Why Do They Dock Yorkie Tails: Learn the Painful Truth

With little fuzzy faces and their cute stumpy tails, it’s hard not to fall for a dog like a Yorkie. Owners of this breed know that they’re big on giving kisses, and they can be a handful when it comes to digging behavior. While the kissing is just a bonus, the tiny tails and digging go hand in hand. What gives these special dogs such a short tail? The answer may surprise you because Yorkies have longer tails when they’re born. I’ll share everything I know about the process of docking so you can decide for yourself whether you agree with the practice.

Why do they dock Yorkie tails? Breeders dock Yorkies tails to conform to the breed standard. It’s all about looks. As they say, beauty is pain, but there’s no other reason to nip the tip off of a Yorkie’s tail unless they’re injured or infected, which is incredibly rare. 

What’s In a Tail

Before you can understand why a Yorkie might have its tail docked, it’s essential to know what a tail does for your dog. In some creatures, like dinosaurs, scientists think having a tail helped to balance out walking. However, looking at a bear, for example, you can see that plenty of four-legged creatures do just fine without an extension to keep them from tipping forward.

So what’s in a tail? For your dog, a tail is all about communication. Wagging is a sign of friendliness. A pup who is swishing its tail back and forth means to let you know they have only the best intentions.

Alternately, a dog who has a stiff tail may be observing someone, or something, to assess its threat level. You should never approach a canine who is standing stiffly. They may attack because of fear or uncertainty. It’s best to avoid troubles and stay back.

Canines also communicate submission and fear by lowering their tails or tucking them between the legs. This posture is a bit like when a human holds their hands up with the palms out. Mostly, it means, ‘I’m no threat,’ or ‘please don’t hurt me.’

Tails Spread Scent

Un-docked tails help a pooch to spread their scent. With three hundred million scent receptors in the nose, plus a unique organ (The Jacobsons’ Organ) to translate smell-pictures, odors are vital to doggy communication. Wagging the tail helps dogs talk to one another.

A dog’s anal sacs, located in their rear, create a completely unique smell. Although most humans can’t detect it, your pet’s scent is like a signature. It tells other canines who they are and when they’re around.

Polite behavior by animal standards is very different from our version. Lifting your leg on a tree tells other dogs that the tree is your personal space, a part of your kingdom, and you’ll fight for it. Your pet just wants to make a statement, and it’s not their fault you don’t speak the language.

Saying Hi With Smells

When a dog wags, they’re wafting their smell out to the world. Squeezing their muscles, in and around the anus, helps express their glands. They put out their signature and then fan it around to make sure everyone can ‘read’ it. Hence, wagging the tail is like saying ‘Hi, I’m Spot. Who are you?’

Incidentally, this is related to why dogs are obsessed with sniffing each other’s rear ends, and those of other creatures. They’re memorizing your ‘name-smell’ and checking to make sure you are who you claim to be. After all, a skunk can change what you smell like on the outside, but on the inside, you’d still have your own scent.

Is Docking a Disadvantage

If dogs like Yorkies communicate with their tails, then is docking a disadvantage? It’s an intriguing question and one for which there is no precise answer. Unfortunately, there have been no studies that I can find.

However, according to the AMVA (American Medical Veterinary Association), it’s possible. At a guess, it may be comparable to having a stutter. There are some things in doggy language that require a tail, and while there are other ways to ‘say’ those things, the primary communication method is damaged or missing in a docked tail. As a result, the dog can’t ‘say’ what they usually would with their long tail.

It’s noteworthy that the AMVA was among the first to take an anti-docking position in the US. “The AVMA first suggested breed clubs remove cosmetic alterations from breed standards in 1976.”

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The Downside to Having a Tail

Having an un-docked tail isn’t all good news. If you’ve ever seen a big dog get happy and knock things right off a coffee table, then you can see how they get in the way. Unlike a monkey’s prehensile tail, dogs aren’t entirely in control of their tails. Unfortunately, not every animal has the ability to grasp things and use their backsides for fine motor control.

Realistically, your pet doesn’t need their tail to grab branches, so it doesn’t. However, this lesser control over their back end means that having tails can be dangerous because canines can’t curl them up and hold them out of the way.

