I have been asked by the German Kennel Club to give a professional opinion on the following questions:
The docking of tails and the removal of dew claws in puppies less then four days old without anaesthetic is not connected with any serious pain in such a way that it cannot be allowed from the point of view of the protection of animals.
The reason for this is (there are two expressions in German for which there is no English equivalent: Nestfluchter which means a young bird or young animal which very soon will leave its nest or its mother and therefore will have to find its own food, and Nesthockern which means a young animal that stays for a long time in the nest with its mother and is fed by her). The new born puppy belongs to the Nesthockern, in contrast with the horse, cow, sheep, pig and goat which are regarded as Nestfluchter.
The animals in the Nesthockern group are born relatively immature, completely naked, blind, deaf, very immobile and very helpless. Their Nervous system at birth is not even fully developed. There are still cell divisions in the brain and some of the nervous threads are not fully developed. In psychological tests, it has been determined that the time between the nervous impulse and reaction (chronaxie) takes 3-4 times longer than it would in an adult. After about 10-14 days, when the animals eyes are opened (until then it has been more like an embryo) it is possible to determine the normal value of the impulse. In 1941, Volkhov determined that animals, at this period of life, had very little feeling of pain. The conscious feeling of pain is still not very likely at that age.
Schmidker wrote in his doctorate in 1951 about the feeling of pain in newborn puppies: Incomplete development of the nervous system at the time of birth and the very high chronaxie value in connection with the fact that the animal is not able to react effectively to pain, gives us every reason to believe that the actual feeling of pain is very low in the newborn group of mammals (dogs). In other words, at this age and biological condition, it would have no absolute meaning to talk about pain. You therefore do not have to worry or fear that the dog will be made to suffer pain or psychological pain, if the tail has been docked or the dew claws removed, in the first few days after birth.
It is completely different though, with the Nestfluchter (animals which leave their nest or mother just after birth). In these animals, the nervous system is fully developed just after the moment of birth. All senses that serve to get rid of enemies and pain are fully developed. One can neither from physiological knowledge nor from just observation, say that these young animals feel a lot less pain than adults.
It would therefore be a contradiction in the law, for the Protection of Animals, to permit the shortening or docking of tails in pigs and lambs without anaesthetic, because they have a fully developed threshold of pain, and, at the same time, forbid the docking of dogs. It is absolutely certain that the docking of tails on small lambs and pigs and also the castration of young pigs, goats and calves during their first days of life, will cause considerable pain if done without anaesthetic. However, from the point of view of the docking of dogs, whose nervous system is not fully developed during the first few days of life, is completely acceptable from the point of view of the protection of animals.
The removal of dew claws is necessary in order to avoid later damages and illnesses. It is also recommended to dock the tails in breeds which have long thin, weak and sparsely coated tails, in order to avoid later sickness and damage. At the same time tails should be docked in breeds that are used in such a way that there is a risk of injury to a tail e.g. hunting dogs. It is beneficial to avoid painful injuries and therefore in the interest of the Prevention Of Cruelty to animals.
The dew claw is the ¹rudimentary first toe. They are often injured and the nail can grow into the skin causing considerable inflammation. The dog can easily catch them on different objects because they just hang on the side of their paws, a nonfunctioning object and can therefore damage themselves quite seriously. It is therefore in the interest of the law to recommend that these claws are removed as early as possible. Their removal is best done in the first week with a little clip with scissors.
The dogs tail on the other hand, whether it be in kennels or around the home, is in constant danger of damage be being hit against hard objects like walls, fences, tables, chair legs, radiators and of being trapped in doors. these injuries usually result in sores at the tip of the tail, which do not heal well because there is poor blood circulation in this part of the tail.
By licking and chewing, the dog makes the condition worse and the skin and tissue will die. These conditions of necrosis of the tip of the tail is often seen in Great Danes and Dalmatians. German Shepherds are often seen in veterinary surgeries.
This can sometimes be treated with partial amputation but secondary problems can occur in the healing process because the very poor blood supply is not conductive to this. This actually makes it necessary to amputate the tail several times before the healing process is achieved.
Hunting dogs are in great danger of damaging their tails when thrashing through thick undergrowth and young forest. Only tails that are thick and covered with long hair are protected, such as those of the Wolf and Fox.
Apart from the dangers that the dog is constantly confronted with in the human environment (as well as the fact that they have less hair than the wild dog) many breeds have a very lively temperament which often cause tail tip damage in the course of their exuberance, eg. and undocked Boxer will constantly be subject to injury when using its tail when he express happiness.
As far as the behaviour of dogs is concerned, I can not see that their ability to express happiness should in any was be altered by the docking of the tail.
From the veterinary point of view, therefore, there is absolutely no reason why the banning of the docking of dogs tails should be beneficial to them. In actual fact, it would be detrimental to their well-being if docking was abolished. Tail docking protects the dog as it is done to avoid problems with tail injuries as subsequent painful treatment that would often occur.
It is called Prevention!
Absolute credit for the above article is given to Prof. DR R. Fritsch, Leader of Clinic of Veterinary Surgeons, Justus-Lieberg University, to The German Kennel Club.
¹ = from The Oxford School Dictionary a. elementary; undeveloped. [L. rudimentum]