Scottish gamekeepers urge tail docking ban removal

Gamekeepers have taken their campaign to end the ban on tail docking of working dogs to the Scottish Parliament.

Scottish gamekeepers at the Scottish Parliament lobbying against a tail docking ban. Picture: Neil Hanna

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has presented a 4,158-signature petition to Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead, calling for the ban to be reversed for working dogs on the grounds of animal welfare.

The SGA says working spaniels are suffering tail injuries as a result of the ban, which covers all dogs, with exemptions only made where a tail is injured or diseased.

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The practice was outlawed in 2007, with penalties of a fine of up to £5,000 and/or six months imprisonment.

When the ban was introduced, the then animal health and welfare minister Ross Finnie said docking could not be justified “because of a possibility that the dog may injure its tail in later life”.

Working dogs are at risk because they often enter thick undergrowth such as brambles to flush out or retrieve game.

The SGA says research, carried out by Glasgow University for the Scottish Government, shows that almost 57% of working spaniels suffered at least one tail injury during the 2010/11 shooting season.

The researchers surveyed 2,860 working dogs.

They also found that around 38.5% of hunt point retrievers suffered injury, with some tail injuries resulting in surgery and eventual amputation, the SGA says.

SGA chairman Alex Hogg said his organisation agrees tails should not be docked for cosmetic reasons, but in the case of working dogs, exemptions should be made.

He said: “We are losing the breeding lines. We cannot breed any more here (in Scotland) because it is illegal to dock their tails, so we need to buy our puppies from down south.

“The issue is this prolonged agony that a dog has to suffer when it receives these injuries as an adult dog, because often they need to amputate the tail, and that is almost like amputating a limb.

“It is unbelievable that a Bill that was introduced to stop animal cruelty has done the opposite.”

Veterinary nurse Charlotte Knight, who owns working dogs, said she has seen a number of serious tail injuries in adult working dogs.

“We are asking to dock the working dogs when they are a couple of days old just to prevent them having these injuries,” she said.

After receiving the petition from campaigners outside Holyrood, Mr Lochhead said: “Clearly the Government has the option of revisiting the legislation and the exemptions, and that is why we commissioned the research, so that any decision that is taken is evidence-based.

“We will consider the option of revisiting the legislation if there is a scientific case to do so.”

Mr Lochhead said that the research on tail docking is expected to be published in the next few weeks.

The Government will then invite comment from all interested groups.