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Tail Docking

Poodle Tail Docking


The process of Poodle tail docking is quite controversial.

Many countries have banned both dog tail docking and ear cropping. In the United States, docking is legal and actually expected with certain dog breeds. 

The AKC (American Kennel Club) Poodle breed standard calls out for a docked tail.

Let's take a look at:
  • How proper docking is done
  • The correct length to dock
  • Common questions about the tail docking process

How Docking is Done

In countries where docking is legal and expected in the show ring, many Poodle owners wonder how long a docked tail should be how the tail should be docked and at what age this should be done.

Docking (or bobbing as it is sometimes called) is a procedure in which the Poodle's natural long tail is cut to produce a smaller tail that stands erect. Although this is done so that a Poodle will meet the AKC's Poodle conformation standards, the majority of breeders in the U.S. have tails docked on all puppies, whether they are show quality or pet quality.

Why? If a dog is show quality, docking within a few days of birth is best for the dog as opposed to docking later in life when it can become very complicated...and most owners, even if the Poodle is pet quality expect their Poodle to look a certain way and this includes the docked tail.

Docking is done 1 of 2 ways. Both methods have created quite an uproar from animal rights activists. The first method is to cut off the blood flow in the tail with the use of a special rubber band, put on so tightly that the blood literally cannot reach the end of the tail; thus causing it to eventually fall off. This is called banding and if a Poodle is to be docked, this is not recommended.

The second method is the cutting of the tail. When done correctly, it is a very quick process. This is normally done when the puppy is 3 to 5 days old, however some prefer to wait until the age of 1 week. This is done without anesthesia, as the Poodle is too young to handle it but is preferred over the option of waiting until a dog is older. When a Poodle's tail is docked at an older age, it is a more serious procedure with increased chances of complications and a much longer recover time.
docked tail on Poodle
Attribution: By TOMACNHA (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
Poodle with undocked natural tail
Attribution: By Pleple2000 (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

The Proper Length to Cut a Poodle's Tail

Each puppy must be looked at as an individual. The AKC standard calls out for the tip of the tail, when erect, to be at the same height as the top of the dog's head. Generally speaking, 1/4 to 1/3 of the end of the tail is cut off. Below are the general guidelines for the 3 difference sized Poodles:
  • Toy Poodle: Leave 1/2 to 2/3 of length (approx. ½ inch)
  • Miniature Poodle: Leave 1/2 to 2/3 of length (approx. 1 1/8 inches)
  • Standard Poodle: Leave ½ to 2/3 of length (approx. 1 ½ inches)

Commonly Asked Questions

Why are Poodles' tails docked? Long ago, Poodles were mainly used as water dogs. This means that they were retrieval dogs that were trained to retrieve animals that fell into the water after hunters shot them down. 

Because of this, tails were docked to increase swimming speed and the Pompon on the tip of the tail allowed hunters to see where their dog was while in the water. 

Today, Poodles are companion dogs however in countries where docking is legal, this is still done due to tradition and customs. Any sized Poodle must have a docked tail in order to enter an AKC conformation event.

When is this done? This is done at a very early age and for that reason most owners do not see any signs of the docking process (healing, etc). Most breeders will have docking done when puppies are 3 days old. The latest you would want to do this is 5 days old. It heals within about a week, so by the time an owner purchases a puppy, the tail is completely healed.

If my Poodle's tail was not docked, can I have it done now? If the procedure is not done at an early age you can have it done to an older dog, however it would involve surgery with anesthesia. Banding cannot be done to an older dog and cutting the tail of an older Poodle without an anesthetic is considered extremely unethical.

Does this hurt the puppy or dog? When done at the very young age of 3 days old it is thought that it does not cause extreme pain. However, one cannot say this with absolute certainty. It is known that some puppies will not make a noise and others will let out a loud, quick yelp implying that if it is felt it is fast and fleeting.

Does a docked tail stop a Poodle from wagging their tail? Because the tail is shortened just a bit, the majority of the tail remains. This allows the Poodle to wags its tail and use its tail for normal canine communication purposes.
Does a Poodle have to have a docked tail to be in a conformation show? It really depends on where you live. In the United States, the answer is yes.

In Canada, while either docked or undocked can be shown, most winners in the ring have had docked tails.  

However, overseas in Europe and Australia where tail docking is not legal, it's a different story.  In fact, the FCI breed standard clearly states that  the 'absence of tail or naturally short tail' is a disqualifying feature.

It should be noted that in many places where docking is illegal, it is okay to own a dog with a docked tail but it is against the law to actually be the responsible party that had the procedure done. 
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