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Two Problems

There are two main reasons why dogs get their tails docked. First, guard dogs, military animals, and even police dogs may have docked tails to remove the temptation. A human enemy can grab a loose tail and use it against a canine during a fight. For that matter, so can animal enemies.

Secondly, smaller dogs like Yorkies were bred to do a job that can cause a very different problem for their tails. The breed was initially intended as rat hunters for mines. Additionally, they were once used for hunting burrowing animals like foxes.

Because they needed to squirrel their way into small holes, Yorkies’ tails could get in the way. Getting caught on a branch is painful. Keeping in mind that this was an era before modern medicine, it’s not so difficult to see why docking came about.

A dog whos’ tail is likely to end up amputated anyhow because it’s gotten infected or hurt, and it gets in their way may as well not have one, right? I don’t agree with this thinking, but I understand how people came to that conclusion. Without modern medicines, a tail injury could be a lot more dangerous.

Historical Tail Docking

Yorkies weren’t the first dogs to have their tails docked. The history behind this practice is far older and stranger than you might expect. Docking dates back to ancient Rome. Shepherds there docked their dog’s tails, but not for working reasons.

Herding dogs had their tails docked on their fortieth day. The belief was that doing this prevented rabies. Naturally, having a rabid dog among your flock was horrible news. A dog could easily infect a large number of animals if it bit them.

Losing food and income would have been devastating to a shepherd. They relied on their herds and their herding dogs to survive. Whether they lived very rural lives where their stock was for feeding the family and trading with neighbors, or closer to a city where they might take animals to market for slaughter, herds meant life.

Since animal sacrifice was something ancient Romans did to honor their gods, offering a sick animal was very bad. No one wanted to offend a diety that might curse their family. While it’s not clear who first came up with this idea, it became a common sight among superstitious herders.

Without modern science and medicine, ancient people had to guess what their deities wanted. Sometimes this led to stunning breakthroughs. However, just as frequently, it led to bizarre practices that didn’t do much good.

Hunting & Working

In later years, the practice of tail docking became a part of hunting dog’s lives. The theory that it prevents injury seems sensible enough on the surface. After all, you can’t hurt what you don’t possess.

There was a time when hunting dogs were left un-docked because long tails were believed to increase their speed and agility. Meanwhile, the canines who belonged to the poor, who were working dogs had their tails cut because they weren’t allowed to hunt

By the eighteenth century, docking was so commonplace it became part of the laws. All working dogs were required to have docked tails. This showed their status and set pampered pets, and the hunting dogs of the wealthy apart.

Perhaps more importantly, non-working dogs were subject to a pet tax, whereas those with jobs were free to own. Whether this was done as a boon to the poor, or because those animals were earning their keep, I cannot say. None of my research turned up an answer to that question.

As you might expect, this led pet owners to dock their canine companions’ tails. Tax evasion might not be an honorable pursuit, but it makes more sense than preventing rabies.

Medical Reasons to Dock

Docking for medical reasons is very different from aesthetic choices. A dog who breaks their tail may not heal properly, causing ongoing pain. Alternately, could a dog get a bad infection in its tail, or burn it severely. Sometimes removal is the best choice.

When done for medical reasons, removing part or all of the tail for the health of a dog is more like amputation than traditional docking. There are other key differences, as well.

First, medically necessary docking is uncommon. Instead of being a standard practice, it’s an extreme solution and only occurs when there’s a danger to the dog’s health or life. For example, sever frostbite might leave a dog with a dead tail. Rather than letting the tissue rot in situ on your dog, a vet may remove the damaged appendage.

Secondly, medical docking typically only happens to older dogs. Whereas aesthetic docking is done to puppies, it’s rare for baby dogs to have such a severe accident or injury that they’d need their tails removed.

Third and finally, puppy docking is done without anesthesia. The argument that puppies have underdeveloped nerves, combined with the fact that using anesthesia on very young and small animals is unsafe, means the beauty practice is done without painkillers or sleep.

Alternately, a medical docking would likely use sedation or numbing. Unless there’s an excellent reason why a vet cannot put the dog under, then they do so. Surgical procedures, especially those on animals, are rarely done without drugs. A freaked out animal will squirm and panic.  Not only is this dangerous for your pet, but it can harm the veterinarian as well.

