The removal of a dog's tail, or part of a dog's tail, is known as 'tail-docking' and is an offence.
Penalty for illegal tail-docking
It is also an offence to take a dog to another jurisdiction to have the tail docking procedure carried out. Any person convicted of illegal tail-docking of a dog could face a maximum of two years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
Showing dogs with docked tails
It is an offence to show a dog, which had its tail docked at events where the exhibitor pays a fee or the public pays admission.
This does not apply to dogs:
- with their tails docked before 1 January 2013
- shown only to demonstrate their working ability
Exceptions to the ban on tail-docking
It is not an offence if the tail is removed:
- by a veterinary surgeon for medical treatment
- to save the dog’s life when removal by a veterinary surgeon is not possible
There is an exemption for dogs which may be used as working dogs in the future in connection with law enforcement, lawful pest control or lawful shooting of animals. In order for this exemption to be applied, the dog must be of one of the following breeds:
- spaniel of any breed or combination of breeds
- terrier of any breed or combination of breeds
- any breed commonly used for hunting, or any combination of such breeds
- any breed commonly used for pointing, or any combination of such breeds
- any breed commonly used for retrieving, or any combination of such breeds
- Tail Docking of Working Dogs Regulations 2012 (legislation.gov.uk website)
Certification process for tail-docking pups
At the time the pup's tail is being docked, the breeder and the veterinary surgeon must complete the certification process. The veterinary surgeon must receive evidence to decide if the pup meets the conditions to qualify as a potential future working dog.
The pup and its mother must be presented to the veterinary surgeon within five days of the pup's birth. The docked pup must be microchipped at the same veterinary practice before it is eight weeks old.
Evidence needed for tail-docking pups
In order to have the pup's tail docked by the veterinary surgeon, the veterinary surgeon must receive the following evidence within five days of the pup's birth:
- a statement from the owner or a person representing the owner stating that the dog is one of the breed specified above and likely to be used as a future working dog for work in connection with law enforcement, lawful pest control or lawful shooting of animals
- the dam (mother) of the dog, or a veterinary certificate confirming that the dam has died since giving birth
One of the following will also be required:
- police identification
- prison service identification
- HMRC identification
- evidence that the owner of the dog, or an agent or employee of the owner most likely to be using the dog, will be using the dog for work in connection with lawful pest control
- a current firearm certificate issued to the owner of the dog, or to the agent or employee of the owner most likely to be using the dog for work in connection with the lawful shooting of animals
A letter from one of the following will also be needed, stating the breeder of the dog whose tail is to be docked is known to them and that dogs bred by that breeder have been used on their land, or their shoot, or for pest control:
- a gamekeeper
- a land-occupier (or the land-occupier’s agent)
- a person with shooting rights
- a shoot organiser
- a club official
- a person engaged in lawful pest control
Buying a tail-docked dog
Any person who buys a pup, which was born in Northern Ireland on or after 1 January 2013 and has a docked tail, must obtain from the seller the fully completed certificate of docking which has been signed by the breeder and the veterinary surgeon who docked the pup’s tail. This is to confirm the pup was legally docked as a potential future working dog.