Fishing & Shooting

Following a run of shoots and days beating we discovered a nasty cut on the tip of Crumpet's tail. This slightly surprised me because she is not thrashing through the undergrowth three or four days a week, like beaters' or keepers' dogs, so the chances of damage to her long undocked tail had seemed relatively small.

Anyway there had never been any possibility of having her tail docked. By the time she was born the ban on tail docking had just been introduced by Holyrood.

Ridiculously, had her mother been driven the other side of the Border to have her puppies, the litter could have been legally docked. While Westminster banned "cosmetic" docking, exemptions are allowed if a vet is satisfied the puppies are going to be working dogs.

Hide Ad

MPs accepted the argument that it is far more unpleasant for a dog like Crumpet with a high wag-per-minute rate to have a tail amputated in adulthood, than to have it docked at birth.

In Scotland, where fewer and fewer vets have any experience in rural practice, the profession gave evidence against docking of any description. MSPs, terrified of the animal rights lobby and largely suspicious of field sports, cravenly ignored the limited-docking option suggested by gamekeepers and the countryside organisations.

So that was it. However, two petitions were lodged with parliament calling for the working-dog exemption, and now we are awaiting a report from the Royal Veterinary College and the University of Bristol.

In the meantime a survey of 308 working dogs – some docked, some undocked, and some partially docked – shows that out of 62 dogs with undocked tails of between 11 and 20 inches (definitely Crumpet), a total of 48 (77 per cent) suffered tail injury. Of these, 22 had to have their tails amputated. We can expect the numbers to rise as more injuries come to light among the first generation of undocked working dogs.

I have seen a couple of dogs of Crumpet's generation with docked tails and assumed they had been born over the Border. Wrong. "Tail slammed in a car door. Had to be amputated" – wink, wink. So like it or not "backstreet docking", at birth I trust, is happening.

However, the docking survey does suggest a possible compromise. Of dogs with "long docked" tails of between six and ten inches, only 18 out of 154 (11.7 per cent) suffered a tail injury. It is possible with a partial docking to drastically reduce the chances of injury and still keep a tail to wag.

Hide Ad

Such a solution would have the satisfactory effect of annoying extremists on both sides of the argument. But half a tail has to be better than no tail at all.

• This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday, January 31, 2010