Cocker Spaniel Tail Docking: Everything you Need to Know

June 21, 2022

Have you ever seen a Cocker Spaniel walking around with a really short tail? It's possible that dog has had their tail docked.

While all Cocker Spaniels are born with full length tails some go through a process called tail docking. This happens at a very early age and can have some benefits to working Cocker Spaniels as they race after their prey though forests, or trees, bushes or any other manner of obstacle.

That said, it is becoming an increasingly uncommon sight as it becomes illegal in several countries.

In this article we will explain everything you need to know about Cocker Spaniel tail docking. If this has piqued your interest keep reading and we will get straight into it.

Why Are Cocker Spaniel's Tails Docked?

The main reason a Cocker Spaniels tail would be docked is to conform to breeding standards which were set by clubs such as American Kennel Club.

Meeting these standards was to allow owners to get their dogs into shows. This is less of a factor now as tail docking has became banned in many countries.

Working Cocker Spaniels can also have their tails docked but for different reasons. These dogs have their tails clipped for more practical reasons such as reducing injuries when out in the field chasing game by spear grass for example which can get stuck in their tail and can hurt.

If a working Cocker gets injured their practical benefits taken away. By not having their tail get caught they can keep working away. For this purpose the appeal is clear.

Even though it has more recently been used for modern purposes docking a dogs tail started way back in Roman times where they believed it to improve their hygiene and that long tailed dogs had a higher chance of catching rabies. This was not true of course.

Are there any Benefits to Docking a Cocker Spaniel Tail?

The only benefits which could be given to tail docking is for working Cocker Spaniels. This relates to their work in the fields flushing game out of bushes or shrubbery.

As your Working Cocker would chase after their prey their tail can get caught or damaged. This could lead to your dog being injured and having to rest instead of supporting their owners in their working capacity.

If damaged there can be a lot of blood loss which can be quite concerning.

What Are the Draw Backs of Tail Docking?

While the was one benefit about to having a short tail on a Cocker Spaniel this is greatly outweighed by the drawbacks.

The main two it has are communication, and the traumatic experience your dog will go through for it.


One key downside of a Cocker Spaniel having their tail docked is impaired communication.

When your Cocker wants to communicate with you they have to do so verbally or physically. One of their main physical ways of communicating with you is with their tails.

This could be tucked between their legs if they are frightened or uncomfortable, or wagging frantically when they are excited.

If a Cocker Spaniels tails docked they will not be able to communicate with you this way. Being able to understand how your dog is feeling is really important.

It's a Painful Procedure

There are two main camps of thought on this one.

Those who support tail docking suggest it does not cause the dog any pain and those who believe it does as the dogs nervous system is fully developed at birth.

However, while there are people who support either side the evidence suggests that it does cause similar levels of pain as an adult dog would endure.

When a dog's tail is snipped their skin, nerves, and muscles. I mean, the actual medical procedure of removing a tail is called a 'tail amputation'. This should make clear the level of trauma a puppy has to go through during this procedure.

In some cases there can even be long term physical complications such as nerve damage.

At What Age is a Cocker Spaniels Tail Docked?

This part is very important. If they are going to be cut Cocker Spaniel tails have to be docked when they are three to five days old.

At this age the dog doesn't even get anaesthetic although there is conflicting opinions if your Cocker would feel this or not. More on this later.

After your Cocker Spaniel puppy is five days old their tail has nerves and blood vessels. This means it will be incredibly painful for your dog and be very traumatic. There would have to be a serious medical reason for doing it.

Can it be done to an Adult Dog?

No. Docking an adult Cocker Spaniels tail would be a very traumatic experience.

Think of it as like it were one of their paws. It's part of their bodies totally connected to their nervous system. The level of pain your dog would experience is unimaginable.

The only circumstances which would lead to an adult Cocker Spaniel having their tail docked would be injury.

Is Tail Docking Safe?

If the process is carried out by a qualified vet it is generally safe enough.

There have, however, been instances of puppies dying after having their tails chopped. It usually happens quite quickly after this too.

More often than not this is because of it being done by an unqualified person who didn't fully understand what they were doing.

If you are considering having your Cocker Spaniels tail docked you must use a qualified vet.

Do All Cocker Spaniels have their Tails Docked?

No. Seeing a Cocker Spaniel with a docked tail is actually really uncommon as touched on earlier. Personally I have never seen a Cocker Spaniel with a docked tail in the UK.

As more evidence is coming to the surface around the pain even new born pups in the two to five day window feel the legality of it is changing.

It is more commonly seen on working Cockers with hunting responsibilities.

How Long is a Cocker Spaniels Tail Naturally?

A Cockers tail is not naturally short but is already quite long when they are born. On average they measure between 8 and 12 inches.

There is actually one type of Cocker Spaniel which naturally has a short tail. It's called a Bobtail Cocker Spaniel.

Its genetics which causes the Bobtail to have a tiny tail. Specifically the C189 gene. If you are getting a Cocker and they do have a tail that appears to be docked take them to the vet to ensure it is docked and not a Bobtail Cocker.

While visually there would be no difference the importance comes to breeding. You can't breed two Bobtail Cockers as it can lead to health problems. Breeding two Cocker Spaniel with docked tails is no problem and their litters will have normal tails.

How Long is a Docked Tail?

Usually there will be a third of the length left after being docked. Generally it is between three to four inches long.

How Long Does a Docked Tail Take to Heal?

Once a dog's tail has been cut there is now a period where it will need to heal. Typically this will be over around a week. After this you should have a follow up with your vet to ensure all is well.

After around three days have passed you will be able to carefully remove the bandages. Be sure to keep the wound clean and keep an eye out for any signs of infections. Things like redness or discharge.

Is Tail Docking Legal?

The legality of tail docking depends on where you are. The procedure has been banned in many countries. In some cases there are even different laws in different parts of the country.

Tail docking was banned in the UK in 2006, Canada in 2015, Australia in 2004, and in New Zealand in 2018. The EU was well ahead of everyone else here too with banning tail docking in 1994.

In these countries it would be possible to dock a Cockers tail if it had to be done for a medical reason.

The only western country that actually still allows tail docking is America at the moment.


Tail docking definitely looks like its on its way out at this point. More countries are banning this procedure and research is coming to light on the pain a puppy's nervous system will go through seeing the tail is more developed than was previously believed.

So, should dog owners be docking their Cocker spaniels tail?

It depends on the purpose. There can be a very strong case made for docking a working Cocker Spaniels tail. The injuries they could sustain when hunting game are quite serious.

However, for Cocker Spaniels who are only intended to be companions it is not worthwhile. For these dogs there are no benefits to carrying out the procedure.

As it does happen between two and five days old ultimately this will come down to the breeder.

Allan  Noble
Hi, my name is Allan! I am the owner of Spaniel Advisor and I've got over seven years experience of owning Spaniels.  
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