Tail Docking Ban
Since 2004, it is an offence in NSW to dock the tail of a dog unless:
1) The docking is done by a person who is registered as a veterinary surgeon in NSW, and
2) The docking is in the interests of the dog’s welfare.
This means that any non-veterinarian who docks a tail is liable for prosecution and any veterinarian who docks a tail other than in the interests of the dog’s welfare is liable for prosecution.
The Act is enforced by officers of the Police Service, RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League.
The maximum penalty for individuals convicted of this offence is $5,500 or imprisonment for six months or both, or $27,500 for corporations.
1) Are there any circumstances in which a breeder, even one who is very experienced in tail docking dogs, can continue to dock tails in NSW?
No. This would be an offence under the Act and the breeder would be liable for prosecution. A breeder would also be committing an offence if they arranged for someone else to carry out illegal tail docking for them and would be subject to the same penalty if convicted.
2) What if a breeder is also a registered veterinarian? Does that allow them to continue tail docking?
Only if they could demonstrate that the docking was in the interests of the welfare of each individual dog whose tail they docked.
3) What situations are likely to be regarded as “in the interests of the dog’s welfare”?
If a case comes to court, the decision on whether or not an offence has been committed will be decided by a magistrate. The welfare interests of the dog are likely to be served in situations in which tails are docked in response to damage, disease or other abnormality and are considered by the veterinarian as likely to cause the dog continuing pain or behavioural problems or be a risk to the dog’s health.
4) What situations are not likely to be regarded as “in the interests of the dog’s welfare”?
If a case comes to court, the decision on whether or not an offence has been committed will be decided by a magistrate.
Veterinarians, breeders and owners should be aware that the intention of the legislation is to ban tail docking which is done for “routine”, “prophylactic” or “cosmetic” purposes, as is traditional with many dog breeds.
It is not generally considered appropriate to dock a healthy tail on the basis of preventing a possible future painful event.
Therefore, although each case will be considered on its merits, enforcement officers can investigate any docking of a healthy tail with a view to prosecution.
An enforcement officer who reasonably suspects that the Act has been contravened has the power to require from a breeder or owner who has puppies or dogs which have been docked after 1 June 2004, information concerning the tail docking of those animals.
5) Is there an exemption to this legislation for puppies less than a certain age
6) What can a breeder do to avoid prosecution over puppies that may be born with bob tails?
It should be a simple matter to avoid prosecution in this situation. It is suggested that by keeping notes regarding the breed, by taking photographs of newborn pups and showing reliable witnesses the animals soon after birth should aid in the prevention of erroneous enforcement action being proceeded with, especially in breeds where this occurrence is uncommon.
It could be useful to have a supporting statement from your veterinarian if you believe that you may be challenged over the occurrence of a short tail on your dog.
Enforcement officers are being made aware of the breeds that commonly produce bob-tailed puppies and also in identifying bob tails as opposed to docked tails.
7) What can a breeder or owner do if they believe a non-veterinarian has tail docked a dog on or after 1 June 2004 or a veterinarian has done so without justification?
You can report it to the RSPCA, telephone 97707555, or the Animal Welfare League, telephone 96069333. Such notifications are treated confidentially by the enforcement agencies and the informant’s identity is not divulged.
8) Will breeders or owners be able to show dogs with entire tails?
Yes. A docked tail is not a mandatory requirement of any breed standard recognized by the Australian National Kennel Council.
9) What’s the situation with dogs docked in NSW before 1 June 2004?
There is no offence under the Act relating to tail docking dogs in NSW before 1June 2004.
10) Can dogs with docked tails still be sold in NSW after 1 June 2004?
Yes. The offence is about docking the tail itself, not about selling or owning a dog with a docked tail.
11) It’s been traditional to dock the tails of some dog breeds for hundreds of years. Why ban it now?
One of the objectives of the Act is to protect animals from unjustifiable, unnecessary or unreasonable pain, distress or suffering. Although it is difficult to objectively assess the level of pain an animal is experiencing, the evidence available strongly suggests that tail docking is be associated with both acute and chronic pain.
The only circumstance potentially in which causing dogs such pain can be regarded as justified, necessary or reasonable, is if the tail docking is in the interests of the dog’s welfare.
The ban is coming in now because of the combination of:
• the weight of scientific opinion about the negative effects of tail docking on dog welfare
• changing community expectations about unnecessary surgical procedures on animals, and
• the agreement of all Australian states and territories to implement the ban.
12) Is this ban being implemented Australia wide?
Yes. In 2002 the Primary Industries Ministerial Council (PIMC) agreed in principle to a nationally coordinated ban on the routine tail docking of dogs for non-therapeutic purposes. Each state and territory has its own animal welfare laws and each one therefore had to introduce its own ban.
In early October 2003 PIMC agreed that all jurisdictions would implement the ban as soon as practical. The key elements of the ban are that non-therapeutic tail docking of dogs will be prohibited and therapeutic tail docking will be able to be carried out only by a veterinarian.
All jurisdictions have now introduced bans effectively limiting tail docking of dogs to therapeutic situations only.