Does Docking Prevent Injury

Any dog who’s running around could hurt their tail. Like other doggy damages, tail injuries are a part of life for most canines. However, the question remains one of whether it’s genuinely worth it to dock an animals’ tail based on a maybe.

Fortunately, researchers set about answering this question back in 2010. Why it took so long for someone to get around to asking the question, I couldn’t say. However, 138,212 dogs in Great Britain were surveyed comparing tail injuries in docked versus non-docked tails.

The results of surveying this massive group of dogs are reasonably conclusive. The risk is negligible. Dogs without docked tails are only about 0.23 percent more likely to have a tail injury. What that means from a practical standpoint is that you’d need to chop off five hundred doggy tails to prevent one from getting hurt.

Breed Standards

Yorkies in the US have docked tails, but there are other breed standards as well. Here is a short list of AKC requirements for Yorkies.

  • The head should be small and round with V-shaped erect ears.
  • Yorkie’s eyes should be dark brown or hazel with a look of intelligence.
  • Muzzles on this breed should be short, with a black nose. Additionally, they should have good teeth and no underbite or overbite visible.
  • The dogs’ body needs to be compact, with good proportion, and a straight back, ranging from 4 to 7 pounds.
  • Legs on your Yorkie should be straight in front and hind legs also straight when viewed from the rear. However, the stifles should be slightly bent backward from the side view.
  • A docked tail of mid-length that stands up from the body is standard.
  • This breed has small, round feet with black toenails.

Breed standards that include a docked tail date back to a book from 1891. The American Book of the Dog calls for cropped ears and docked tails. The reasoning is nothing more than maintaining a “proper look.”

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Is Docking Legal

In the US and Canada, there are no legal restrictions on tail docking. However, in other parts of the world, the practice is considered barbaric, inhumane, and cruel. There are laws in the UK, Australia, and most of Europe preventing the practice.

Is Docking Painful

Advocates of tail docking in Yorkshire (and other) puppies claim that it causes no pain or trauma. They say that an immature dog has less or no perception of pain because their nervous system is un-developed. At just two to five days old, the pup’s tails are clipped for cosmetic reasons, to conform to breed standards.

However, a dog’s nervous system is indeed fully developed at birth. Puppies show similar pain reactions to adult dogs. There is no reason to believe that they sense anything less than they should medically speaking, so yes docking hurts dogs.

The docking process cuts through sensitive tissue. You are chopping tendons, nerves, bones, and more in the process. Moreover, doing so is painful to heal and can cause ongoing problems for the dog. Chronic neuromas, also known as pinched nerves, can result and trouble your dog for the rest of their life.

Even when there are no extra complications like infection at the site, it’s damaging to the dog. Docking can cause changes in the way a puppy perceives pain. Furthermore, it can cause ongoing psychological trauma.

If that wasn’t enough, because breeders and owners are harming the tails of immature dogs, it could interfere with their growth. Docked pups may have underdeveloped levator ani and coccygeus muscles.


Should I Dock My Yorkie

Like all animal health considerations, it is entirely up to you as a pet owner to make a decision about docking your Yorkie. It’s legal to dock, but not very ethical. Naturally, you can purchase a docked, or un-docked animal. However, docked tails are sadly common in the US and Canada.

Choosing to cut off a part of your pet’s anatomy is a serious decision. I am personally opposed to it, but some people insist that it’s necessary despite the lack of substantial evidence. Cutting hair is one thing, but removing part of a tail, or the ears, to make your dog ‘look right,’ seems unusually cruel. Please note that this is my opinion based on what I know of the practice and nothing more.

To be fair, there was a point in time when there was no substantial evidence the world was round, and we can’t know what science will discover in the future. However, you can only do the best you can with the information you have. Right now, that means docking is an outdated and baseless practice.

Final Thoughts

Docking is a highly controversial practice. In much of the world, it’s utterly illegal since there’s no medical need for shortening a tail in most cases. The AKC breed standards here in the USA are different.

While there was a historical reason to dock, it’s no longer necessary to nip a puppy’s tail. Yorkies don’t hunt much in modern society. It seems a bit cruel to take their tails for no reason other than beauty. A haircut doesn’t cause any damage, but removing bones is excessive.

Should you dock a Yorkie’s tail? In my opinion, no. There’s no reason to cut a piece off of your pet.

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