the drafting process.

For the Committee’s call for additional evidence now that the draft 2017 regulations have been laid in Parliament, having consulted with our members we submit as follows:

- Our members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland suggest that they are largely content with the status quo in their resident country, where legislation allows them to care for their working dogs to the best of their ability; Scottish working dog owners and breeders are currently prevented from doing this by section 20 of the Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, and by the current omission of tail docking of puppies from the Prohibited Procedures on Protected Animals (Exemptions) (Scotland) Regulations 2010.

- The current permitted procedures for dogs in schedule 9 of the Prohibited Procedures on Protected Animals (Exemptions) (Scotland) Regulations 2010 include measures that are more invasive and extensive than the tail docking of puppies, yet are not necessarily essential for a dog’s wellbeing. In contrast, as supported by extensive evidence including that referred to in the 2016 consultation, the tail docking procedure for a puppy that will go on to lead a working life is necessary for its welfare. There appears to be a double standard, which would be remedied by the proposed 2017 Regulations.

- We wish to see the risk of injury to working dogs’ tails minimised, to prevent avoidable pain and distress as well as to limit the significant veterinary fees frequently associated with treating tail injuries in adult dogs: injuries that could have been prevented by docking shortly after birth. While we understand that some vets do not wish to dock the tails of puppies, and of course they are not and will not be obliged to do so against their will, other vets have stated anecdotally that they would rather dock the tails of one hundred puppies than deal with a single adult tail injury. This is indicative of the trauma associated with adult tail injuries. It is clear that the veterinary community does not hold a homogenous view on this issue, and it is perplexing that those vets who oppose docking are dominating their sector’s dialogue on this matter.

- Working spaniels and HPRs have been bred for an extensive period of time to work. Anyone who is familiar with these working dogs understands that these breeds desire to work, and seek to do so naturally at a very young age before their formal training commences. We are aware that some anti-docking proponents suggest that these dogs should not work, in order to avoid injury. This is not realistic. Suggesting that a spaniel or HPR should be prevented from utilising and fulfilling its natural instincts is an incomprehensible point of view if the dog’s best interests are taken into account.

- Generally speaking, those individuals and organisations who are opposed to tail docking do not have to deal with the consequences of the ban (with the exception of vets who treat adult tail injuries, but who also receive financial recompense for this work, while owners deal with both the emotional trauma of an injured dog and the financial burden), since they do not share their lives with these animals; it is correct that the views of working dog owners and breeders should take precedence, because they have direct experience of dog welfare pre-ban and post-ban, and live daily with the negative impacts forced on them by inappropriate legislation.

- Those opposed to fieldsports would benefit from learning to empathise, which would help them to understand that working dogs are an integral part of the shooting community, and using the tail docking issue to attempt to inconvenience shooters is a highly ethically questionable tactic. We do not see a comparable negative focus on the welfare of other working dogs, for example those used by the police, armed forces and agriculture, who are frequently placed into dangerous situations. Again, there is a clear double standard which discriminates against our dogs.

- We and our members do not agree that puppies feel significant pain in the docking process. Having witnessed the tail docking of puppies, our staff and members who have expressed their views to us refute this assertion. In addition, the often lengthy misery caused to adult dogs through tail amputation and aftercare has been well documented in our community (for example, ‘Jodie’s Tail’); this evidence is distressing and compelling, and contradicts the assertion by anti-docking proponents that treating tail injuries in adult dogs is in any way preferable to docking the tails of puppies. The Scottish Government has recently recognised the importance and value of community, so-called ‘anecdotal’, evidence in the Moorland Forum’s Understanding Predation project; it is reasonable to expect consistency across Government policy, therefore we do not expect our members’ direct experience of tail docking to be discounted.

- We also disagree that dogs with docked tails have inhibited communication and expression. Our community lives with these dogs, every day, and observes their interaction with humans and other dogs. Spaniels and HPRs must exhibit amenable and good-natured temperaments in order to work effectively, travel and socialise with large groups of other dogs on shoot days, country events and at home; aggression is undesirable and rare. We do not agree that our dogs are unable to communicate properly, as every day we see evidence of their extensive range of effective expression.

