Thursday 27 February 2014


Gamekeepers descended upon Parliament this week urging the SNP administration to mend a broken promise made by Alex Salmond to reverse the ban on tail docking of working dogs.

Officials from The Scottish Gamekeepers Association delivered a petition, calling on the ruling administration to put the issue back on the Parliamentary agenda, for animal welfare reasons.

The petition comes as new research is set to reveal as many as one in two working spaniels have suffered agonising tail injuries as a result of the ban.

The Scottish Government has confirmed the new research from Glasgow University will be published ‘within weeks’, with researchers finding almost 57% of working spaniels suffered at least one tail injury during the 2010-2011 shooting season.

Around 38.5 % of Hunt Point Retrievers suffered the same fate, with many tail injuries in working breeds resulting in prolonged distress and, ultimately, amputation.

Prior to the ban, it was legal to dock the tail of working pups at 2/3 days old to prevent serious tail injuries in later life, when working in thick undergrowth such as bramble and whins.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland- where docking is also illegal- exemptions were made for working dogs in acknowledgement of their specific purpose in the countryside.

Scotland has not followed suit; something gamekeepers believe is causing needless pain and distress for working dogs and working people across the country.

Delivering the petition, with 4158 signatories, to the SNP’s Richard Lochhead, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said: “When this evidence is finally published, it will show a clear need to review this legislation, in respect of the welfare of working dogs. Instead of promoting animal welfare, this research will prove it has done the opposite.

“We fully agree dogs’ tails should not be docked for cosmetic reasons but working dogs, by nature, are different and every other UK country has recognised this except Scotland.

“Alex Salmond promised at our AGM seven years ago that any government he led would reverse this ban, if there was evidence to do so. He said his government would stand up for rural Scotland, and that gave people hope.

“However, all these years on, people are entitled to feel that promise has been broken. Working dogs are the victims. We were told 14 months ago that this research would be published ‘within weeks’. Nothing has happened. It’s cruel. It’s time to get this  reviewed.”

Owners, many dressed in tweed, took their dogs to Holyrood; some of the animals having undergone amputations following tail tip injuries.

Researchers have acknowledged that injury in an adult dog, followed by amputation, inflicts more pain and distress over a longer period than the preventative docking of a pup’s tail in the first days of its life.

Veterinary Surgeon George Greig, a partner in a leading Scottish veterinary practice, believes the legislation has been disastrous for working breeds.

“It’s morally indefensible. From my experience, 1 in 3 dogs that suffer tail damage suffer a further breakdown before the decision is finally taken to amputate.

“The suffering is, therefore, prolonged, both before and after the amputation.

 “On the other hand, I’ve docked thousands of puppies at 2 days old and it is nothing. It is a little snip and the pups barely notice it whereas, in an adult dog, it is major surgery. If a dog is going to work, it needs a shorter tail, end of story.”

Retired pest controller Gerry Oliphant from Perthshire was at Parliament with spaniel Struie, who had to have its tail amputated in his first working season.

Mr Oliphant has two other working dogs- both legally docked in England. Neither have suffered a tail injury whilst working.

“If Struie’s tail had been docked legally, by a vet, at 2 days old, he would never have suffered the distress he did. I’m only concerned about the welfare of my dogs. My other two cockers have docked tails and they’d never had an injury in their lives.”


NB: The research, by Glasgow University, which the Scottish Government has stated it will publish ‘within weeks’, took a survey of 2860 dogs working dogs over the 2010/2011 season.

The survey found that 56.6 per cent of working spaniels sustained at least one tail injury in that season. 38.5 per cent of Hunt Point Retrievers sustained at least one tail injury in the same season.

The study states:

“We believe that this work provides the best available evidence on which to base a consultation for changes to the legislation on tail docking in working dogs in Scotland. Docking HPR and spaniels by one third would significantly decrease the risk of tail injury sustained while working in these breeds.