- The Government’s decision not to specify individual breeds in the draft 2017 regulations, instead listing breed types/groups, is correct; cross-breeds are common in working situations, and there is no practicable reason to include an arbitrary restriction of the benefit of tail docking to specific, individual breeds only rather than whole working groups.

- It is also correct that the type of evidence required to satisfy the vet that the dog will go to a working home should not be specified; a restrictive list would be unlikely to be comprehensive, and it is right that the vet should make this decision from his knowledge of the client and the evidence presented to him or her.

- We are interested to see the proposal in the draft 2017 regulations to register the dam’s microchip, as our veterinary advisor has informed us that this presents a means of tracing the origin of the pup via DNA testing, if necessary. This is a justifiable safeguard for any potential abuse of the proposed exemption.

- Those Scottish dog breeders who have the means to do so have made arrangements for the lawful docking of English-whelped puppies in England before being brought to their homes in Scotland. The fact that people have weighed up the risks of transporting the bitch and then her pups at vulnerable stages of life against the impact of dealing with a tail injury in adult dogs, and have chosen to make the journey south as the lesser of two evils, should indicate the seriousness of this matter. Other people have not been able to make this choice, as they lack the means to do so. This has created a two-tier system, where many Scottish dog owners are disadvantaged. This would seem to run contrary to Scottish Government policy of legislating for the best interests of Scottish people and their communities.

- In addition, it has been put to us by members that the cultural value of Scottish-bred working spaniels (in particular) has been diminished by the ban on tail docking. This may seem a trivial matter to people who do not possess any empathy with a working rural Scotland, but the decline in Scottish-bred dogs is viewed by many as part of an ongoing attrition against our way of life.

- The majority of our community took the Cabinet Secretary’s public statement last autumn as a statement of intent, fully believing that the ban on tail docking of puppies would be lifted; consequently, this step in the parliamentary process has been met with widespread confusion and frustration, particularly as the 2016 consultation was so extensive. It would not seem equitable for the draft regulations to be derailed at this point, particularly as the evidence in favour of docking as set out in the draft regulations is robust.

- Finally, in terms of the available, accepted scientific evidence, we do not wish to bore the Committee members by repeating the findings of the main relevant studies (and we do not quote the full references of the studies here because they have been quoted extensively throughout the consultation process, and now again in this call for views), but we do wish to highlight the following quotations:

- “Tail docking could be allowed to continue, but performed only by a veterinary surgeon in cases of tail injury, malformation or disease, for the welfare of an individual dog where the normal remedial treatment is unsuccessful, or if it deemed necessary to prevent future injury.” Defra, 2002.

- “Docking the tails of HPRs and spaniels by one-third would significantly decrease the risk of tail injury sustained while working in these breeds.” [and:]

“Undocked spaniels and hunt point retrievers (HPRs) were at greatest risk of tail injury with 56.6 per cent of undocked spaniels and 38.5 per cent of undocked HPRs sustaining at least one tail injury during [one shooting] season.” Lederer et al, 2014.

NB: it is important to note that these statistics represent one shooting season. As dogs commence their full working lives at different stages, depending on individual characteristics, the inclusion of data from a second season could reasonably expect to see the incidence of tail injury increase from the figures quoted above. The private study commissioned by Airlie Bruce-Jones found that the incidence of injury in undocked spaniels was 81%.

- “Working dog breeds that were examined by a veterinary surgeon were at a significantly greater risk of sustaining a tail injury than non-working breeds.” [and:]

“Given the results of this and the accompanying paper it may be appropriate to consider changes to the current legislation for specific breeds of working dogs.” Cameron et al, 2014.

- “Dogs with docked tails were significantly less likely to sustain a tail injury.” Diesel et al, 2010.

- In the words of a SACS member who contacted us after seeing our social media advertisement of the Committee’s call for views: “I've seen dogs with damaged tails which is distressing for both the dogs and owners, and is easily avoidable with responsible docking. As a shooter I've a great regard for my dogs and their wellbeing (as well as the countryside and wildlife). Responsible tail docking is a necessary part of the wellbeing of working dogs. Hopefully we'll see its reintroduction soon.”

Thank you for considering our submission.

Scottish Association for Country Sports

30 May 2017